Adapting to COVID: Portland Community Squash Develops Advisee Program to Stay Connected to Students

In its ninth year, Portland Community Squash (PCS) has come a long was as a community organization aimed at both bringing people and communities together to play the sport squash and supporting Maine youth through their journey as a student, adolescent, and community member of the greater Portland area.

Starting in 2013 as an organization committed to closing the opportunity gap, PCS learned the needs of local families. They eventually opened a location at 66 Noyes Street in Portland in 2017 and expanded their programs to address wellness for both students and community members, along with a robust program that supports youth through academics.

With a mission that seeks to unite neighbors of all ages and backgrounds and to fully support youth on their journey from elementary school into adulthood, the PCS moto is committed to access, equity, and integration to make every community stronger.

The organization and its unique squash based mission was highlighted in November 2020 on News Center Maine showcasing the positive impact the program has on the community. PCS has been successful in bringing together people from the area, and from many different culturally diverse background. Their youth programs put students on-track in their academics while also engaging them in fun and exciting activities that bring them together with their peers and teach them about wellness, character, and community.

However, along with schools and organizations throughout Maine, PCS has had to adapt to keep their program relevant and effective through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Knowing that staying connected to the students that rely on academic support PCS provides was essential, they developed an “Advisee Program” to keep in touch with students. The Advisee Program splits up the 150 students they serve in a way that pairs each staff member with 10-12 kids with whom they check in on a regular basis, even visiting the students at their homes to ensure they stay connected and feel supported through this time of crisis.

Through the end of the previous school year and throughout the current school year, PCS has had their fair share of innovative adaptations to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 in their facility and continue serving students, including one-on-one tutoring, keeping students in smaller cohorts in hybrid learning styles, and even shifting to full remote for the holiday season.

Now that they are serving students more regularly in-person again through the spring, they have kept the advisee program in place, remarking that it has really helped them increase their student connections by providing a higher level of individualized support to students.

“The silver lining of the advisee program is that we’ve been able to serve as a support system to students and have also had the chance to connect in a deeper way with students’ families. This program will continue post-COVID,” said PCS Operations Director Sarah Stickney.

What started out as a group of Portland squash players has turned into an innovative, thriving organization with strong partnerships to other organizations, including local school systems and educators, administrators and community members. Along-side school and district partners around the state, PCS has pivoted with the challenges of COVID-19 adapting and learning from the new ways that we serve students.

Adding to their innovative approach to serving students and the greater community, PSC also has a unique concept for sharing their models of success with others. With an open-source idea in mind, PCS harnessed five years of community squash innovation into a collection of slides and documents that they openly share with anyone who wants to use them. View the Community Squash Package here.

Information for this article was provided by Portland Community Squash (PCS) as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea, email it to Rachel at