Kevin Daley enjoys living next to Andrews Brook, which flows through his backyard in West Paris. Photo by Pamela Chodosh Pamela Chodosh

Kevin Daley has run CAPS, an alternative education program at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School (OHCHS), since 2006. Originally a French teacher, he started painting at 43 and now shows his oils at the Richard Boyd Gallery on Peaks Island and at Maurice’s Restaurant in South Paris. He lives in West Paris with Piper, a rescue dog from Puerto Rico, who is six months old. 

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I grew up in a little country town near Lowell, Massachusetts. My mother was a wealthy society girl. My dad was the son of a farmer. It gave me an interesting background.

My father went to Harvard on a full music scholarship. He was a composer and a pianist. He had jobs selling shoes and working at grocery stores. Then he worked for the Social Security Administration.

My maternal grandmother had maids, beautiful silver and food like lobster and artichokes, things we never knew about until we were with her. We lived a life of forced poverty on a farm my mother created with lots of sheep and goats and not very much land. She wanted us to grow up with different values. She thought deprivation would be good for us. In some ways it was.

I went to a Catholic elementary school. The kids I went to school with lived in other towns and were from mostly wealthy families. That was not fun.

When I got to high school, I decided I wanted to go to the public one in town. It was my first real battle with my parents.

It was a great decision, though. I met people and started to have friends. For the first time, I did not feel isolated.

In 7th grade, a nun gave me a Christmas present of uniform shirts and a belt. Another teacher took me and six or eight other students to the White Mountains, which I loved. My parents had just divorced. I was living. I was living alone with my mom. To have a couple of adults make me feel like there was nothing wrong with me, and that I was smart and funny was huge.

My French teacher Dede, who encouraged my French studies, listened to me talk about my family. She saw me struggling. She said, “I want to listen, but this is more than I can listen to.” She steered me to counseling, which was another life-changing thing.

Everybody in my family valued education. My senior year, I applied to Boston University, Tufts and Saint Anselm College, a Catholic college in Manchester, New Hampshire. I got into all of them but went to Saint Anselm. I figured it was close to the White Mountains. It was also a peace offering to my mother. My grandmother paid for my first year of college. That gave me some real advantages.

Though Anselm was not a good place for me, I stayed. I did not like my French professor, but I was crazy about my English professor who taught grammar and was funny. I chose to major in English with a minor in French.

I had a part-time job at the college coffee shop. My grandmother said I couldn’t work if she was paying my tuition. I tried to explain I was grateful, but I wanted to be able to put gas in my car and go out with my friends. She threatened to cut me off. I said, “Do it.” She did.

I started working full time. Rosemary, who was the manager, knew anyone who worked there for three years could take classes for free. Though I didn’t know this, she went to the college treasurer and asked if I could do that.

One day, she just said, “You can go to class now. You have free tuition.” It was just what I needed.

After five years, plus summers, I graduated. A professor encouraged me to get a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature. I went to Brandeis. I lived with my grandmother, but when that got too hard, I moved out, got an apartment, and started teaching French to the undergraduates. That helped with my rent.

Though I was in a Ph.D. program, after two years I realized I was there for the wrong reasons. I left with a Master’s in French Studies and started managing a video store in Boston. A few years later, I took a huge pay cut to become a manager of a residential program for 13-year-old kids. That began my understanding of how the world worked.

I loved Boston, but that loner part of me wanted to live in a more rural setting. I bought a trailer on a couple of acres in Newfield, Maine and used it on vacations, When some things changed in my personal life, I moved to Newfield. I sold the oriental rugs that I had inherited from my grandmother, one-by-one, to pay my bills and tried to find a job.

I got a longterm substitute job teaching French at Saco Middle School. I taught there for three months then took a one-year job at OHCHS. I started in August of ’92. I commuted from Newfield, but by November, I realized I needed to live closer. I found an apartment on Paris Hill. I made some good friends, among them my landlords, John and Mary Lloyd, who were like surrogate parents. They were a huge part of my staying there for 15 years.

In 2006, Paula Perreau, who was running the CAPS program, suggested I take her place when she left to have her first child. I was so aware of there being a lot of disenfranchised kids in the building. In those days, they were more visible. There were more fights, more kids smoking in the bathroom, and more kids dropping out. I took the job. It made sense. It had for a long time.

We try to get the kids to be self-aware, to think through the messages they may have gotten from their families or their friends. They think they are not valuable. We want them to think that they are.

Even the kids who struggle have something good to offer. I am grateful to the people who saw that in me.


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