Discussing education and opportunity in rural communities last week at the Maine Seacoast Mission in Bar Harbor were, from left, Ellen Pope of the Mission, Charles Rudelitch of the Sunrise County Economic Council, Cherie Galyean of the Maine Community Foundation and Charlie Harrington, director of the Mission’s EdGE education program in Cherryfield. PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

Panel at Seacoast Mission discusses education in rural communities

BAR HARBOR — “When you ask people what they need to succeed,” Cherie Galyean of the Maine Community Foundation told a group gathered at the Maine Seacoast Mission’s headquarters last week, “you listen. And you believe them.”

She was part of a panel discussion about how education can contribute to revitalization of rural communities. Also on the panel were Charles Rudelitch of the Sunrise County Economic Council and Charlie Harrington, director of the Mission’s EdGE education program in Cherryfield. Ellen Pope of the Mission moderated the event.

More than 70 percent of the students in the EdGE program qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch, a common measure of household poverty, Harrington said. “Now that school is out, these kids will not be eating enough. It’s not their fault. It’s not their parents’ fault. There are places in the community they can go to get food, but they have to be able to get to them.”

Washington County is losing population, Rudelitch said, as deaths outnumber births and formation of new households among young adults is faltering. Many families struggle with generational poverty or addiction.

“No one prepared the population for these changing economies,” Rudelitch said. The fisheries are still going strong, as they have for generations, but costs are going up and it’s harder to get started than it used to be. “It’s a long road to a job that allows a person to completely leave the safety net,” he said.

He said his organization is focused on helping adults and young people overcome barriers to a college degree, which is often necessary for a good enough job to secure reliable housing, transportation, food and savings. But many students and parents feel alienated from the education system.

“People have every reason to believe they’re not going to be taken seriously,” Rudelitch said. And the number one indicator of whether someone is going to succeed in college is whether they know someone who went to college.

So his organization has created a project, Family Futures Downeast, to support parents of young children in postsecondary education and employment goals. Participants also gain civic participations skills, becoming more confident speaking up in town government and with school administration.

“People will take chances for their kids that they would never take for themselves,” he said, “and children have a different attitude about school when their parents are pursuing a degree.”

Many of the applicants for college scholarships Galyean works with have made previous attempts to go to college, she said, but for various reasons were not able to complete a degree. Many carry debt from these previous attempts.

Over at EdGE, programs focus on non-cognitive skills and fostering resilience, communication and problem-solving.

They’re also adding an expeditionary learning program for older kids, modeled on a program in Thomaston called Trekkers.

“We hope our students can help the county flourish as they grow up,” Harrington said.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Managing Editor at Mount Desert Islander
Liz Graves is managing editor of the Islander. She's a California native who came to Maine as a schooner sailor.[email protected]