BELFAST — After 15 years of teaching students to play music at Belfast Community Outreach Program in Education for Belfast Area High School, Tim Woitowitz is putting down his drumsticks.

BCOPE, an alternative education program started in 1990 at the Belfast Center, serves students who did not thrive in a traditional setting. In 2002, the school moved to its current location on Merriam Drive opposite Spectrum Generations.

Woitowitz said the reason the school has been so successful is its individualized approach to finding the best way each student learns. “Everyone learns at their own level,” he said. “You fit the program to the student.”

The music program started 15 years ago in a utility room, Woitowitz said, after the BCOPE director at the time asked him to bring his music to the school. The room was in rough shape, he remembers. “I was a musician and I volunteered,” he said.

Over the years, Woitowitz, 70, has accumulated gear for the BCOPE music room, including acoustic and electric drum sets,  a piano, and keyboards. On the wall hang acoustic and electric guitars, along with amplifiers, a public address system and a karaoke machine. “Everything you need to learn how to play in a band,” he said.

Longtime music teacher at BCOPE Tim Woitowitz at Belfast Boathouse Sept. 23. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

The goal is for the students to put on a performance at the end of the year at their “Recognition Night” event. Woitowitz remembered one end-of-year performance where he taught a student her mother’s favorite song. At the graduation she played and sang the song, which brought tears to her mother’s eyes. “And that’s not the first time that has happened,” he said.

“And the joy you would see,” he said. “The joy was for me, too.”

“I was worried, thinking when I leave, who’s going to take it over,” he said. “Would it continue or would it die.”

His worries were short-lived when he learned that Randy Nichols, a former student, would be taking over his music class as well as performing the duties of an Ed Tech III at the school.

Woitowitz remembers a young Nichols, in his Youth Advocacy Program, an afterschool program at the Waldo County YMCA. “I taught them how to cook and we would feed the afterschool program once a week,” he said. They would also do field trips to the State House where they performed page duties, to ABC-TV in Bangor, and on several overnight trips.

Nichols told The Republican Journal Sept. 14 it is “a dream come true” to be teaching music to students at BCOPE. “All my talents and skills I get to teach.”

Prior to coming on board at BCOPE, Nichols was an ed tech in the Bridges program, a special education program at Belfast Area High School; he said he will miss many of his tribe from there.

Director Helen Scipione said she is the new/old teaching principal at BCOPE, returning to the school this year. “I was here from 1994-2007 and led the charge into this new building.”

“Randy is no stranger to BCOPE and he just happens to be my son,” she added. “He grew up at BCOPE and also worked at the Wayfinder School, a private alternative high school.”

When he first requested a transfer to BCOPE, she said, “we looked at the district policy regarding family working together, and as long as I don’t formally evaluate him, it does not go against district policy.

“Jess Woods, the assistant principal at the high school, will evaluate him and I will not participate in the process,” Scipione said. “I do, however, consider myself one of his lifelong mentors.”

Nichols said in his duties as an ed tech at BAHS, he got to visit a lot of different classrooms, which allowed him to see a wide array of teaching styles. “It was a job that taught me so much,” he said.

He has also taught at Wayfinder School in Camden and volunteered with AmeriCorps in California and elsewhere.

Regarding his own experience in school, he said he was “not the worst student, but was far from the best.” Nichols said he had a knack of finding trouble if he did not have something to occupy his mind. “My mom told me I needed to find my passion,” he said.

Initially, the tall, lanky Nichols said, he fell into music as a way to meet girls. He started on bass, then moved to six-string guitar after his grandmother bought him an instrument thinking it was a bass. He learned to sing and play drums, parts that were harder to find musicians for, and later in college he picked up piano.

Nichols attended Islesboro Central School for one year, which he said was “great.” After returning to school at BAHS, he struggled initially and it was not until he signed up for upper level AP classes that he felt stimulated.  “Music was also a huge part of it,” he said. “It kept me safe and provided a routine and regimen. It has helped keep me grounded.”

Of Woitowitz, Nichols said, “He was my mentor, and music was an interest that he shared with us — it was our common ground.”

Woitowitz told Nichols not to get too technical when working with students. “Teach them how to play, and how to get a sound out of the instrument,” he said, “and they will get interested. Teach them a song and they get joy out of it.”

Having received volunteerism awards in the past for his “Making Change” program, a support group for youth dealing with the pressures of everyday life, Woitowitz said he plans to continue helping people, teaching the art of sound recording, making music and furthering people’s careers.

He continues to play music with the Juke Rockets and Memphis Lightning as well as filling in with other bands playing drums. Currently Woitowitz is looking for a new place to set up his studio with a room at least 12 feet square.

“I’m thrilled to have Randy take over,” he said. “I’m proud of him. It can’t be in better hands than his.”

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