Virtual learning center a success for family literacy program

Commissioner Stephen Bowen meets Jack Wheeler, recent graduate of the SPICE Family Literacy Program.

Commissioner Stephen Bowen meets Jack Wheeler, recent graduate of the SPICE Family Literacy Program, which enabled Jack to work and spend time with his family while finishing his high school degree from home.

With the press of a button, members of more than a dozen families in RSU 3 can transport themselves to the halls of Mount View High School – the virtual halls, that is. Select families in 11 Waldo County towns can enroll in this virtual learning center, which opened in 2010 as part of the Students and Parents in Cooperative Education (SPICE) Family Literacy Program that aims to overcome issues of rural isolation.

Commissioner Stephen Bowen had a chance to log in to the virtual school, select an avatar and explore the adult education program’s web-based learning environment when he visited Mount View last week, one of his recent visits to showcase aspects of the Maine DOE’s strategic plan.

The broader SPICE program provides early childhood, parent education and adult literacy services to families in their homes, bringing learning to those unable to travel due to transportation or childcare complications. The program can serve up to 20 families a year and typically instructs children ages birth to three and their 16- to 20-year-old parents.

Integrating childhood and adult education is SPICE’s central mission. “Birth to three is so underserved, and that’s the time that children learn the most,” said Pat Hughes, adult education director for MSAD 3. “You can do a whole bunch with your kids very young, and you’re giving a parent the confidence that he can help his child be a better student.”

Heather Perry, superintendent of RSU 3, said the program’s efforts are aligned with the Maine DOE’s focus on proficiency-based education, a key element of the Department’s strategic plan.

When students enter the virtual program, they enter a world where the building’s architecture, classrooms, and even floor tiles have been designed to match the high school’s. Inside the virtual school, students have access to similar resources and one-on-one teacher instruction that traveling students do. “With a [virtual] center, they feel centered and focused. They check in for attendance, and somebody’s there for them that cares,” Hughes said.

Nineteen-year-old Jack Wheeler, a recent SPICE graduate and father to an infant son, has been able to work and spend time with his family while finishing his high school degree from home. He said this wouldn’t have been possible without the program’s dedicated support system. Teachers drove him to the center when necessary, reviewed his papers and offered invaluable tips during his child parenting classes. “They’re really close friends of mine now, and I really appreciated this opportunity,” Wheeler said. With his degree, he hopes to join the U.S. Air Force to further his education.

“A virtual program meets the needs of families in this rural community because students who cannot physically come to school are no longer denied the education they deserve,” Bowen said. “The SPICE program is leading the way in adult education and gives students the tools they will need to be successful in the modern-day workplace.”

Since SPICE’s inception in 2000, the program has been funded by Evenstart, the Maine Department of Education, and various grants, including the Lighthouse Model Program Grant from the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

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