MEDIA RELEASE: Commissioner Makin Celebrates Poetry Month with a Reading

Maine Department of Education (DOE) Commissioner Pender Makin has recorded and released a poetry reading and a special message to Maine’s education field today in celebration of National Poetry Month. The video is part of a month long effort by Governor Mills, Maine DOE, state partners, and schools across Maine to encourage poetry as an important resource in education and as a tool for reflection during this difficult time.

In the video, Commissioner Makin reads a short poem by Maine poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, followed by a poetic response that she wrote herself, and a message that, “no matter how busy you are, there is always time to pause and enjoy a poem.”

PRIORITY NOTICE: Reminder to April Vacation Travelers – Test for COVID-19 Upon Return

Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew released an important reminder in the Bangor Daily News recently for Maine students and families traveling during April vacation, and noted that our case numbers, and the number of young people getting sick from COVID-19 is on the rise.  The Maine Department of Education would like to underscore her important message to all members of Maine’s school communities, as we urge everyone to help keep our students and schools safe after April vacation week.

COVID-19 is a well-known world traveler. Variants of concern previously identified from the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa have been detected in Maine. People traveling have been known to cause outbreaks, often unknowingly, once they return home if they’re not yet experiencing symptoms.

This is why testing for COVID-19 remains critical. Getting a test is simple, free and protects you, your family and your community. It identifies people infected by the virus early, often before symptoms appear. And getting a test when you have a fever, headache, chills, fatigue or difficulty breathing allows you to determine if you have allergies, a common cold or if this is the highly contagious and serious virus. If you test positive, you can isolate to limit the number of additional people infected. You can save lives.

For these reasons, Maine currently requires people traveling to states outside of New England to “test or quarantine.” This means that you must quarantine for 10 days upon return to Maine unless you obtain and receive a negative COVID-19 test from a sample taken no longer than 72 hours prior to arrival. Maine strongly urges testing prior to arrival; however, for people who test upon arrival in Maine, it is important that you quarantine while you await your test results.

This is especially important for families traveling during the April vacation. COVID-19 transmission in Maine schools is lower than in the rest of the population, thanks to the health and safety protocols Maine schools have consistently followed since last summer. That said, children are still catching and spreading the virus. And a COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been authorized for children under age 16.

The best type of COVID test is a molecular or “PCR” test. The results may take a little longer, but PCR tests have proven to be highly accurate. Rapid “antigen” tests work well for people with symptoms. Such tests may also be used several days in a row — called “serial” testing — as a screening tool. A number of Maine school districts will be offering rapid tests at the end of next week before school resumes on April 26 and again early that week as a way to screen for COVID-19 as people return from the break.

COVID-19 testing in Maine is free of charge. It is available at locations throughout the state, from health care clinics to pharmacies. Learn where you can get a test by visiting the state’s Keep Maine Healthy website or calling 211.

Being fully vaccinated — meaning two weeks after your final dose — exempts you from the need to get a COVID-19 test or quarantine if you travel. You also don’t need to test if you have had COVID-19 in the last 90 days and recovered. We urge everyone age 16 and older to get vaccinated now. Appointments can be found by visiting, or calling Maine’s Community Vaccination Line at 888-445-4111.

In addition to testing and vaccination, please continue to take the simple steps that have protected the health and safety of Maine people throughout the pandemic: Wearing a mask, physical distancing, washing hands and staying home if you don’t feel well. These measures remain vital whether you’re at home, out in your community or traveling for a well-deserved vacation during the break from school next week.




Troy Howard Middle School Expands Food Pantry with Community Caring Cart

Like many school districts across Maine, RSU 71 provides a school food pantry program to ensure there are free food options for families to take home with them as an added service to those in need.

“The District has been feeding families in need since, well, forever,” said Carrie Robinson, Front Desk Secretary at Troy Howard Middle School (THMS) in Belfast.

While there is no data point in Maine that details just how many schools offer this type of service, it is abundantly clear that there are a wide range of efforts on all levels throughout Maine and often times they can be found at the local school.

“When our school buildings were closed last spring at the onset of the pandemic, our school nurses partnered with food services and transportation to send home weekly boxed meals and produce,” said Shannon Robbins, School Nurse at A Ames – Gladys Weymouth Elementary Schools in RSU 71. “In fact, we sent home over 22,000 pounds! Families shared with us how much it meant to have these necessities delivered to their homes when it felt too scary to shop in town.”

