What makes Wiscasset an attractive community and what it lacks for young people were among the questions four members of the Wiscasset Area Chamber of Commerce asked the Wiscasset High School Student Council in a meeting Tuesday, May 2.
“What will keep you here?” Judy Flanagan said.
While some students pointed to the small, close-knit community as a positive, the lack of diversity and the lack of businesses geared toward the year-round population are reasons students leave after graduation and do not return, several students said.
“A lot of the stores are for the tourists,” student council member Vanessa Dunn said. “There’s not that much for people our age. That’s why, when students go to college, they don’t come back. There’s more stuff to do other places.”
The lack of ethnic diversity and a youth-driven music and arts scene are also reasons young people seek out other communities, student council member Grant Hefler said. “The art and music is somewhere else,” he said.
Many students said they felt the Wiscasset Art Walk and summer music series were not for them, but for tourists and older residents. “What about an open mic night?” one student said. “Why not help (young) people trying to get their stuff out there.”
Some students pointed to an apparent schism between the town and the school and a general feeling the town does not fully support school events and activities. Student performances and sporting events are not promoted by the town, and residents who do not have a family member in the school district do not attend, students said.
“If selectmen and other boards worked together, if we all worked together, we would be more of a community,” student council President Brandon Goud said.
Flanagan asked students how they felt about recent discussion of closing the high school and paying tuition to send high school-age students to other schools. The responses surprised her, she said.
Some students spoke in favor of the proposal, some spoke against, and some pointed to the possibility of combining Boothbay Region High School with Wiscasset’s high school, or accepting more tuition students from the surrounding areas.
“I think it would be in the best interest of the kids” to close the high school, Hefler said.
The constant changes at the high school, adding more grades and moving classrooms around, is difficult, another student said.
Student council member Stephanie Jones was opposed to the idea of closing the school. “I don’t agree. I’m the third generation to graduate from the high school,” Jones said. “I like how small it is. The teachers know us and there’s extra help.”
Keara Hunter lives on Westport Island and already has a 30-minute commute to school, she said. “We should keep the school open and attract outside towns,” she said. Dresden and Whitefield were pointed to as communities that the high school could serve.
“Everything goes through cycles,” Goud said. “If we’re at the bottom now, the only place we can go is up.”
The comments were enlightening, said Wiscasset Area Chamber of Commerce President Monique McCrae and members Flanagan, Cheryl Rust, and Brad Sevaldson, who were in attendance.
Increasing student involvement in town government and town committees, and promoting school events through the chamber of commerce newsletter, were among follow-up actions chamber members discussed.
Wiscasset Police Chief Jeff Lange, who also attended, proposed brining in an intern from the senior class to work at the police department, and getting students involved with the Wiscasset Ambulance Service and Wiscasset Fire Department.
Student council adviser Deb Pooler thanked the chamber for requesting the meeting.
“A lot of times students feel like no one listens to them,” Pooler said. The seriousness and thoughtfulness of the students’ responses indicate how amazing Wiscasset students are, she said.
“The real treasure in Wiscasset is its kids,” Pooler said. “I hope this conversation continues.”
“We just scratched the surface,” Rust said.