May 26, 2018
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Alternative school’s partnership with UMPI flourishing after two years

A student at the Carleton Project, a private alternative school located on the campus of the University of Maine at Presque Isle, prepares for a rock-climbing expedition in Clifton earlier this month.
By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – An agreement made a little more than two years ago that allowed students from an alternative school in the city to learn in a building on the campus of the University of Maine at Presque Isle has turned out to be the “win-win” situation that officials thought it would be.

Officials with the Carleton Project, a private alternative high school, said earlier this week that the arrangement that was drafted in February 2009 has been “immensely rewarding” for students in the program and the university.

“This is everything that we envisioned when we first talked about establishing a school site at UMPI,” Jennifer Walker, executive director of the Carleton Project, said earlier this week. “The campus location has given our students a little taste of college, which I think has motivated some of them.”

The 2009 UMPI agreement gave the alternative private school a permanent home. The facility educates students in grades nine through 12, giving them the opportunity to obtain their high school diploma in a nontraditional setting. Most go on to attend college. The Carleton Project has five schools as of this fall — in Presque Isle, Houlton, Winthrop, Bangor and Lincoln.

When the school was founded, it was located in downtown Presque Isle. It now is on the spacious ground floor of Park Hall, a residence hall for UMPI freshmen.

Don Zillman, president of UMPI, called the agreement a “win-win proposal for all sides” back when the school first moved into Park Hall. He felt that it would help recruit graduates from the Carleton Project to UMPI while also helping the college forge a closer relationship with the community.

Walker said that enrollment at the school has increased over the past two years and the median age of the students is 16 to 18. She said there are a variety of reasons that the students’ sending schools are not meeting their needs. Some students have problems with social skills or other students or problems at home that make participating in regular school too difficult.

“There are so many benefits, emotionally and financially, to keeping them in or near the district that they have been attending school in,” she said. “But we don’t accept everyone. They have to want it. We meet with them for an interview and discuss their goals. We really stress accountability, and that is what puts them back in the educational driver’s seat.”

Heather Nunez is an UMPI graduate and a teacher for the Carleton Project. She said that she never had heard of anything like Carleton in Aroostook County and she knew immediately that she wanted to be a part of it. She has spent time teaching in both Presque Isle and Houlton.

Both lauded the ways that ways that the university and the school have found to work together. One student, Kate Sirois, completed a biology internship with UMPI professor Jason Johnston, doing college-level research while fulfilling her senior project requirements for graduation. In concert with that, UMPI social work students who needed to learn more about some of the challenges that high school students faced were able to discuss it with Carleton Project students.

Students also use the campus library, attend cultural events and take part in academic presentations, lectures and other campuswide activities.

Walker said one of the most important activities UMPI and Carleton teachers and administration do together is help students prepare for, go to and stay at the colleges and universities they plan to attend.

“They meet with Maine Educational Opportunity Center staffers to discuss funding and then they meet with UMPI professors about their major of choice,” Walker said. “It’s very helpful for us; these things that would normally take days to do with numerous students checking out colleges and asking questions is now 45 minutes during an afternoon to speak to a professor and have their questions answered about going to college.”

While Carleton Project students have gone on to colleges throughout Maine and beyond, 11 students have chosen to complete their baccalaureate work at UMPI since the partnership was established.

Zillman said that the campus is “so pleased to see where this collaboration has gone in the past two years and that, working together, we’ve been successful in creating important educational linkages for local students.”

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