It’s worth noting that school food pantries and backpack programs are a volunteer effort at most schools and go above and beyond the complimentary school meals that students receive while learning at school and remotely. With the help of several USDA waivers during the pandemic, school nutrition programs have been allowed to be flexible and adaptive in the way school meals are served and most have been able to offer these services at no charge to families.

Suffice it to say, pantry and backpack programs are becoming an important addition to many school communities across Maine and at Troy Howard Middle School they have recently undergone an expansion to reach more families.

Although the district’s nurses, administrators, and guidance staff usually have a good idea of who needs help, they have found that it is still difficult to know if they’ve provided the service equitably.

“We really just never know who is in need,” explained Robyn Mailloux, THMS Nurse.

That is when they came up with the idea to offer the Community Caring Cart as a service to anyone who wants or needs something – they can just come pick it up. Instead of handing a backpack full of food and supplies to a specific student or families, now the cart is available in public areas at school that are easy for parents and students to just take what they need.

“Over the course of the year, I’ve been surprised at what has disappeared from the hallway shelf and who has been taking it,” said Mailloux. “You just don’t know what people’s stories are.”

In addition, there are bags available for people to donate items if they wish and the team is also working on some grab and go bags that are quick and easy to take.

“Anything taco related flies off the shelves, as does of course easy to make staples, mac and cheese and canned soups and fruits,” said Robinson. “Since we are at a middle school level many of our students have some basic cooking skills so they will grab things they can make for themselves. Any time we have fresh produce it goes well, the kids actually like fresh stuff!!!!”

“Lightweight, prepacked goods such as cereal, pasta or rice mixes, soups are very popular. We have also offered fresh produce from Maine farmers including potatoes, apples, carrots- families loved these,” adds Robbins.”

Knowing that food programs are a service provided in many community and schools throughout Maine, we asked the RSU 71 team if they have any advice for schools that are thinking about starting or expanding food pantry programs at their schools.

“I would remind any schools that are trying to do anything like this that you never really know who needs the help so get the word out every way you can,” offers Robinson.

“Partner with your community resources – we couldn’t do this without GBAM (Greater Belfast Area Ministerium Food Cupboard), GSFB (Good Shepard Food Bank), and our area boosters, such as Bell the Cat (a local restaurant) and individual donors,” said Robbins adding that when RSU 71 School Food Pantry began in 2019, they received a generous grant from the Sadie and Harry Davis Foundation that has enabled them to expand their support during the pandemic.

The Maine Department of Education would like to take a moment to thank the dedicated team at RSU 71 as well as the countless school staff members, volunteers, and community partners across Maine working tirelessly to provide services to the families in their communities through food programs and other similar efforts, especially throughout the past year. Your dedication and selflessness does not go unnoticed by the Department or the grateful people that benefit from your work.

Information for this article was provided by RSU 71 as part of the Maine DOE Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. The Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign is an avenue for Maine schools to celebrate successes and share innovative ideas, practices, and models that can be adapted and easily implemented by other Maine schools. Stories are not an endorsement of specific materials, services, or practices and are not intended to promote learning programs that are of cost to students, families, or schools. To submit a story or an idea, email it to Rachel at




Deering High School Senior Is Top Winner at Maine State Science Fair

Linh Nguyen, a senior at Deering High School, is the First Place Grand Award winner in the 2021 Maine State Science Fair. Nguyen came out on top among the nearly 160 students competing for prestigious state titles and more than $1 million in scholarships and awards. She won for her research on how carbon nanotubes could be used as an inexpensive remover of arsenic in drinking water systems.

In other news, Nguyen also was named on April 8 as a Cooke College Scholar, one of just 61 students nationwide to receive that prestigious honor – and the only one from Maine. The Cooke College Scholars receive up to $40,000 annually for up to four years to attend the college or university of their choice, in addition to comprehensive advising and other program support.

Celebrating its 75th year, the Maine State Science Fair (MSSF) is organized by The Jackson Laboratory and Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance (MMSA). This year’s event took place virtually on April 3, and 157 students representing 23 Maine schools tuned in to present virtual research or engineering projects to a panel of judges and attend events.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, was the keynote speaker. Dr. Shah encouraged the students to communicate their science clearly to non-scientific audiences. “Just as important as learning the tools of science are learning the tools of science communication,” Shah said. “The principle that I always keep in my mind [when answering a scientific question] is you shouldn’t tell them how to build a clock, you should tell them what time it is, because that’s what they are really interested in.”

Nguyen’s research project has a very practical application. She won for her work titled “Applications of Carbon Nanotube Based Sorbents for Removal of Arsenic from Polluted Water.” She studied how carbon nanotubes could be used as an inexpensive remover of arsenic in drinking water systems, including private wells where arsenic contamination is prevalent. A nanotube is a microscopic tube whose diameter is measured in nanometers.

