TRESCOTT, Maine — When Jessica Schrader of Cherryfield became pregnant at 17, she thought her years of formal education might be over. She left high school, gave birth and began motherhood. But she said she never gave up on finding a way to continue her education.
On Saturday, Schrader and Tamra Pulk of Pembroke became the first two graduates of the Cobscook Community Learning Center’s Passages program.
“I really feel like I have accomplished something,” Schrader said.
The program now has 13 students, many of whom were present during Saturday’s activities at the center’s outdoor stage. The Machias Town Band played “Pomp and Circumstance,” and there were speeches, inspirational remarks and the formal presentation of diplomas.
Moments before donning her cap and gown and obtaining her high school diploma, Schrader hoisted her daughter, Autumn, onto her hip. She said continuing her education was as much for her child as for herself.
“I want to go to college and give her what she wants,” she said. Schrader is headed to Husson University in the fall to begin studies in physical therapy.
Pulk has been accepted into the culinary arts program at Washington County Community College in Calais.
“Passages made it so easy to get my diploma,” Pulk said. “You can’t go on to get a job or go to college without one. I’m so happy right now that this doesn’t quite feel real.”
Passages is the first satellite location of the Community School in Camden, where the program has been serving young parents in the midcoast area for 16 years.
“This partnership allowed us to bring this educational opportunity to Washington County students,” Passages teacher Charley Martin-Berry said.
The Community School is a private alternative high school approved by the Maine Department of Education. The official recognition was important to Schrader, who said she was proud to be getting a high school diploma Saturday and not a GED certificate.
Martin-Berry explained that Passages comes to the students, who all are young parents, rather than making students find child care and transportation to come to classes.
Skills covered include the traditional three R’s — reading, writing and arithmetic — but also include computer and parenting skills, and other life skills such as budgeting, community resources and support, conflict resolution and job seeking.
A special final project, called “The Passage,” also is required.
“It is a chance for them to run with the ball, own their idea and turn it into a learning experience that carries special meaning for them,” Martin-Berry said. “The objective is to address or confront a very real or personal, or significant fear, challenge, need, interest or passion in their life.”
Schrader said her final project included a DVD of inspirational songs, quotes and photographs.
“And at the end, I included my photograph with Autumn and a quote of my very own,” she said.
Through this style of education, Martin-Berry said, the student becomes the teacher, and the teacher becomes the support.
“The intent is for them to realize their potential,” she said.