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"Above the Notch" program off and running

September 12, 2018
LITTLETON—A new push for adult education and diploma-completion begins classes this week at the new "Above the Notch" program.

The program will be led by Rachelle Cox, who previously led North Conway's Eagle Academy, on which she has modeled many elements for Above the Notch. Cox is a certified as a special ed teacher and principal.

Cox will also support Littleton's grant-writing efforts; she claims to have secured some $850,000 in grant monies during her eight years in North Conway. To bolster her own efforts, she has already secured external monies for an additional staffer for her program.

The Above the Notch program is about "meeting students where they are," especially those who have not had success in a traditional high school environment, whether because of the need to enter the labor force, home life, income stress, or disability.

She aims to build relationships with area organizations: churches, nonprofits, and most especially, businesses. She will maintain strong links to state agencies, like NH Works, vocational ed, and the Department of Health and Human Services. Prospective partnerships with other area schools are already being discussed.

Cox emphasizes that Above the Notch won't be a 'remedial' course of study, but instead a hybrid bridge between the High School years to college and/or professional life. It is suitable for the needs of high-schoolers who are not on track to graduate, as well as for adult professionals looking to complete a high school diploma or make a career transition.

Students will take 15-week courses, based on programs at White Mountains Community College, with a long break in December. The schedule is built around the assumption that students will work at the same time. Cox will push hard for high school-age students to participate in employment, and plans to go to bat for them with local employers, who she says will be key partners.

"They take pride in the fact that they're working, and that I see them working," she said.

Students will also have the opportunity to take White Mountains Community College courses while enrolled, offering an early taste of undergrad-level work, and a leg up into higher education.

Cox also plans for big-dollar, grant-funded programs of community investment, such as a student-led art installation project. The idea will be to ground student-workers in their community, and give them a sense of investment in their home town's future.

"Ultimately, I see Littleton, down the road, being the the North Country hub for competency based education with a personalized style," Cox said.

She explained that to her, "competency based education" meant assessing students on their ability to apply what they had learned, not whether they had merely sat through the course.

The program's first class ran this Monday night, an economics course that will focus on real-world implications and practical skills like using a debit card, buying a car, and handling compound interest.

Character and motivation are key variables for success under Cox, who emphasizes that Above the Notch students will be entirely responsible to themselves for graduating.

"You have no idea when you're graduating until I tell you," she explained. "It becomes whether you want it or not...if you don't, you'll be back."

Students will sign in each night, to emphasize the workplace style. The first semester's integrated math course will assess all program students and put them on a personalized track. Homeschoolers will also be welcome at Above the Notch, from this and other districts. Students with a specific gap on their diploma, such as a biology credit, will be able to fill it retroactively.

Littleton's Gallen Career and Technical Center will play a major role in Above the Notch, especially for adult professionals looking to develop new skills, and high school-age students who aim at building, mechanical, and medical trades.

Students will build portfolios of work, and practice interviews with a point-scoring system. Cox plans to build connections with military recruiters, and help students focus their portfolios on the job they aim for.

The 17 current Above the Notch students range from 16 to 34 years of age; all are currently Littleton residents, and most work, whether full time or part time. Out-of-towners will have the chance to enroll as well.

Only three or four 16-year old students are taking basic classes—the rest are 17 years or older, and aiming to be done with high school. Two are even older, one a local business manager looking to attend cooking school, but doesn't have a diploma, the other is a professional who wants to enter the construction trade, and will be taking building classes at the Career and Technical Center. Several of Littleton's existing CTC teachers will teach classes at Above the Notch.

"I want teachers who can work with high-risk kids, and can meet them where they are," Cox explains.

"And move them forward," she adds. "That's what this is: a school where you can learn your way."

Interested prospective learners should contact Rachelle Cox at the Littleton High School: rcox@littletonschools.org, or 444-5601 (ext. 3316).

Tiffany Eddy
Martin Lord Osman
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