JAY — Abigayle DePalma of Carthage went to work at McDonald’s in Jay for the paycheck. Within fifteen months she found herself holding the high school diploma she earned through McDonald’s Career Online High School, an accredited degree program in the fast-food restaurant’s Archways to Opportunity.

“This is a high school diploma, not a GED,” explained Larry Johnston, Brand Ambassador for The Napoli Group, the New Hampshire-based company that operates sixty-one McDonald’s restaurants in northern New England. “It’s one of several education opportunities McDonald’s offers to its workforce.

McDonald’s employee Abigayle DePalma of Carthage receives her high school diploma from Area Manager Kim Grace, while franchise owner Sal Napoli looks on. Livermore Falls Advertiser photo by Nicole Carter

“Abigayle is just the second employee in Maine to graduate from the program, and we are very proud of her accomplishment. The average time to complete the coursework is twelve to fourteen months, and Abigayle did it in less than four.”

Any McDonald’s employee is eligible to attend Career Online High School if they are currently employed by McDonald’s, in good standing, have worked at least 90 cumulative days, and put in an average of fifteen hours a week.

DePalma, twenty-one, was diagnosed during her sophomore year with the learning disability dyscalculia. She struggled with high school and ultimately quit.

“Dyscalculia is like dyslexia, except with numbers instead of letters,” DePalma said. Symptoms include difficulties figuring out math problems, identifying mathematics symbols, even playing board games. She attended two different Oxford county high schools, Region 9 School of Applied Technology, and her parents tried home schooling her. She became frustrated and overwhelmed, dropping out. But when she found out about McDonald’s online high school, she decided to try it.

“We are so proud of her success,” said DePalma’s mother Wanda, watching her daughter adjust her McDonald’s-red themed cap and gown ahead of her diploma ceremony. “McDonald’s gave her her the confidence to try school again, and to stick with it.”

“The online school is flexible and supportive,” DePalma said. “I could go at my own pace, and each class has an adviser ready to answer any questions. The courses run as modules, with a quiz at the end of each one.”

Once enrolled, DePalma was able to focus like she had not before. Even while working full-time, she spent almost every night working on her studies.

“Sometimes my boyfriend would come home and I’d be sleeping with my head on the keyboard,” she said.

McDonald’s will also assist DePalma towards her future goals—any employee continuing his or her education will receive an annual $2,500 scholarship, subject to the same criteria as its Career Online High School. Scholarships cover vocational training, degree and certificate programs, and cosmetology school, to name the most popular choices.

L-R: McDonald’s owner Sal Napoli, high school graduate Abigayle DePalma, State Senator Russell Black. Livermore Falls Advertiser photo by Nicole Carter

The Napoli Group, which owns 10 Maine McDonald’s restaurants including those in Jay, Rumford and Farmington, has supported 218 employees this year with scholarships totaling almost $617,000. Since launching the tuition assistance through Archways to Opportunity, The Napoli Group has given away a total of $1,056,110 in scholarship to 579 recipients.

“If a McDonald’s employee receives a tuition bill, we want to help pay for it,” said Marketing Manager Erin Blecharczyk. “I spend a lot of my time following up with student-employees. It’s actually hard to give away free money, they just don’t expect it. If parents are the ones getting the bills, sometimes I need to track them down instead.”

The Napoli Group leads the way in supporting education and community among McDonald’s franchisees. Sal Napoli, who co-owns the company with his father Peter, is one of 22 operators representing a total of 1,800 in the U.S. to McDonald’s Archways to Opportunity programs.

“We strongly feel that the brand needs to do more for our employees,” Napoli said, after addressing DePalma’s diploma ceremony last month. “And it extends to the community. We support community fundraisers benefiting churches, schools and other civic groups. We sponsor Special Olympics. When we hold grand openings for remodeled restaurants, 10% of sales during those weekends gets donated to local public schools.”

W.G. Mallett School received $6,000 when the Farmington McDonald’s held its renovation opening and Rumford Elementary School received $2,500. Another Maine-based Napoli McDonald’s in South Paris gained $5,000. And all three communities were presented with $1,000 donations to their respective parks and recreational departments.

“I had no idea McDonald’s does so much,” said State Senator Russell Black of Wilton, who came to congratulate the graduate. “It’s impressive.”

DePalma is already thinking about what comes next.

“I want to go to school and become a vet tech,” she said. “And then continue on and study wildlife biology.”

“And we will do whatever we can to support your education, even if it takes you away from McDonalds,” Napoli said.

 


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