DOE Podcast Features Yarmouth High School Students Engaged in Hands-On, Real-World Extended Learning Opportunities

Commissioner Makin Talks with Sarah Hinson About Her Veterinary ELO and Liam Hannah About His Summer ELO Building a Robot that Serves Drinks. The Maine DOE Has Invested $5.6 Million to Expand ELOs Across Maine

On the latest episode of her What Holds Us Together podcast, Maine Department of Education (DOE) Commissioner Pender Makin spoke with two Yarmouth High School students about their experiences pursuing what they are passionate about through their school’s Extended Learning Opportunities (ELO) program. Yarmouth senior Sarah Hinson gets school credit and paid work experience through her ELO at Portland Veterinary Hospital and junior Liam Hannah engaged in a summer ELO to program and build a drink serving robot which also earned him school credit.

Listen here.

Extended Learning Opportunities offer students creative and flexible opportunities to explore what they are passionate about develop skills and knowledge that will set them up for success in school and life, all while gaining school credit and the option of paid work experience. The Maine DOE has awarded $5.6 million in Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan (MJRP) funding to 26 school administrative units and community-based organizations to create or expand ELOs across the state.

“We’re going to be discussing an exciting, innovative approach to interdisciplinary, hands-on, real-world learning called Extended Learning Opportunities,” said Makin in the podcast’s opening. “I met Sarah, Liam, and several of their classmates when I visited their school to hear more about these ELOs. What I heard was so impressive and inspirational that I wanted to have them on this podcast to share what they’ve been doing with everyone.”

Dozens of students participate in ELOs at Yarmouth High School. On her recent visit, Makin talked with students who were studying cognitive neuroscience and the science of wellbeing, civics, interning for non-profits, working on policy issues, building skills to have constructive conversations and debates about issues, promoting work opportunities for New Mainers, and so much more through their ELOs. Students meet with the school’s coordinator Brittany Brockelbank to design their ELO and meet regularly to discuss their progress and showcase what they’ve learned. Makin invited two students on the podcast to share more about their experiences.

“I’m doing a work study. I’m now on my fifth semester and I get credit for what I learn in the ER. It’s a very unique opportunity to learn about what I’m passionate about and what I’ll do after high school while getting school credit,” said Sarah Hinson describing her ELO on the podcast.

“It’s an incredibly flexible program. There are endless opportunities for what you can do and it’s very individualized with the learning that you do,” said Liam Hannah about what he liked about his ELO. He said he got his idea for his drink serving robot after seeing a similar one at a sushi restaurant. He had taken coding and machining classes at school and also had a student mentor to provide support for his ELO. Hannah also utilized ChatGPT to help him troubleshoot when we ran into coding or other obstacles.

Both students highlighted connections between what they’ve learned through their ELOs and how they’ve applied it to their other classes and in life. They also discussed how ELOs offer opportunities to engage students who may not find that same kind of engagement in traditional class settings.

“I remember sophomore year we were doing something in my biology class with sodium chloride bonding and I work with sodium chloride all the time. I use it every shift and I know a lot about it…so my job in certain situations has connected back to school but in many ways it’s very different. School does provide me with the knowledge that I need to get into the field—I can’t go into the field if I’m not good at math,” said Hinson. “In my job I’m learning something that I really am going to apply in my work on a farm with over 50 animals. It gives students that don’t fit the square box of what school and a student should look like [the opportunity to learn something we like].”

“This ELO, it really helped me develop a schedule and think really far out with my plans which I was never really great at and definitely helped me develop that,” said Hannah on how his ELO helped him build stronger time management skills.

The students were enthusiastic in what they would tell other students or school leaders about ELOs.

“It’s super fun—it’s the most fun I’ve ever had in a learning environment. I think every school should have the option for an ELO,” said Hannah.

“Do it! Find what works for you. There are so many ELOs available—group, individual, summer, learning ones, and working ones,” said Hinson.

Makin closed the podcast by highlighting the Maine DOE’s efforts to expand ELOs across the state.

“Our Department of Education is promoting ELOs across the state and anything that is hands-on, interdisciplinary, and applied learning. We’re really hopeful that Maine is going to lead the way nationally,” said Makin.

The Maine DOE website features highlights and stories from ELO programs across Maine.

What Holds Us Together is a monthly podcast hosted by Commissioner Makin that highlights the great things happening in public schools across Maine and how public education connects us through conversations with educators, school staff, and students. The podcast launched last month with a conversation between Makin, 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year Matt Bernstein, and the newly named 2024 Maine Teacher of the Year Joshua Chard.

What Holds Us Together can be listened to and subscribed to on all major podcast platforms, including Apple and Spotify. New episodes are released on the third Thursday of every month.