A bit of ‘paradise’ for OHCHS students

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TEAM WORK — Members of the CAPS North team pictured are: Brendan Patten, Kevin Daley (teacher,) Erin Hamlin (teacher,) Casey Dyer, Tylere Cholewinski, Allyson Friend, Gage Bowden, Sybil Biter, Drew Martin and Will Merrow

PARIS — Students attending the CAPS program are clear about one thing.

The program works for them.

The onsite alternative program at the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School,  is designed for students who have chosen to approach their education in a less traditional classroom setting, teacher Kevin Daley explained.

Daley said CAPS (Connections for Academic and Personal Success) has been around in various forms since the early 1990’s and has had a significant role in bringing students toward graduation.

“Many of the students have met with greater success in CAPS than in their previous educational settings,” Daley said of the program that he describes as providing a “respective and supportive environment” for the students and one that allows for independent coursework.

Last year, with the support of a Oxford Hills Aspirations Grant, made possible  by the Oxford Hills Scholarship Foundation, Daley said the CAPS Program was able to purchase hiking and camping equipment that allows up to 12 students at a time to participate in outdoor activities that emphasize team-building as well as academic, standards-based tasks.

Now, the CAPS program has expanded even further – this time offering overnight field trips to the northern Oxford County town of Hartland. The  offshoot program has been dubbed CAPS North.

Students say the CAPS program, along with its new outdoor component, has provided them with a respectful and supportive environment.

“Personally, it has helped me continue attending school with the fact that the teachers here care about how you are mentally (in and outside of the classroom) and will go out of their way to make sure you’re doing alright and have what you need,” wrote student Rhiannon Duff, a junior and third-year full-time student in the program, in an email to the Advertiser Democrat.

Will Merrow, a freshman who is new to the program this year and has already attended two CAPS North trips, wrote that he never got along with any teacher while in “mainstream” classes. But here, Merrow says, he not only works alongside his teachers, but has created closer relationships with his friends.

“Coming into the program as a freshman helped me a lot,” Merrow said. “Daley, Hamlin, and Domegan all helped me so much, But in a nutshell CAPS north was an escape from reality, and also a really good way to bring friends even closer.”

CAPS North

Although staff and students in the CAPS program have taken day trips to various  places, students, (who have to apply and be accepted into the CAPS North program), head to a large piece of privately-owned land in Hartland when they go on the overnight trips.

There, students have “real life training” during  their campout.

Daley said they hope to make monthly trips to “CAPS North,” to meet their goal of working together to establish something akin to an “outdoor classroom.”  In that classroom, Daley said, students can meet various academic standards in a real-life setting.

“On the last trip, for example,” Daley said, “one group of students worked on buying lumber and building benches to be used at the fire pit where the group has its ‘morning meetings’ and where students and staff can relax in the evenings under the stars and toast marshmallows or sip tea while people tell stories.”

Daley said there are now plans underway for building an obstacle course at the Hartland site, as well as possibly creating small shelters for students to sleep in during the warmer months of the year.

“Some students have expressed interest in trail work and clearing of brush, while others have discussed the possibility of creating a perennial garden and planting blueberry bushes,” he said.  Others, he added, get involved in drawing and painting, writing, tree identification, cooking and photography.

Daley said he has had positive feedback from students about the CAPS North program.

One student posted on her Facebook page, “I am never leaving. This is paradise.”

“Paradise or not, CAPS North is an excellent opportunity for Oxford Hills students to practice outdoor skills and to learn in an active, healthy environment,” concluded Daley.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net.