A Year of Success and Innovation: Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures at School Union 76

student in a wheelchair uses ADA accessible boardwalk

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 School Union 76 has used their RREV funding this past year.

Last August, School Union 76 was approved for their RREV pilot project titled “Classrooms in the Community,” which was intended to create outdoor learning spaces for students across the district. These outdoor spaces were meant to be inclusive and were designed for all students to be able to engage, connect, and explore. The district took on big goals, hoping to significantly boost student learning proficiencies across all subgroups of students, create a global, integrated base of knowledge for staff, students, and parents, expand aspirations and awareness of continuous learning opportunities for students and communities, and better prepare students for a world rapidly changing through technology and innovation by teaching and nurturing the practices of self-educating, research & exploration, and teamwork. A year later, significant progress has been made towards these goals thanks to the construction of an ADA accessible boardwalk that is part of a nature trail, and partnerships with community organizations, sharing their progress all along on Facebook.

The ADA accessible boardwalk has been a focal point for both the schools and the surrounding community. Students now interact with it regularly, and, in October, after the construction completed, Island Heritage Trust collaborated with the district on a jack-o’-lantern carving event. Jack-o’-lanterns lined the boardwalk and were illuminated for two nights where the trail was open to the public. Mickie Flores, Deer Isle-Stonington (DIS) Elementary Science Teacher, described how students “oohed” and “awed” as they walked down the boardwalk. Community members, she said, showed up too, to enjoy the pumpkins and fall air.

The boardwalk and the outside facilities are not just used for events, however. One kindergarten class took a walk on the nature trail every day this past school year. They loved their routine so much, they wanted to do everything they could to maintain the boardwalk and trail. As part of the district’s turn to hands-on learning, the teachers encouraged their students to collect pennies and took them on a field trip to the bank to deposit them. When all the collected pennies were counted, the students had collected over $230 to put towards boardwalk maintenance, and community members in the bank at the time donated even more money to help the kindergartners maintain their beloved nature trail.

While the kindergarteners use the trail to take in the nature around them, Flores emphasizes that “going outside is not just to learn science.” She believes you can learn anything outdoors, and the curriculum in SU 76 reflects this. 5th grade students spent time outside writing haikus this year, and 2nd graders painted rocks with positive messages. The time outside was good for their creativity and mindfulness, not just factual, science-based education.

Next year, Flores will find herself in a new position with a new title as the Classroom and Community Coordinator. “I believe the past titles of RREV Coordinator and Place Based Education Coordinator are much too enigmatic,” she said. To her, a label that clearly communicates her role within the district is more important, as the clarity helps to create and strengthen those community connections that are integral to the project. In her new role, Flores looks forward to establishing herself as a resource for all four schools and continuing to collaborate with Island Heritage Trust, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance, and the Chase Emerson Public Library.

In terms of the continuation of their project, the district hopes to expand the opportunities available to students this coming school year. The construction of an outdoor classroom is underway and is set to be opened near the high school. Flores hopes that this outdoor space, while it will be used by all students, will increase high school engagement and excitement because of its proximity to their school building. The district is also hoping to have opportunities to connect the schools through field trips and increased interaction with community partners to achieve their long-term goal of having all students experience multiple learning opportunities that are active, hands-on, creative, and student-centered.

Ultimately, before the June 30, 2023 funding deadline, Flores hopes to increase participation at Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School and the Sedgwick Schools and begin involvement with the Brooklin school as well as the Deer Isle-Stonington High School. She also intends to produce a calendar documenting the activities at the various schools throughout the year to share the activities with the community and increase this involvement.

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.