Our Maine Street's Aroostook Issue 24 : Spring 2015 - Page 69

In 1900, in his book Major Dickey: Sketch of his Life, the Reverend F.X. Burque wrote, “If all the schoolhouses that he caused to be built were clustered together around the Madawaska Training School, they would form quite a considerable village.” As Reverend Burke was extolling the life work of Major William Dickey, the founder of the Madawaska Training School which is now the University of Maine at Fort Kent, he was also explaining the pivotal role the campus played in the development and improvement of public schools in the greater Fort Kent region. The Reverend’s words today can be seen as both prophetic and descriptive of the long, interdependent, and collaborative relationship that has been enjoyed by the University of Maine at Fort Kent and public schools in the region. The concept of “village” 215 years after Reverend Burke published his book has taken on a new meaning. Certainly UMFK is still located where it was founded and is still rooted in its mission of serving rural populations in rural communities, but 21st century technology has allowed the type of public school collaboration, that has been one of the hallmarks of the University, to expand to the farthest reaches of Maine. This outreach is best exemplified in the University’s Rural U Early College and Dual Enrollment Program. Although it has been possible for local high school students to take college courses while still in high school for many years, the trajectory of expanding early college and dual enrollment at UMFK began in 2005 when, spurred on by a grant from the National Governor’s Association, the campus and Fort Kent Community High School began the process of increasing the number of students taking advantage of this opportunity. Later that year five high school students from Fort Kent took live classes on the UMFK campus for dual credit. Over the next few years more students from four St. John Valley high schools took live or online classes at UMFK. Annually UMFK could expect twenty or so students to be enrolled in early college. In 2011 UMFK and Fort Kent Community High School, UMFK’s next-door neighbor on Pleasant Street, joined forces and developed Maine’s first early college high school concept. From that collaboration the Pleasant Street Academy, which is still in operation today, came into being, and the first cohort of sixteen high school students enrolled in this dual enrollment experiment graduated from high school in June of 2013 with a full year of college completed. The way UMFK was delivering early college and the high quality of the program caught on quickly. More schools throughout Aroostook County and in other areas of Maine were impressed with UMFK’s student-centered approach to early college and wanted their students to have access to these opportunities. Simultaneously, in 2011 Governor Paul Lepage’s Task Force on Early Post-Secondary Opportunities, which Scott Voisine, UMFK’s Dean of Community Education, was a part of successfully recommended changes to legislation regarding early college, including paving the way for more online access, expanded credit hour limits, and dual enrollment partnerships. More high schools in Maine joined UMFK as partners. In 2013 UMFK announced a new name for its fast growing early college and dual enrollment programs. Rural U was born. What started as a small, localized program has grown exponentially. By the spring semester of the 2014-2015 academic year Rural U will include 65 partner high schools (half of all public high schools in Maine) with a projected enrollment of 350 students for fall 2015. Rural U is comprised of three distinct programs including the Pleasant St. Academy which is described above; online early college in which students take online classes and are provided academic support both at their high schools and via UMFK’s distance education services; and dual enrollment in which students take UMFK classes taught in their high schools by teachers who have been approved as adjunct faculty. Students in the program do not pay tuition. The campus provides scholarships for half the tuition and the other half is funded by the Maine Aspirations fund of the Maine Department of Education. Students are responsible for fees and books. While other early college and dual enrollment programs exist in Maine, Rural U’s program is designed to best serve rural students and high schools. UMFK’s mission is focused on rural communities and preparing students to be professionals in those communities throughout Maine, New England, and the United States. The small, familial, and service-centered approach to life, work, and education in rural communities is reflected in the hightouch, individualized student service approach taken by the UMFK campus in general and by Rural U specifically. In the spring of 2015 Rural U, thanks to a grant from the Davis Educational Foundation, will launch a mobile app to provide even greater student service in a manner that is in line with the way youth interact with the world around them – via mobile technology. Rural U is part of the changing landscape of rural education in Maine. Research shows that early college and dual enrollment programs, like Rural U, provide affordable pathways to college, increase college attainment, reduce the need for remedial courses once students enroll in college, and significantly improve college retention and graduation rates – all of these outcomes have been identified as needs in Maine. In addition, Rural U is helping some very small, rural schools by supplementing their course offerings at a time when school budgets make expanded course offerings difficult. In a state like Maine, which is facing trying demographic and economic realities, Rural U is a model of efficient school and university collaboration; a collaboration that allows educators to continue to provide relevant and rigorous education to rural students. SPRING 2015 67