Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School seniors Angelena Dunham, left, and Lindsay Strout stand Thursday at Valley View Orchard Pies in Oxford where they are interning through their school’s extended learning opportunity program. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

PARIS — In a push to retain more people locally and help students better understand what career they want to seek in post-secondary settings, Maine schools have started extended learning opportunity programs.

Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris and Sacopee Valley High School in Hiram, both in Oxford County, are two of the 26 schools awarded two-year grants from the state to start extended learning opportunity programs. The state awarded grants totaling more than $5.6 million to those 26 schools in 2022.

The program has taken off at Oxford Hills, where Vincent Kloskowski, executive director of college, career and extended learning opportunities, has witnessed students better understand what careers they want to pursue after graduation. “It is expanding the walls of the classroom into the community,” he said.

The internships are available to junior and senior students who have an idea of what they want to study or pursue after graduation, he said. Students are then paired with local professionals or organizations in the field of the student’s choosing.

Students gain school credit for the internship, allowing them to spend time during the school day at their internship location, he said. It gives students a “taste of real-world experiences” before going into the workforce or college.

Figuring out what they want


Julia Hanson, 17, would not have been able to secure the physical therapy internship though Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway without going through the school and getting credit for it, she said. There were a lot of obstacles that would have prevented her from interning at the hospital on her own.

She became interested in physical therapy after she had a osteomyelitis infection at 9 years old, which required invasive surgery, she said. She was hospitalized for a couple of weeks and had to learn how to walk again. Though physical therapy was difficult, she had therapists who made a difficult situation better.

“At 9, having to relearn to walk is really difficult,” she said. “So they were amazing and that kind of sent me on the path of I want to be that for someone else.”

She spends two to four hours at the hospital every week, she said. Being able to shadow some of the physical therapists has helped her learn more about anatomy and develop skills in individual patient care, how to interact with them, communicate with them and the best way to treat them in general, she said.

It has her thinking more about how she will care for patients and how she might develop her own unique treatment style after she earns her doctorate, she said.

The internship has only firmed up her desire to become a physical therapist, she said. She will start her education toward a doctorate in physical therapy in the fall at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, New Hampshire.


Senior Lindsay Strout, 17, is doing an internship at Valley View Orchard Pies in Oxford. She has always enjoyed cooking and took some culinary classes at the high school. She finds baking comforting.

Lindsay Strout, left, and Angelena Dunham pull racks of fruit pies from the freezer Thursday at Valley View Orchard Pies in Oxford. The two seniors at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris are interning at the business through their school’s extended learning opportunity program. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

She makes desserts and has learned how to interact with people, she said. The experience has also taught her to take more opportunities that come her way.

Though she has enjoyed her internship and enjoys baking, she is not interested in pursuing culinary arts professionally, she said. Instead, she plans to attend Southern Maine Community College, leaning toward studying business.

And for Kloskowski that is another program goal, helping students figure out what they do not want to pursue, he said. Sometimes students are interested in a subject in high school, without having experience in that industry, then they get partially through college only to discover that they do not want to pursue culinary arts, or another career, professionally but feel stuck on that path.

Interning at Oxford Hills Dental Associates helped Saige Winslow, 17, discover the type of dentistry she wants to pursue, she said. The senior has had a passion for dentistry since third grade, with an interest in putting a smile on people’s faces — literally and figuratively speaking.

Oxford Hills comprehensive High School senior Saige Winslow, 17, poses for a photo at Oxford Hills Dental Associates in Norway where she is interning for high school credit. She hopes to become a pediatric dentist. Courtesy of Vincent Kloskowski

While watching Dr. Maurice Convey fix nine of her younger sister’s teeth after a recent injury, it made her realize that she wanted to go into pediatric dentistry, she said. She might not have discovered this interest without the internship. She plans to attend Wheaton College in Massachusetts this fall, kicking off the long education career required to become a dentist.


“I’m glad that I get to go into a field that I know that I’m going to like,” she said.

She had always intended to intern at Oxford Hills Dental Associates but without school credit and having the option of using time during the school day, she would not have been able to spend as much time at her internship each week.

Dr. Convey has encouraged her to come back and work for him after she finishes her schooling and she intends to return to work in the area, she said.

Angelena Dunham also intends to stay in the area, with hopes to take over Valley View Orchard Pies, owned by her mother, she said. Though it is her family’s business, without school credit she would not have had the time to learn as much about the business as she has through the internship.

Going on business trips and meetings with her mother, she has been able to learn skills through meeting with clients in a conference room setting, she said. She has learned that businesses must be adaptive to customer needs, for instance making smaller pies for clients who request them.

She has already started to think of ways in which she can grow her mother’s business, possibly delving into catering, she said. She plans to attend the culinary arts program at Southern Maine Community College in the fall.


Changing the educational landscape

Elizabeth Sanborn, Sacopee Valley High School extended learning opportunity coordinator, sees extended learning opportunity programs in the future of all Maine high schools, she said.

The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, the Maine Department of Education and Gov. Janet Mills have all identified career exploration and workforce skills development as a priority for Maine students in all public schools, issuing recommendations and funding in support of those initiatives, Sanborn said.

Extended learning opportunities are a way to fulfill those goals, she said. They include internships, mentorships, job shadowing, apprenticeships, digital learning, community services or independent studies.

The state has not made any more grants for extended learning opportunity programs available yet, Sanborn said. Once schools expend their funds, there are no more available. Grants awarded to Sacopee Valley High School in 2022 are expected to cover its program until the middle of next year but it is unclear if the local school board will include the program in the school’s overall budget next year or the year after.

She is hoping student successes in the program will incentivize the school board to include the program in the school’s overall budget. Then, residents must vote in favor of the budget. If not, then the program is in jeopardy and will likely end.


Oxford Hills Community Education Exchange received a $250,000 grant for Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School’s program, Kloskowski said. The funds have been used to operate the program, take students to career workshops and other events, along with staffing costs.

The high school has decided to add the program to its budget, he said. That would mean an increase in the school’s overall budget and local towns’ share, which might be off putting to some voters.

Kloskowski said people need to understand that the educational landscape has changed since most older adults were in school. There is a shortage of workers in Maine and young people are leaving to pursue work elsewhere. Investing in student education now could have a positive impact on the community in the future.

The extended learning opportunity programs help teach students that there is demand for and money to be made in many industries in the state now. The public should help give students all the opportunities they need to realize that they can stay and work in the state, Sanborn said.

For the 20 years she has been in education she always knew something needed to change, but she could not put her finger on it until she started helping students with extended learning opportunities, she said.

“I think I finally figured it out. This is it, this is where education needs to go and really making those connections between academics and future career options,” she said. “I think it is really important. And this is the education of the future and I think it should be here in Maine, too.”

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