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Rural Maine School Models 'Youth-Led Poverty Reduction'

Students in one rural Maine schools are running a computer-repair shop and cultivating a school garden to help meet the community's needs.

The Rural School and Community Trust featured the K-12 Forest Hills Consolidated School in Jackman, Me., as an example of where students' academic work is aligned with the community's needs. The concept of "youth-led poverty reduction" comes from the Rural Trust's president, Doris Williams, who has said "this is especially important in high-poverty communities where student work fills service voids, increases social capital, and attracts and retains 'wealth' in their local place."

The Rural Trust has funding dedicated to helping these kinds of projects in schools nationwide, and rural education advocates say they are examples of rural young people helping to improve the economic prospects of their communities.

In Jackman, the nearest computer repair shop is 70 miles away, and it's difficult for the community to access fresh fruits and vegetables year-round at a reasonable cost. The school is helping to provide solutions to both issues, and the Rural Trust describes in its October newsletter more about both programs at Forest Hills Consolidated School.

The technology repair program began three years ago, and 20 percent of the school's 192 students participate. High school students are responsible for every aspect of the business, which charges residents a $10 fee for all services plus the cost of parts.

Students earn a $4 stipend for each work session, and that's deposited into an account that can be used for any college expense. They also can work toward earning a laptop.

The school also won a small grant from the Maine Community Foundation and the Rural Trust to build a greenhouse and planting beds. Elementary and middle school students work the garden, which has produced enough food to serve in the school cafeteria.

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