After struggling with academics as a teenager and eventually dropping out of school, a Searsmont man decided to give school another chance and discovered some things are better the second time around.

James Aldus, 54, made the decision to drop out of high school after years of struggling and frustration, but after his oldest son was deployed overseas, the prospect of returning to school was more appealing.

“I wanted to be able to write letters to my son, so I hired a tutor,” Aldus said. “While I was working with her she suggested I go back to school to get my GED.”

The prospect of returning to a classroom was more than a little frightening to Aldus, who readily admits he was “scared to death” about going back, but thanks to the ample support from the Belfast Adult Education program, making the transition wasn’t as hard as he thought.

Aldus, who will graduate from the program Wednesday, June 6, said he had an overwhelmingly positive experience with his classes, and when he began to struggle with a particular subject – especially biology – a teacher was there to work with him and help him understand the material.

“When a teacher could see I was struggling they would work with me, and that really helped. I think the difference for me now is that teachers would work more one-on-one with me,” Aldus said.

The adult education program has had a profound effect on Aldus, who had nothing but praise for his teachers, but those same teachers and staff were equally impressed with the prowess and skill Aldus demonstrated with a project he submitted for a fine arts credit; a to-scale doll house he built without a plan to work from while building it – except for the one he visualized in his head.

“My dad built a doll house once and I wanted to build one as well,” Aldus said. “When I started building it I didn’t have a granddaughter, but while I was working on it my granddaughter was born, and I’m going to give it to her.”

Aldus said he wasn’t sure how many hours he spent constructing the elaborate doll house, although he estimated the total amount of time at well north of 90 hours. When he initially thought of building the doll house, Aldus said, he knew the project would be challenging but he said he never imagined how long it would take to construct.

“I could have built quite a building for the amount of time I spent on the doll house,” he said. “I had to run each of the logs through the saw six times to get them just right.”

In addition to the actual structure, Aldus also took the time to hand-draw bricks on a chimney that runs from the first floor of the doll house through the roof, and he also built a fully functioning recliner at the request of his son.

“My son told me if I built a recliner then it needed to be able to recline. I started working on it, and this one is sort of a prototype, and got it so it would really recline,” Aldus said.

While working on the doll house, Aldus never anticipated the reaction his work would get from the people who saw it, but he readily admits it makes him feel good to have people react so positively. The doll house, which is only half-completed, has garnered enough attention to earn Aldus a few requests to build more – an endeavor Aldus isn’t sure he wants to begin just yet.

“A few people have asked me about building more, but I’m not sure I want to do that just yet. I want to finish the other half, which I will put on coasters and connect it with hinges so the whole thing can be opened up,” Aldus said.

After leaving such a lasting impression on the people who have seen his doll house and being able to earn his high school diploma, Aldus said he is very happy to be graduating, but also concedes a part of him is sad the experience is over.

“I would definitely recommend that people enroll in the adult education program, because it’s really great. It was such a great experience, but I’m a little sad that it’s over now.”

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or