A Year of Success and Innovation: Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures at MSAD 28

students learn outside

The first round of RREV (Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures) Awardees were announced in August of 2021. RREV is an initiative of the Maine Department of Education, funded by the Education Stabilization Funds through the US Department of Education’s Rethink K-12 Education Models, that bolsters Maine educators’ innovative efforts to support their students with agile, effective, and resilient learning experiences that improve learning outcomes for all students. Now, after a year of experience and development, the Department of Education would like to thank the awardees for their dedication to innovative education and highlight their achievements that have resulted from the RREV contracts over the past year. Continue reading to learn more about the ways in which MSAD 28 has used their RREV funding this past year.

When MSAD 28 (Camden-Rockport Schools) first received funding in August 2021, they wanted to create outdoor learning spaces and offer programming for students and teachers that would enhance their educational experience, an idea that was informed by research regarding the positive impacts of outdoor learning. However, like most organizations (and people), MSAD 28 encountered some issues as they navigated their way through the pandemic. The implementation of their RREV project over the past year has been impacted by labor shortages and supply chain issues, and the creation of outdoor structures for classes was put on hold. However, even with delays in their plans, the district still found enormous success. Despite not having outdoor structures as soon as they planned, educators were still able to teach outside, and the district found great success in their community collaboration model.

In the fall, they introduced their first Pre-K program grounded in nature-based learning experiences for young children. While the district had been hoping to create a Pre-K program since 2017, the RREV funding provided the opportunity to implement it. Last school year, MSAD 28’s first Pre-K class started school in an entirely outdoor-based program. “They are learning the letters and they are doing it all outside, despite the weather,” Assistant Superintendent Debra McIntyre said. According to her, the impacts that the outdoor education has had on students is profound. The growth they have seen in them, she said, is “unbelievable.”

It’s not just Pre-K classes that are taking their learning outside, though. Every single teacher and student had at least one class outside at some point in the year, even without outdoor structures to teach and learn in. The effects of the outdoor learning, McIntyre says, are evident throughout the student body, as being outdoors has helped lessen many behavioral concerns.

McIntyre believes none of it would be possible without their collaborative model, though. “Collaboration is essential,” she said, “It has been the underpinning to support the work.” The district has collaborated with regional organizations including Hurricane Island, to provide ongoing professional development and coaching to prepare them to teach outside. Teachers use these community collaborators as experts, co-planning and co-facilitating student learning activities. McIntyre believes this “residency” model provides the expertise, support, and confidence the staff needs to make outdoor learning a common part of curriculum.

Moving forward, the district is excited to construct the outdoor spaces and classrooms before the June 30, 2023 funding deadline and continue providing opportunities for their students to learn through play, exploration and have opportunities to utilize a variety of tools and materials to enhance and extend their learning. They also look forward to continuing with the partnerships, collaborations, and connections they have created throughout this year to provide their students the most beneficial and experiential education possible.

Martin Mackey, the former RREV Project Director who tragically passed away in April of this year, embodied the RREV spirit: to think and act boldly to meet the needs of students. His passion was to “change lives.” As such, he challenged each and every RREV participant to do just that as they designed pilot ideas that would ultimately have a lasting systemic impact on students.  After 18 months of leading RREV, Martin’s passion had been passed on to almost 200 educators who had participated in innovation professional development. From those educators, 27 Pilot ideas were brought to fruition and have received over $5.7 million in RREV awards. Through their pilot ideas, these educators have pledged to commit themselves to innovation.

The Maine DOE encourages all schools and districts across the State of Maine to learn more about these innovative educators and their RREV pilots through the RREV website and the online RREV collaborative platform known as EnGiNE. It is through EnGiNE that we all hope to continue the Martin Momentum to change students’ lives through innovative and responsive educational programs.