Julia stops and smiles as she talks about her work with children as a counselor at a local summer camp. Julia recently completed her first year at Mount Tom Academy, transitioning to the program after a period of struggle. CES runs this alternative learning program for high school students from area schools who have not been successful in a traditional a high school setting.
“Spending a year in this classroom was like spending a year getting to know me. The hardworking and smart me,” said Julia. She was coping with the aftereffects of multiple sequential concussion and other diagnoses, and had become depressed and unable to function in her classes and school environment. Success she previously enjoyed as a student eluded. Her. “Everything went downhill so fast,” remembers Julia. She began to miss school, further straining her relationship with teachers.
Julia’s parents struggled to find options. After months of working with her school’s special education department and area agencies, Julia was on the verge of dropping out when Mount Tom Academy was suggested as an option. Julia’s mother saw her daughter’s resistance to school ebb as they visited the school, located on the Holyoke Community College campus. Julia offered, “I think I might like to try it. When can I start?” She started the next week.
Mount Tom’s Barbara Cheney began building Julia’s academic confidence by focusing on Julia’s personal instructional needs. “It was eye-opening,” says Julia, “I had so much more power to succeed in my education!” The support, guidance and structure were key to finding solutions for problematic issues within Julia’s learning process.
Julia eagerly focused on math, reading and writing, gaining self confidence, and, she said, maturity. “I learned not to take everything so personally, and I know that while I am dealing with my own issues, others have their own, too.”
Mount Tom students take college placement tests as they enter the program. On the last day of Julia’s first school year, she was tested again on skill levels. When asked about the testing, Julia grinned – “I was so nervous, but I booted it out of the park!” There wasn’t just improvement, Julia was now proficient at college levels. “I know that I’m smart enough to be in college!” Julia has done so well in her studies, she is preparing to dual enroll at Holyoke Community College beginning in January 2017.
Her career goals have also become clear. With a history of working with and for others, from multiple years as part of the local Walk for Mental Health, to her work at a daycare and at camp, Julia found her future, she’ll continue to focus on helping others by becoming a Kindergarten teacher. “I feel like I’m giving back by helping children,” she says. Julia will return to HCC in the fall and is currently researching how to finish up her degree in elementary education at a four-year college out of state.
When asked her thoughts about her Mount tom experience, Julia says “we are like a family in this little HCC campus space, with each of us growing in different ways, but we all support each other so much. People come here for different reasons, but all are accepted and respected.”