Foxcroft Farm alternative ed program to end at OVUHS
LEICESTER — Residents around the Otter Valley Unified Union School District were shocked to read a letter to the editor last week stating that the beloved Harvest Program at Foxcroft Farm would be ending after almost two decades helping OV students who may not fit in a traditional classroom.
Harvest Program founder and Executive Director Anne Young explained in the letter that it had been a tough decision that was not based on financial need.
“After 17 years of providing services to our local children and youth, Foxcroft Farm Harvest Program Inc. has made a decision to discontinue the current services and dissolve the nonprofit by the end of June 2017,” Young wrote. “It has not been an easy decision, or one that has been influenced by a lack of support or funding. It is more of a personal decision, supported by the board.”
Young reiterated in an interview with The Reporter Monday that the decision was personal, and one that she is clearly still struggling with.
“It’s a life choice,” she said. “I’m getting tired and I just think it’s time. I’ve been thinking about it for years and haven’t wanted to give up.”
Young created the Harvest Program in 2000 and serves as the executive director. She and her husband, Ken, run Harvest on their farm in Leicester. The program serves middle and high school students who have behavioral and learning issues that make it difficult to function in a traditional classroom setting. The program offers experiential learning in an agricultural setting with service and community volunteerism as a major component. In 2011 had a 93 percent graduation rate.
One thing that sets the Harvest Program apart is a service learning component, where students give back to surrounding communities on a weekly basis, cooking lunch for senior citizens, raking leaves, visiting with patients at local senior living facilities and Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation, or selling wreaths and maple syrup to raise money for worthy causes.
The program also donates handmade wooden furniture to the Great Brandon Auction each year, as well as fresh turkeys. If there is a blood drive in Brandon, Harvest Program students could be counted on to provide homemade sandwiches, cookies and brownies for donors to snack on after giving blood.
The Harvest Program will end in June along with the school year.
Young has been fighting to keep the program afloat for years, and in 2014 reached a successful partnership with the United Way that allowed her more freedom with funding and programming. Prior to that, the program was run through the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, but that partnership hit a roadblock in 2010.
RNeSU contracted with Young in early 2011 to run the Harvest Program with a reduced budget and shorter programming hours. The move came after intense public backlash forced then-RNeSU Superintendent John Castle to take another look at retaining the Harvest Program after initially suggesting in September 2010 such severe funding cuts that Young’s employment and the future of the program was in question altogether.
The agreement cut the program’s funding from $200,000 per year to $55,000, plus up to $20,000 from SOAR for the after-school program. Young was paid an additional $5,000 as a service-learning consultant.
In 2014, the Otter Valley School Board voted to the return $30,000 that had been taken out of the budget to help fund the Harvest school day program.
Superintendent Jeanne Collins said there is no plan right now to replace the Harvest Program, but that individual plans will be made with student involved with the program as needed.
“That said, I have appreciated the partnership with Harvest Program and am sorry to see it end,” Collins said. “Anne Young did some amazing things with kids, albeit not in a traditional setting. It furthers my belief that students need options to see relevance in learning.”
Young said she still sees a tremendous need for the program, which makes her decision that much harder.
“I still very much love what I’m doing, I love these kids and I can see how much of a need there is,” she said. “But I have played so many roles to make this work, it would take more money and people to make it sustainable, to make it a reality,”
Young said she did not know what her next move will be, although she said she will have to find gainful employment elsewhere.
“I don’t want to think about that right now,” she said. “I’m going to put all my patience and energy and heart into getting these kids to June and make sure they know I am giving them everything I can.”
Young said she currently has 47 kids accessing the program in some way each week, either through the afterschool program, the fifth- and sixth-grade groups that come once a week, or the 12 students that attend Harvest three to five times per week.
Young said she has no regrets and hopes that the school district will find a way to serve the kids she clearly loves so much.
“They’re going to be where my heart is,” she said, “and I want to make sure they know that. I’m going to worry and it’s hard for me because I love these kids and I feel the need is growing.”
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