Above: Lincoln Academy IDEAL students harvesting vegetables at the Twin Villages Food Bank Farm
Lincoln Academy’s IDEAL (Innovatively Designed Education for All Learners) program is specially designed to help non-traditional learners thrive. Students who participate in IDEAL are learners who are part of the LA special education program and learn best outside of a traditional classroom. These students particularly benefit from a hands-on, individualized curriculum. The IDEAL program is housed on the edge of the LA campus in a dedicated space across from Poe Theater.
In addition to academic subjects and career and technical training, IDEAL students spend significant time on service-based learning projects at various community organizations throughout the year. Service-based learning in the IDEAL program gives students an opportunity to build connections to their local community, while simultaneously developing job skills.
Every morning, freshmen and sophomores in the IDEAL program head to the field, leaving campus to work at various job sites, including Twin Village Farm in Damariscotta, where students harvest vegetables for six area community food pantries; Boothbay Woodchucks, where they sort, stack, and deliver firewood to low income households; Hidden Valley Nature Center, where they maintain trails and build bog bridges; High Hopes Farm, where they clean stalls, feed rabbits and pigs, and harvest produce; Miles Thrift Store, where they sort donations; the CLC YMCA where they help with hoop houses and other projects, and the Damariscotta River Association, where they groom trails.
Jeff Schneider is an Environmental Steward for the Midcoast Conservancy who worked with IDEAL service learning volunteers at the Hidden Valley Nature Center. He said, “It was great having Kyle and Waldo help with repairing bridges at Hidden Valley Nature Center before our fall half marathon. We had barely arrived at the first bridge when the boys got started. They had great instincts for construction, and were quickly swinging sledges, prying boards and attaching new timber, with no assistance required. Their repairs made the bridges safe for the race that weekend, and we’re very grateful for their help!”
Sara Cawthorn coordinates the Twin Villages Food Bank Farm. She said, “having Lincoln Academy’s IDEAL program for several weeks at Twin Villages Foodbank Farm has made a huge difference this fall in the amount of work we could get done on time. As students harvested thousands of pounds of cabbage, winter squash, beets and carrots, we could focus on writing grants and building coolers, to keep up with planning for the farm. We hope that the IDEAL program can make it out next season!”
On rainy days IDEAL faculty take their students on field trips to Bowdoin College, Maine State museums and government buildings, or to businesses, including Fischer Engineering, Dragon Concrete, Back Cove Yachts, and other enterprises where students might eventually find work.
Janna Civittolo is the Lincoln Academy faculty member who coordinates IDEAL’s service-based learning program. Civittolo has been working with Ed Tech Charlie Mitchell for three years to ensure that the program is engaging for students as well as educational.
“The focus [of IDEAL] is on building job-ready skills and learning with their whole being,” said Civittolo. “These are students who struggle being in a regular classroom setting and need hands-on learning. Through these projects they are learning about sustainable agriculture while giving back to their community. They are learning how to work together. When faced with a dozen 50-pound crates of freshly picked carrots to wash to go into the cooler they need to learn how to work together and communicate.”
Sophomore Waldo Joslyn is happy to be in part of IDEAL’s service-based learning program, calling it “a great way to start every day.”
On Fridays the students in the service-based learning program join Sarah Gladu, Director of Education and Environmental Monitoring at the Damariscotta River Association (DRA), for Science and History learning. They are currently learning about Wabanaki culture from DRA guest educator, Judi Dowe. They have built wigwams, learned about local shell middens, and prepared food for smoking. They have learned to identify trees, forage for wild food, farm oysters, identify invasive creatures, and understand how plastics impact our ecosystems.
“We are blessed which such rich educational resources for student learning in our area,” said Civittolo. “Students learn social skills by interacting with diverse members of the community. While working with the Woodchucks, each student pairs with a retired member of the community: retired school principals, naval surgeons, mechanics, etc. to work on a particular section of the woodlot. They build relationships and problem-solve with their partners for efficiency. Students are able to develop their interpersonal verbal communications skills in a safe environment.”
Barclay Shepherd is a volunteer at the Boothbay Woodchucks who has worked regularly with the IDEAL students. “It has been a great pleasure having these young folks, both boys and girls, helping us at the wood pile. They were fun to work with and appeared to genuinely enjoy the work. Their energy and enthusiasm was a joy to observe, and they seemed to show that what they were doing would be making a difference in the lives of those who needed help keeping warm in the cold months of the year.”
Civittolo points out that in addition to helping the community, students gain valuable skills through their service work. “Service-based learning enriches the students in ways that we are still discovering every day. They are becoming better community members, better citizens, growing their value and respect of their communities, as well as making themselves more employable. Last year, one of our students gained summer employment thanks to his volunteer work with the service-based learning. He was such a hard-worker and so in-tune with the needs of the Miles Thrift Store, they couldn’t wait for summer to come so that they could offer him a job.
“Another student expressed that he likes coming to school after not having much success last year, because he has the opportunity to work. Students find meaning in work like stacking piles of wood. They can visually see their progress as well as gain respect that they gain from those they work alongside.”
The students earned the respect of Boothbay Woodchucks volunteer Seth Barker: “The LA volunteers are pretty impressive. They have been going steady since the first day that they showed up and have been a great help. Their youthful energy carries the day. It is nice to see youngsters so willing to help out.”