On Thursday, Nicole Gottschall was sitting on the floor in the administrative offices of the Belgrade School District, sorting through a pile of records in an effort to catalog why students dropped out of Belgrade High School.
The work is a first step toward helping address the district’s dropout problem, and is just one of many tasks the young VISTA volunteer will be tackling over the next year. That particular effort could result in the formation of a Graduation Matters-type program at Belgrade.
“Right now I’m trying to track why kids dropped out,” she said. “It’s the first step.”
Gottschall is working with the district via Americorps and VISTA, and came to Belgrade from upstate New York via the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Service’s Prevention Resource Program.
The 26-year-old Gottschall is a graduate of Wells College, a small liberal-arts institution in her native upstate New York, where she studied public affairs. She joined VISTA, a kind of domestic version of the Peace Corps, and applied to Montana.
“A year of service sounded like a great opportunity to learn something and get out of my comfort zone, see a different part of the country,” she said.
The VISTA program will pay her a small stipend — the school district pays nothing — and will give Gottschall a chance to immerse herself in youth-related issues both in the school district and other programs in Belgrade.
The position was part of a VISTA grant the school district applied for with the Belgrade Community Library, and in addition to working in the schools, Gottschall also will promote youth programs and activities in the community — at the library and as part of the Belgrade Youth Forum.
“I can jump right into a lot of different things,” she said.
Belgrade Schools Superintendent Candy Lubansky said having the VISTA position and Gottschall will help the district in a variety of ways. She will help coordinate anti-alcohol and -drug programs, connect parents and youth with services in the community, and promote activities and involvement.
“We’re pretty excited,” Lubansky said. “This is an exciting thing for the entire community.”