BIDDEFORD — Amy Sutton dropped out of school before earning a high school diploma. The Old Orchard Beach resident said she stopped attending, because she didn’t feel she belonged there.

But Sutton said she turned her life around last year, when she enrolled in YouthBuild Biddeford, an alternative-education program of LearningWorks. The program teaches academics, life skills and some career training, and helps students earn high school equivalency diplomas.

“I’m excited,” said Sutton on Wednesday.

That morning, at the Seeds of Hope building on Crescent Street, where the program is conducted, she and five others graduated from YouthBuild.

Sutton said attending YouthBuild was her “second chance.”

“It’s different here,” said Sutton, comparing YouthBuild to a traditional high school setting. “There’s a lot of support. They were right there by my side no matter what, and they pushed me to get it done.”

Now, she said, she plans to go to college.

“I’m not sure where I’d be today” without YouthBuild, she said, “but probably not graduating.”

Richard Seavey of Biddeford said he was “pretty excited” to be graduating.

Prior to arriving at YouthBuild in February, he had moved around a lot with his family and had attended three different high schools. Because of that he fell behind in school and wasn’t able to graduate with the rest of his class.

Seavey said he liked YouthBuild because there weren’t a lot of people, and there weren’t any cliques.

“We formed our own community,” he said.

In addition, said Seavey, the program “teaches things you actually need to know to go forward in life.”

He said he plans to go to community college and eventually get a degree in music.

The best part of YouthBuild, said graduate Lorne MacOrquodale of Old Orchard Beach, “is the incredible amount of support you get (there) ”“ whether it’s to talk to someone or resources.”

“He’s a smart guy,” said his mother Kim Varney, “but he’s had a rough road. This school let him be his own person.”

Like MacOrquodale, many of those attending the alternative-education program face numerous obstacles in their lives.

“Before here, the road has been bumpy,” said Ethan Strimling, the CEO of LearningWorks, when addressing the graduates. “You’ve made choices to go through those obstacles.”

“You’ve accomplished so much more than your peers who are also graduating,” he said. “They didn’t have the obstacles you did.”

“The journey has not been smooth but it is continuous,” said YouthBuild Biddeford Director Nancy Kopack.

She told the graduates that there will continue to be stresses in life, but YouthBuild has helped them learn strategies to deal with them.

Also, she said, to help them continue moving forward, the staff will continue checking in on the graduating students and continue to be a resource for them when they need one.

The other graduates, who didn’t attend the ceremony, include Richard Brochu, Michael Paige and Christian Poirier.

— Staff Writer Dina Mendros can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 324 or [email protected]



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