A game-changing moment

12 years ago

A game-changing moment

    When I was hired as Teen Librarian at Turner Memorial Library in 2009, there was one major thing that I knew I needed to do: read more young adult books. The very first one that I brought home was “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. I’ve always been drawn to post-apocalyptic fiction, but I ended up surprising myself by becoming deeply attached to the story of a coal miner’s daughter who must use her exceptional archery skills and knowledge of forested terrain to win a cruel game of survival. Although I’ve always been quietly supportive of similar franchises such as “Harry Potter” and “Twilight,” I became a raging obsessive for “The Hunger Games.”

Breaking Trail

By Dianna Leighton

   Thus, I was thrilled to learn that students at the Carleton Project’s Presque Isle location had formed a book discussion group for the trilogy and I decided to lend my personal copies of the books to lend a hand. In exchange, I was interested in hearing their opinions on the books — but I also wanted to learn more about the Carleton Project itself.  ED-BreakingTrailLeighton-dcx-sh-9

    The school is an alternative private school providing education to students in grades 9-12 and located in Park Hall at the University of Maine – Presque Isle, thanks to a partnership formed in 2009. In fact, Carleton Project students recently provided a community presentation during UMPI’s 2012 University Day entitled “The Alternative Connection: Thinking Globally in High School.” In addition to covering the school’s history and mission, the student panel addressed facts and myths attached to Carleton Project since many members of the community still have questions and, occasionally, misconceptions. Did the kids get kicked out of public schools? Are they deeply troubled? Isn’t the school just a cop out? Do they have to do, “you know, real work?”

    I learned that students attend Carleton Project on a voluntary basis, often after determining, in their own varied and personal ways, that public school just wasn’t working for them. Rather than dropping out, they have found an alternative plan within the flexible and individualized approach of the Carleton Project, which places strong emphasis on the role of the student in developing and meeting their academic goals as they meet Maine state requirements for high school graduation and prepare for life after high school (often continuing on to college).

    Among the school’s detailed objectives and goals there is “to allow our students to engage with their work on a personal level and explore individual curiosities.” Perhaps it was this principle that supported Carleton Project students Matt Kinard, Kate Allen and Cheyanne Flint as they worked with their teacher, Heather Nunez, to form their “Hunger Games” discussion group as a way to tie their personal interest in the book series into their academic work. When I attended one of the group’s discussions a few weeks ago, it was evident that the school’s vision was being demonstrated with the students’ work. Each student supported each other in providing a comprehensive analysis of the trilogy as they explored topics such as social stratification, the cultural role of entertainment and media, youth perspectives on political systems and government, and self-image. The discussion was vibrant, organized, and insightful. And, honestly, I began to see that this was one of those magic moments where learning was happening. Alive. Working. Thriving.

    I can’t dissect education policy in around 500 words or even 500 pages. Certainly, magic moments such as this are occurring across the country in schools of all types with students of all ages. Yet, I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to witness one that feels almost precious. One that occurs when the right partnerships come together between students, educators, and community partners, as the work of the Carleton Project clearly indicates.

    To learn more about the school (including their additional sites in Bangor, Houlton, Lincoln and Winthrop, be sure to visit: http://www.carletonproject.com or contact the Presque Isle location at (207) 768-9998.

    Dianna Leighton is youth librarian at the Mark & Emily Turner Memorial Library in Presque Isle. Her professional and personal interests include community building, digital media and content creation, and promoting transliteracy skills. In her spare time, she enjoys testing her cooking skills, reading anything she can get her hands on, and sharing stories and experiences with those in her community. Dianna can be reached at (207) 764-2571 or via e-mail at diannaleighton@presqueislelibrary.org.