RICHFORD — Vermont Adult Learning (VAL) center’s satellite location in Richford is closing today.
Not permanently, though. In fact, the alternative high school program has moved to a new building from its previous spot at 24 River St., also formerly known as Pick Thai for the restaurant that was formerly located there.
“We’re downsizing,” said Trish Muir, the executive director of Cornerstone Bridges To Life Community Center – which includes the VAL program – on Tuesday. Muir and a number of staff and student volunteers spent the day transporting the things they would need for their two new rooms in the Northern Tier Center for Health (NOTCH) building at 53 Main St.
“Tables, chairs and schoolwork … and that’s going to be it,” said Muir. “And possibly the coffee machine.”
The move has been on Muir’s radar ever since she took over as the community center’s executive director last June. The Cornerstone Bridges to Life Community Center at 1 Main St. has been the home for VAL since 2012, but following a Richford Development Review Board (DRB) decision in April 2014 to not issue a conditional use permit for the community center to move into the former Spears Funeral Home on Main Street, both had to find a new home due to high heating costs.
The community center and VAL moved to the Pick Thai building in July 2014.
“We were thinking about what our options were,” said Muir. “That was a big space over there, and expensive.”
Muir added that while the community center’s other work is now done at Richford Junior/Senior High School, VAL really needed smaller, quieter rooms in a better location.
And, said Muir, VAL’s new partnership with NOTCH also was desirable. “We wanted to get more partnerships in Richford,” she said. “The more relationships that you build, the better we can all do together.”
There are 22 students (two more are on the waiting list), according to Franklin & Grand Isle Counties VAL regional manager Lenny Rosenberg.
“This is a resilient, tough group of kids,” said Rosenberg on Tuesday. He said it’s a testament to their character alone when most students walk to VAL on winter days, which, in Richford, can get pretty darn cold.
“They walk no matter what the temperature is,” he said. Add on the fact that a number of students have children of their own, have jobs and have or have had personal struggles to overcome, said Rosenberg, and the VAL students’ dedication to their education becomes all the more impressive.
“They’ve re-engaged,” said Rosenberg.
Muir also spoke not only of the students’ determination, but their willingness to help each other and the community.
“If they think their friends aren’t going [to VAL] that day, they’ll go and get them,” said Muir.
“They’re a tight-knit group,” said Rosenberg. “They support each other.”
Terry Corriveau, 18, has been a student at VAL for two years. “We’re just a group of really good friends,” he said. “We hang out almost every day.”
His classmate Autumn Paquette, 17, who has been with VAL for a year added, “We’re from a small town and we know everybody.”
“They treat each other like family,” said Muir. “They all come together and motivate each other. They really care for each other.”
They also care about their school. Corriveau, Paquette and their 16-year-old classmate, John Martin, helped with the move on Tuesday. Muir said their volunteerism for VAL and the community center’s Senior Center and Operation Happiness over the holidays goes above and beyond what the students are required to do for high school graduation.
Corriveau, for instance, has accumulated more than 70 hours of community service. “And he needs 30,” said Muir.
When asked why he and the other students help out, all said it was natural.
“Just because I want to,” said Terry.
Paquette added, “It’s the right thing to do.”
In return for their service, VAL works to give its students a successful alternative to high school education.
“I started at VAL because I did not like the high school one bit,” said Corriveau. “I was dealing with a bunch of stuff up there.”
He later added, “I was bullied a lot.”
For Paquette, VAL was just a better fit for her than traditional high school. “High school isn’t for everybody – I’m just one of those people.”
She added, “I was failing and was not going to make it. I needed something different. Nobody was helping me and I was just stuck.”
Fortunately for 22 students and potentially more, VAL has offered Richford teenagers (and adults) a viable way to earn a high school diploma. Beginning with just four students two years ago and none before 2012, the growth and changes for VAL have only been good for those who attend.
“It definitely helps knowing that we don’t have to drive to St. Albans,” said Corriveau. “It just helps us as students up here – it helps us with our education.”
“It was a good idea to bring VAL to Richford,” said Paquette. “I want to graduate. I do plan on going to college.”