PITTSFIELD, Maine — In a small classroom near the gym entrance, where sounds from the nearby music room can float through the door, 26 Warsaw Middle School students are learning about life.
There is still homework, study is mandatory, and there are plenty of rules. But the Project Reach program, an adventure-based program for seventh- and eighth-grade students, doesn’t focus on a single subject. Instead, it is geared toward inspiring the students to live fuller, richer, more productive lives.
“We use all our classroom skills in this program,” said Brittany Noble, 14, of Burnham.
“This helps us achieve our goals in life and prepare for life ahead,” said Courtney Oullet, 13, of Pittsfield.
At Warsaw, one of 61 Project Reach sites across the state, the students are investigating their future career options, becoming involved with community activities, exploring leadership opportunities, and connecting with education and service.
Keith Piehler, their instructor, has been leading the program for nine years. He explained that Project Reach is the little sister of the Jobs for Maine Graduates high school program.
“The goal is to keep them in school, while preparing them for high school and beyond,” Piehler said. “We do this by making connections with the community.”
And boy, oh boy, have they been connecting. Since the beginning of the school year, they have collected and donated 450 coats and toys for needy families; they have run the school’s snack shack at sporting events; they’ve been in charge of the school book fair; they worked at a Keep ME Warm project and winterized three local homes; and they will hold a schoolwide talent show as a fundraiser for the community theater.
The group recently received $1,000 from the Unity Foundation. “We wanted to help our town, to give something back,” Noble said.
They began a lengthy process, which included sending out requests for proposals. Nine letters were sent and three recipients responded. Each class member voted for his choice and defended his selection to the whole class.
“In the end, we chose the Pittsfield Public Library,” said Alex Weeman, 13, of Detroit.
“There’s a children’s section and an adult section but no place for teenagers,” said Dylan Morrison, 15, of Detroit. “Our money will go to furnish a teen room for middle-school-age kids.”
The kids now are gathering in a small aisle outside the library’s restroom, librarian Lyn Smith said.
“I like how we are able to thank the community for all they do,” said Joshua Nevells, 13, of Pittsfield.
Smith said the money would be used to let the teens design and furnish the new teen room. “We are very excited,” she said. “This will give them ownership.” She said it is the first donation for furnishings made to the $1.3 million library renovation and expansion project, which is expected to commence this summer.
“They are really setting an example,” Smith said. She said a Portland interior designer, Sarah Margolski, who grew up in Pittsfield, has volunteered her assistance.