HARWICH ─ There are many paths to success in life. Now, thanks to the students of Monomoy Regional High School's Alternative Learning Program (ALP), there is a new path at the school, one that leads to a quiet place of reflection, created for students by students.
According to ALP student Greg Hastings, the motivation for creating the space was simple.
“It looked like a prison,” Hastings said. “Kids said the building looked like a prison.”
The ALP students decided to do something about that, starting with a small space in the back of the school adjacent to the outdoor seating area. Following the concept of a Zen garden, a peaceful place of solitude, the class members created a curving pathway of stones and planted hydrangeas and trees. But the piece de resistance is a stunning teak bench tucked beneath a window, a collaborative project between the ALP class and the Chatham-Harwich Newcomers Club woodworkers.
“The idea was not to just beautify the school, but to kind of give people a place to relax before school starts in the morning,” said ALP teacher George Sowpel.
“We wanted an area you could sit at outside and actually enjoy yourself a little bit,” said Hastings. “It's a place to get away from everything else in the building.”
A grant from the Garden Club of Harwich made the plants possible: oak leaf hydrangeas, a Japanese maple and a vibrant spruce. Club member Diane DiGenarro spent time with the class teaching students about gardening materials and planting strategies, offering guidance when it came to placement of each of the new plants.
“They've been working for months on this,” said Sowpel.
Quiet excitement spread through the group of ALP students gathered on June 17 for an informal dedication of the space, as well as the arrival of the bench, completed by the Newcomers.
“They worked with us to help design it,” said Sowpel, adding that the woodworkers collaborated with students to determine the best bench style for the space and how they wanted it to look. “So there's a mentorship as well as an educational piece.”
Sowpel said that creating the various components involved in the new space not only allowed for community partnerships, but also required students to engage in deep critical thinking as they planned each aspect.
“It may not be learning calculus, the Pythagorean theorem, or transnational literature, which we do, too, but this is kind of neat,” said Sowpel. “The kids had to use their thinking skills.”
Partnering with community members and businesses is a key aspect of the ALP program, which offers students in need a different way of earning their high school diploma. Rather than attend school during the traditional hours, students attend classes from roughly 7 a.m. to noon, and then often have work study in the afternoons, allowing them to hold jobs not only for pay, but for important experiences.
“We have the chance not only to do the academic learning, but we bring in folks from the community to work with the students,” said Sowpel.
Hastings said the hands-on nature of the program suits his learning style ideally.
“We visit actual places and see actual things that are going on in the world,” he said. “We get more involved. It's definitely geared toward after high school. It's just another way to do well. Another path to the same goal.”
“To experience stuff, and go out and gain confidence, that to me is success,” said Sowpel.
Hastings also said that along with academics and real-world work, the program encourages students to form lasting friendships.
“We're a family,” he said.
Hastings said he and his fellow ALP students want to put up a plaque in their new space with the names of those who created it.
“I hope this stays for years to come,” he said.
“I couldn't think of a better place to spend my day,” added Sowpel.
Local businesses, clubs, organizations, or residents interested in donating to the space are invited to contact George Sowpel at email@example.com.