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Tuesday, Jul 5, 2016

Berkshire Recognizes Graduates and Special Guests at Annual Ceremony

CANAAN, N.Y. — Hundreds of students, family and staff turned out June 24 to recognize the Berkshire Junior/Senior High School’s 2016 graduates and award winners and to celebrate the 130th anniversary of the founding of Berkshire Farm Center, the school’s sister organization. The school also granted honorary diplomas to Paula Consolini, Ph.D., of Williams College and James Baldwin, J.D., Ed.D, Vice President of Excelsior College in recognition of their contribution to and support for community engagement, special education, and creating opportunities for vulnerable youth.

Two of Berkshire’s three graduates will start college in the fall. The third will go directly into the workforce in the logging and cattle industries. The two college-bound graduates received more than $30,000 in grants, scholarships and loans to pay for college, including $9,600 in scholarships from the Mott Family Scholarship administered by Berkshire. The school also celebrated many other younger students with more than 20 awards, such as the Queechy Lake Club Award for commitment to the environment, and the John Krahm Award for Continuous Improvement.

“It is wonderful to know where our students came from and the hurdles they have overcome to earn their diplomas, awards, and thousands of dollars in scholarship money,” said Berkshire Jr./Sr. High School Principal Michael Mitchell.

Recognizing dedication
During the ceremony, Bruce Potter, Superintendent of Berkshire Union Free School District, recognized both Consolini and Baldwin for their active support of Berkshire Farm Center and the school.

Consolini directs the Center for Learning in Action at Williams College, a program that engages Williams students with not-for-profit and community organizations outside the classroom. The program provides needed resources for the organizations and gives students valuable experience. Consolini has worked with Berkshire Farm Center since 2004, when she began supervising Williams students volunteering or interning at the Canaan campus.

Over the years, she and the students have become more directly involved with youth at Berkshire, helping them to find and apply for scholarships, researching best practices and collaborating on workforce programs. She has also connected Berkshire with SWAG, a Williams student group that provides sexual wellness education, and the Society of the Griffins, which is committed to fostering an intellectual environment and is mentoring youth at Berkshire Farm Center.

“At Berkshire,” Potter said, “we are deeply impressed with Dr. Consolini’s dedication to her work at Williams and her passion for reaching into the community to help others succeed.”

Baldwin presently serves as the Executive Vice President for Excelsior College, in Albany. Previously, he was district superintendent for Questar III BOCES, an educational service agency, where he was an outspoken advocate for better student engagement in learning. Working with Potter, Baldwin was a key partner in establishing a new, multi-district model for special education, helping to draft and enact legislation that allowed Berkshire to partner with school districts in Catskill and Hudson to create the Columbia-Green Partnership Academy, now called the Warren Street Academy in Hudson, New York.

Potter praised Baldwin’s effort, “the academy provides students from Catskill and Hudson, who have been struggling in their local schools, with a place to pursue a high school education and succeed. Since opening in 2013, the academy has issued 15 high school diplomas while saving participating districts over $500,000 per year in personnel and transportation costs.”

imageRecognition Day was an emotional one for students and audience alike. Graduate speaker, Jonathan S., chose the day’s theme, “Know Your Worth” and shared his progress at Berkshire. “It feels great to see how much progress I have made while at Berkshire. I wasn't always the best kid to be around, but now everywhere I go, I sense that everyone is proud of me. I feel great knowing that my hard work has created the opportunity for me to succeed.  I could not have achieved today success without the help, guidance, and support of the Berkshire staff.”

Building confidence
Students often arrive at Berkshire without the skills they need to address and move beyond personal trauma. “At the start, these graduates didn’t care about themselves or education,” said Mitchell. “Through the years, they became school leaders and grew to not only have pride in themselves, but in those around them as well.”

“Recognition Day delivered the kind of reflection, celebration and emotion that only a Berkshire Recognition Day can deliver,” Potter said. “Jonathan’s speech brought me to tears. I am not only proud of our students, but all faculty and staff that work tirelessly both in the school and on campus. Without their hard work, commitment and dedication, we would not be able to celebrate these accomplishments.”

Closing a chapter
Recognition Day is the closing of a chapter for the students leaving Berkshire, but for the students who remain, it’s about inspiration.

“The theme of Berkshire is that our youth learn to envision a role for themselves within their families and their communities,” said Berkshire’s Board Chairman, Robert Kandel. “It’s a valuable opportunity for our younger students to see these positive role models—kids like themselves—finding success within their own Berkshire community. They see that being at Berkshire means something, that you can build yourself, graduate, join the workforce and create a meaningful life. When younger students look up to our graduates, they can see that they too can seize these opportunities and better themselves, and that’s powerful.”

Sydney Lester
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