AUGUSTA — Manchester’s Maggie McQuillen studied hard and learned a lot, both while in school and out, during a life-changing, lesson-filled year studying abroad in Germany through a scholarship program funded by the U.S. State Department.

Now the Maranacook Community High School student, about to start her senior year, would like to get school credit for her studies there, though she’s not sure she will nor how she’s supposed to go about doing so.

Maggie McQuillen poses for a portrait Wednesday at her home in Manchester. The award was from an end of school year event from the school she attended in Germany. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

McQuillen hopes she’ll be able to convince school officials, including perhaps school board members, that her year learning to speak German and other school subjects while attending classes in Hamburg, Germany, should count at least partially toward the credits she needs to graduate.

“Coming back, I’m sitting here, and I have no idea if my year is going to count at all,” said McQuillen, who returned home two weeks ago. “That’s frustrating, because I worked so hard to get (to Germany through the competitive scholarship program) and worked hard the year I was there. It’s not a vacation; you really have to work hard.”

Her German teacher at Maranacook, who happens to be a state legislator representing Augusta, also wants McQuillen to get school credits here in Maine for her year-long studies in Germany. But he also wants the same opportunity for high school students statewide, in part to encourage more of them to study abroad.

So Rep. Justin Fecteau, R-Augusta, submitted a measure last legislative session proposing to require Maine school districts to award course credit to students who have studied abroad. That would be accomplished either by awarding elective credit based on hours of instruction received abroad or by giving credit for classes if students show what they learned in that subject — through a third-party certification or by passing a local test in the subject area for which they seek credit.

“The issue is trying to create some sort of standard rubric across all school districts. Right now, some school systems award credits, and some don’t; it’s extremely inconsistent,” Fecteau said. “And getting credit usually involves some dealmaking by the student, with the principal or guidance counselor or school board.”

He said students learn all kinds of things by studying abroad, prime among them how to speak a foreign language. But since they’re attending classes while they are abroad, he said, they also learn other subjects such as math and history.

“Maggie came back with all kinds of German; she should be able to take a third party test and get credit for it,” Fecteau said. “European schools are very good. There is no way these students are sloughing off while learning abroad.”

Currently, there is no statewide standard for how — or even whether — Maine students can get credit for time spent studying overseas, such as through exchange programs.

Fecteau said there should be. He noted Maine schools are required by state law to provide multiple pathways for their students to learn, and studying abroad should be one of them.

His proposed bill, L.D. 662, “An Act to Count Study Abroad toward Secondary School Credit,” received an “ought to pass” vote from the Education Committee but was labeled as a mandate on schools by a nonpartisan review committee, and the proposal was tabled last session.

Eileen King, deputy executive director of the Maine School Management Association, spoke in opposition to the bill on behalf of the Maine School Boards and Maine School Superintendents associations. In written testimony to the Education Committee, she said that what constitutes transferable course credits “is and should remain a local decision that schools are well equipped to make.”

King said school districts review credits when a student transfers from another district, with either the principal’s office or guidance staff reviewing transcripts to see how a course ties into a district’s content standards. She said the system basically would be the same for a student trying to get credit for study abroad.

Grace Leavitt, a Spanish teacher and president of the Maine Education Association teachers’ union, testified in favor of the bill. She stated that students who study abroad come back and share their experiences with others in their schools, thus enriching their perspectives as well.

Fecteau said having a standard statewide way of awarding credits for study abroad would encourage more students to do so. He said if students don’t know whether their time spent studying abroad will count toward graduation credits, they’ll be less likely to take the opportunity to study in another country.

Several of Maggie McQuillen’s photos from the year she spent in Germany. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

McQuillen and her mom, Melissa O’Neal, said not having enough credits to graduate with her classmates isn’t a concern. Maggie has some credits built up and plans to take two English classes, and any others she needs, this year so she can graduate on time.

McQuillen said if she would have had to repeat a year in school in order to study abroad, she would not have done so.

But, she noted that her year learning in Germany, under a scholarship through the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program, was the best year of her life.

“It was a really great opportunity, and it really changes a person. It helps you grow and gives you a wider perspective,” McQuillen said. “My brain worked like 10 times harder than it did in my school.”

O’Neal said her daughter, who couldn’t speak German when she left, came back fluent in the language. A former member of the school board, O’Neal said she plans to meet with Fecteau and advocate to school officials that her daughter get credit for her time in Germany. She anticipates she will get some credit but said Maggie will be fine, and graduate with her classmates, even if she doesn’t.

But she’s hopeful addressing her daughter’s situation will help other Maine students who might not otherwise consider studying abroad out of concern they may not get credit for it.

“I hope she can be the driving factor for that,” O’Neal said. “Maggie, she’ll be OK. But if she could be an ambassador for other kids across the state, that’d be great.”

Bills that are tabled in the Legislature often never reemerge and thus die. Fecteau said for his bill to be taken back up by the Legislature next session, it’d need to shake the “mandate” tag, which brings with it a requirement that two-thirds of both the House and Senate approve for passage.

He said he hopes to be able to apply enough pressure to get the bill taken off the table and reconsidered. Fecteau noted, however, that as a member of the minority party he would need support from Democrats.

He said he agreed to amend the bill to remove the specific requirements for how schools should award credit for study abroad — instead making the state rubric a suggestion, not a requirement — but still requiring schools to give credit for study abroad in some manner.

“I thought it was on a good path, and it would be sent to the governor. Then the session ended,” and the bill was left on the table, Fecteau said. “I’m going to try to work across the aisle in the next session.”

McQuillen, meanwhile, plans to take a heavier course load this school year than most of her senior peers and, after she graduates, plans to move to Germany.

Fecteau said he’ll do whatever it takes, working with administrators and the school board, to make sure McQuillen gets credit for what she learned in Germany, and he is confident the school district will indeed award her credits.

“Maranacook has a long history of being very pro-student,” he said. “I think this will have a positive outcome for Ms. McQuillen. We just want that same outcome for all students.”

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