FRENCHBORO — Mable Fitzsimmons has learned a lot since dropping out of school.
For example: “Just because you have a baby doesn’t mean you have to stop your life. I would like to inspire young girls and let them know that, even though it’s not a good thing to get pregnant in high school, you should still go for your goals.”
Her goal is to become a registered nurse or medical assistant.
She recently became the first Mount Desert Island Adult Education student to earn a diploma instead of a high school equivalency credential, and she was the program’s first distance learner.
Fitzsimmons, 18, grew up in Lubec and attended Machias Memorial High School until she had a baby at the start of her senior year. She moved to Frenchboro to be with the baby’s father and took a year off from school.
But she really wanted to graduate and needed only four more credits, so this past September, she enrolled in the MDI Adult Education program, which is based at MDI High School.
“We traditionally think of adult ed students getting the HiSET, formerly the GED, which is a high school equivalency [credential],” said Anne Patterson, MDI Adult Education program director.
“But now we have a full-time teacher, and we decided last summer that we would pilot a diploma program, as long as we had students who were at least 18 years old and needed six credits or less.”
Adult ed programs in Maine can now apply to the state Department of Education to be approved as a distance learning site, and the MDI program received that approval last year.
“Distance learning can mean lots of different things,” Patterson said. “We chose to define it as helping off-shore island kids finish school. Mable was our guinea pig, our pilot student.”
Fitzsimmons met with adult ed teacher Tim McKim a few times but did most of her work via computer using an online educational program called “Odysseyware.” Student and teacher also communicated using Scribblar, an online whiteboard.
“I can write on a pad on a computer here, and it comes up on her screen over in Frenchboro,” McKim said.
Fitzsimmons said some of the course work was “sort of difficult,” but she enjoyed the flexibility of distance learning.
“I could do it on my own time, and I could be home with the baby and not have him in day care and me in school,” she said. “And Tim and Anne were wicked nice.”
She also got help from Jan Keiper, the teacher at the Frenchboro School. Keiper offered tutoring and proctored the final tests that Fitzsimmons took for each of the subjects she studied.
Fitzsimmons said she wants to start taking some college courses online while still caring for her son, James, who is now 18 months old.
“Then when James is 5, I’d like to take him and go to the mainland for school,” she said. “And five years from now, I’d like to be able to work in a hospital.”