Bobby Gray, a skateboarder and educator in MSAD 75, will be leading the education programming at the Bath skate park. He said he believes the setting of the skate park will help students feel comfortable and confident enough to finish their education. Photo courtesy of Merrymeeting Adult Education

BATH — The Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skate Park has become a place for students to relax, skate, have a meal or play pool, but for some, it could serve as a safe haven where they can work to finish their education. Merrymeeting Adult Education in Topsham is collaborating with Midcoast Community Alliance, based out of the skate park, to offer educational programming to people who want to complete their high school education.

While Morse High School’s graduation rate has improved over the past decade, it consistently hovered below the state average. In 2013 Morse High School had a four-year graduation rate of 76% whereas the state average was 92%. In 2018, Morse High School’s four-year graduation rate rose to 84%, but was still lower than the state average of 87%, according to the Maine Department of Education.

Eric Varney, Morse High School principal, said students drop out of school “for a cocktail of reasons” and most every student’s reason is different. He pointed to programs the school has in place, namely the Dropout Prevention Committee, to help students showing early signs of leaving school.

The high school also has a number of special education programs for students who need additional support or alternate forms of instruction, as well as three guidance counselors to address any mental health-related reasons why a student may be falling behind.

“Without those efforts, I’m afraid our (dropout) numbers would be greater,” said Varney.

Allen Lampert, executive director of Merrymeeting Adult Education said he believes the schools do as much as possible to keep students from dropping out, but sometimes a student drops out for reasons outside their control.

“Sometimes students aren’t living in their home, with or without their parents, and when students aren’t having their basic needs met, school gets put on the back burner,” said Varney.

In 2018 Morse High School’s four-year graduation rate for homeless students was 64%, which was above the state average of 57%.

Last year, Midcoast Community Alliance began offering a free after-school program at the Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skate Park, complete with adult mentors, homework clubs and art classes. The youth center also has free snacks, provided by the Bath Area Backpack Program, donated clothing and warm boots for children who need them, and volunteers bring in free meals twice a week.

Jamie Dorr, executive director of Midcoast Community Alliance, said giving people the opportunity to continue and complete their education at the skate park coincides with Midcoast Community Alliance’s goal of, “Making sure nobody is falling through the cracks, and the education piece is a big part of that conversation.”

Last year the Midcoast Community Alliance started offering a free after-school program at the Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skate Park, complete with adult mentors, homework clubs and art classes. The youth center also has free snacks, provided by the Bath Area Backpack Program, donated clothing and warm boots for children who need them, and volunteers bring in free meals twice a week.

Skating to success

Lampert said making educational programming available at the skate park puts it within reach of people who might otherwise never attend the adult education center or school.

“We know there are people who skate at the skate park who, for one reason or another, stopped going to school,” said Lambert. “We’re meeting them where they are. We want them to come to us on their terms in a place where they feel comfortable.”

Dorr said the skate park and youth center saw about 400 young people ages 6 to 24 since January 2019. She estimated anywhere from 70 to 90 students come to the skate park each day.

Bobby Gray, an educator in Maine School Administrative District 75 and skateboarder who works part-time at the skate park, will be leading the program. He believes the setting of the skate park can make the difference for students debating whether to complete their education.

“For some people, it can be intimidating walking into high school where you might have memories of failure or feel uncomfortable,” said Gray.

Representatives from Merrymeeting Adult Education will be available at the skate park on the last Friday of each month to speak with potential students who would like to learn more about the programs available to them. The next information meeting is Friday, Feb. 28, from 6-8 p.m.

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