June 22, 2014

REAL School student receives Mitchell Scholarship - By Elizabeth Richards

It was a big year for RSU 14s REAL (Relevant Experiential Authentic Learning) School. Not only did the school celebrate its 30th anniversary with its largest graduating class, but among those students was the first student from the REAL School to be named a Mitchell Scholar. 

Kamden Berry attended the REAL school for two years, after struggling in the traditional high school setting at Windham High School. “It wasn’t the academic piece that was keeping him from accessing instruction at WHS,” said his mother, Linda Berry. “He just felt kind of lost in the bigger school. Going to a smaller school was a better fit for him.” 

Kamden agreed. “I didn’t fit in the best in the conventional school setting. It was very restrictive for me. The REAL school helped me build upon my strengths,” he said. Two years ago, he said, he didn’t think he would even be going to college. But at the REAL school, he was encouraged and given the support needed to achieve being chosen as a Mitchell Scholar. “It’s a great honor,” he said of being selected. “It will be a great help for me having the assistance with the Mitchell Scholarship. They stand behind you too,” he added.

The mission of the Mitchell Institute, founded by Senator George Mitchell, is “to increase the likelihood that young people from every community in Maine will aspire to, pursue, and achieve a college education.” A Mitchell Scholar is named every year from each of 130 public high schools statewide. As a Mitchell Scholar, in addition to a financial award of $7,000 over the course of his education, Kamden will have access to a network of peers and adult mentors. This assistance is even bigger for them than the financial piece, said Linda. 

Kamden said that while the money is significant, and will help him a great deal, he’s most excited about the support he will receive. “It’s a huge confidence booster knowing I have the supports in place, and have people who will help me and stand by me to make sure that I succeed,” he said.

Rod Nadeau, an adventure based counselor at the REAL School said Kam was an ideal candidate for the award. “He has an incredible work ethic, he’s unbelievably smart, and he can handle a lot of responsibility,” said Nadeau. This has been evident in the work Kamden has done over the past couple of years at the REAL School, he said. 

Kamden took part in a work co-op program with Mr. H2O, a division of Dead River, and was so successful that he was hired on full time. Nadeau said that the company is expanding rapidly, and Kam is included in that expansion plan. 

Being named a Mitchell scholar will solidify Kamden’s opportunity for success at SMCC, Nadeau added. He is hopeful that Kamden will receive his associate’s degree, continue on for a bachelor’s degree, and advance with Mr. H20. While in school, Nadeau said, Kamden continually took on new personal challenges, worked hard, and grew significantly. From taking on ice climbing to raising up a boardwalk at the Sebago Lake Ecology Center, Kamden met challenges and fears head on, said Nadeau. 

Kamden has been generous to his community, said Nadeau. In addition to the hours put in at the ecology center, Kamden took on the responsibility of grooming snowmobile trails for the Windham Drifters last winter. He has also served as a Governor appointed member of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Group in Augusta. “He’s a great kid. He’s utilized the support well to be very successful, and he’s giving back to the community,” said Nadeau.

Linda said she is proud of Kamden. Being named a Mitchell Scholar finally recognized him for the bright kid he is, she said. “It was a nice surprise to hear that he was awarded that amount of money and also, more importantly, that he’s tied in now with the whole system of networking, and with peer tutors if he needs it through school, and just a group of people that are going to support him through his college years,” she said. 

Kamden’s receipt of this scholarship has changed their lives, said Linda. “Kamden’s success isn’t just about Kamden. It’s about our family and our family’s feeling of success in helping Kam to get where he needed to go. Everyone in our family knew that he would get there,” she said.

Kamden said he has received great support and motivation from a number of directions, including at the REAL School, in his job with Mr. H2O, from his parents, and now with the Mitchell Scholarship. “It’s been building up over the past couple of years to this moment,” he said. “It’s just incredible. It’s unbelievable. Two years ago I wasn’t sure I would even be going to school. Now I know what I want to do. It all just fell into place,” he said. 

Kamden will be studying business at SMCC, and plans to stay with Dead River. He said he loves his work, and though he had considered studying law enforcement, thinks he would regret passing up the opportunity he’s been given at the company. He feels the same about the Mitchell Scholarship. “I was given this opportunity and it’s up to me to make it happen. I’ll follow through with it and really succeed in school,” he said. 

Kamden said he would like to continue on for a four year degree, and he’s exploring taking night and summer courses to possibly finish in three years. “There’s no reason I can’t make it happen if I’m determined enough,” he said.

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