2015-06-12 / Front Page

Middle school students donate benches

A work in the park
By Duke Harrington Staff Writer


Students from the expeditionary learning program at Middle School of the Kennebunks, from left, Gabe Tucci, Isaac Zahares and Brendan Rynne, work June 4 to install a bench at the gazebo in Parsons Field where six of the 10 benches they made and donated to the town of Kennebunk were placed . (Duke Harrington photo) Students from the expeditionary learning program at Middle School of the Kennebunks, from left, Gabe Tucci, Isaac Zahares and Brendan Rynne, work June 4 to install a bench at the gazebo in Parsons Field where six of the 10 benches they made and donated to the town of Kennebunk were placed . (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — Folks attending events at the Parsons Field gazebo in Kennebunk finally have a place to sit, thanks to some stand-up students from the local middle school.

On Thursday, June 4, students from the expeditionary learning program at the Middle School of the Kennebunks delivered and installed six of 10 benches they made and donated to the town. For the students, it was the culmination of a process that began April 14, when they made their pitch to the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen.

At that meeting, selectmen voted to take $670 from their contingency fund to buy the pressure treated lumber needed to build each 8-foot long bench.


Helping to install benches made and donated to Kennebunk by students in the expeditionary learning program at the Middle School of the Kennebunks are, front row, from left, students Gabe Tucci, Nate Emmons, Zach Macisso, Castor Wilcox, Stephen Burt, Cam Fenderson, Isaac Zahares, Brendan Rynne and Dylan Coyne; and, back row, from left, program co-facilitator Josh Stone, Kennebunk Parks Foreman Shaun Barrett, program co-facilitator Christina Barrett, students Cam Martin and Carson DuPaul, School Resource Officer Nate Jones, and student Logan Webber. (Duke Harrington photo) Helping to install benches made and donated to Kennebunk by students in the expeditionary learning program at the Middle School of the Kennebunks are, front row, from left, students Gabe Tucci, Nate Emmons, Zach Macisso, Castor Wilcox, Stephen Burt, Cam Fenderson, Isaac Zahares, Brendan Rynne and Dylan Coyne; and, back row, from left, program co-facilitator Josh Stone, Kennebunk Parks Foreman Shaun Barrett, program co-facilitator Christina Barrett, students Cam Martin and Carson DuPaul, School Resource Officer Nate Jones, and student Logan Webber. (Duke Harrington photo) “I want to commend you for your service to the town,” Selectman Albert Searles said at the time.

“I’m very impressed,” Chairman Kevin Donovan agreed.

According to Kennebunk Parks Foreman Shaun Barrett, with the students donating their labor in exchange for the learning experience, the town got the benches for less than half of what it would have cost to buy them from a contractor.

“Then, if the company delivered them, you’ve go to pay for that. So, they saved the town quite a lot of money by doing this while learning a lot of lessons,” he said during last week’s installation.

“I feel proud to know I’m helping the community,” eighth-grader Stephen Burt, 13, said, as he helped Barrett place one of the benches into holes dug for footings.

This is the second community project performed this year by the 12 students in

MSK’s expeditionary learning class. Earlier in the school year, the students made and sold 10 wooden “flags” at $25 each, donating their $125 profit to the Wounded Heroes Program of Maine and the Maine Veterans Home in Scarborough.

Sometimes referred to as alternative education, the expeditionary learning program is designed for students who learn best by being active and completing projects, sometimes engaging in trial-and-error, rather than the usual method of sitting still in neat rows where they are expected to have the correct answer every time.

Each project taken on by the class incorporates multiple disciplines into the lesson plan. For example, the bench project included a component in civics, in which the students did not just study how town government works, but actually attended a selectmen’s meeting to observe and participate in the process. Literacy was covered in reflections the students had to write describing what they’d accomplished in each class, while actual construction included a necessary study in math.

“They have loved it,” said Barrett’s wife, Christina Barrett, who runs the MSK program along with her co-facilitator, Josh Stone.

“I think it was important for them to see the entire process through from the beginning to the end, so they can see how one little step creates the next step,” she said. “I think that kind of follow through sometimes gets lost in the regular classroom.

“It’s like, why do I need to know fractions,” Christina Barrett said. “Now they know why they need to know fractions and they actually craved the learning of them.”

“I think the way they conduct themselves overall is probably a little bit stronger as a result of being in this program,” said Stone. “They’re more confident in being students.”

For seventh-grader Zach Macisso, 13, the program is worthwhile, and not just because it means a large part of his school day involves the use of power tools.

“When Ms Barrett and Mr. Stone are teaching us, it’s really easy to understand,” he said. “Learning this way makes it more fun to do because we’re doing something we really haven’t done before.”

“It was fun to do,” Burt agreed. “It’s a lot better (than typical classwork) because you get to move around and you’re not just in one chair the entire class. I think I learn better that way and what I learn is easier to remember.”

For Shaun Barrett, the students in his wife’s class remind him a lot of himself at their age. It’s good that MSK supports teaching them in the way they learn best, he said, because they are perhaps most likely of all students to become the backbone of Kennebunk life in generations to come.

“I think community is a huge thing and having the town get involved with the school, with this group of kids especially — they grew up like me, they can’t concentrate in school yet they work good with their hands — it’s extremely important,” he said.

“I know in school I was only really able to concentrate on the things I was interested in, and I feel it’s the same way for these kids,” Barrett said. “They come from all different walks of life and they just need something to be interested in.

“In this project, they got to see how everything is done, from the selectmen’s meetings, to actually building the benches, to coming here and installing them,” Barrett said. “It’s extremely useful for these kids to learn a work ethic and teamwork, especially within the community. This town is full of blue-collar people who work hard and these are the kids who are going to grow up and work in those businesses, or go on to own their own local businesses, and work hard at what they do. This is just a stepping stone to get them where they’re going to be.”

That day is still far off, however. Given an assurance by Barrett that their benches should last a decade or more, just coming back at that time to see if their handiwork is still in use seemed impossibly far off.

But even so, the students are proud of what they’ve accomplished.

“We’ve worked really hard on the benches and it’s nice to share them with the town of Kennebunk,” Macisso said.

However, that said, the project was not all fun and games.

“About writing the reflections, we don’t really like that part that much, to be honest,” Macisso said. “I mean, we usually complain about it, but we get it done.”

Barrett said two of the four benches not installed at Parsons Field will be placed in West Kennebunk Park. The other two will be held in reserve to replace any bench that gets damaged over time, he said.

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