Nguyen was one of three Grand Award winners – students whose MSSF projects were judged to be at the top overall.

The Second Place Grand Award winner was Vetri Vel, a Bangor High School senior, who won for improving his fall-detection software that uses a thermal-imaging detector of his own creation. His system could help elderly people living alone detect falls and send a call for help. Mateus Nascimento, a junior at Brunswick High School, won the Third Place Grand Award for his project titled: “Animals Talk: Understanding Silk Moth Communication through Detection of Pheromones with an Electronic Nose.”

The three MSSF Grand Award winners are invited to form the Maine delegation to the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. This is a significant honor and speaks to the quality and significance of the student’s research or engineering project. This year, the Regeneron ISEF is virtual and will be held in May. Regeneron ISEF is a competition with significant financial and scholarship awards.

In addition to winning the MSSF First Place Grand Award, Nguyen placed first in the Environmental Engineering category award. Nguyen also was the recipient of the first Cary James Water Ride Scholarship, a $5,000 scholarship that she can apply to the college of her choice.

Also, Nguyen was notified April 8 by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation that she is one of their  2021 Cooke College Scholars. This year’s 61 recipients were chosen from a pool of more than 5,800 applicants nationwide. The Cooke College Scholarship Program seeks to close the gaps in higher education access for driven students with financial need. Along with financial support, Cooke College Scholars will receive ongoing educational advising and opportunities for internships, study abroad, and access to graduate school funding.

“Linh is the kind of student who inspires everyone around her. She is driven by her curiosity and she is not afraid of putting in the hard work needed to accomplish any task,” said Deering science teacher Cyle Davenport. “As someone fortunate enough to have her in two of my classes, I can say that her success at the MSSF is completely deserved. Linh does not give up. All of her teachers are overwhelmed with pride for this young woman; and we are all eager to see what she does next.”

Deering school counselor Libby Heselton said, “Linh is highly conscientious and determined, with an outstanding work ethic. She seeks to understand concepts rather than just complete assignments, and adds to her classmates’ learning with probing questions that tie back to ‘why this matters.’ She is all about collaborative problem solving. Linh’s character outshines even her academics.  Accordingly, she has the very difficult decision of choosing among Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale.”

“The Portland Public Schools is extremely proud of this talented, hardworking student,” said Superintendent Xavier Botana. “One of the primary goals of our Portland Promise, the district’s strategic plan, is to empower and prepare our students for 21st century careers, and STEM learning is key to achieving that goal. Linh’s work stands out. Her STEM knowledge is impressive and she used it to solve an important problem. She is an all-around student  leader and excels in everything she does. The credit goes to her and also to her teachers and others who have supported her along the way. We look forward to seeing all the ways in which Linh will continue to achieve in the future.”

Learn more about other Maine State  Science Fair awards and scholarship winners.

“This year’s Maine State Science Fair was an inspiring showcase of the STEM talent being fostered in Maine high schools,” said Michael McKernan, Program Director for STEM and Undergraduate Education at The Jackson Laboratory and a co-director of the Science Fair. “Students presented projects that were both highly creative and also relevant to pervasive issues in Maine.”

“It has been awe-inspiring to see the achievements of Maine’s students as the Science Fair has grown to involve more schools and educators from across the state,” said Dr. Ruth Kermish-Allen, executive director of the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance (MMSA). “Our young people are creating outstanding scientific research that truly can make a difference in the world, and we are able to recognize those efforts through increased scholarships to diverse higher education options available to MSSF students. The creativity and innovation we see in these complex scientific studies highlights the amazing talents of Maine’s next generation of leaders.”

Information for this article was provided by Portland Public Schools as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. The Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign is an avenue for Maine schools to celebrate successes and share innovative ideas, practices, and models that can be adapted and easily implemented by other Maine schools. Stories are not an endorsement of specific materials, services, or practices and are not intended to promote learning programs that are of cost to students, families, or schools. To submit a story or an idea, email it to Rachel at 

How “Time Flies” at Bangor High School’s Visual and Performing Arts Academy

As part of Bangor educator Eric Hutchins’ Graphic Design class, the students learn how art is used in everyday life, especially how it plays an such a big role in the commercial world today.

Serving as the second class for students focusing on a graphic art pathway that is frequently taken by students in the Visual and Performing Arts Academy (VPA) program at Bangor High School, the students focus on how to use computer software to create interesting works of art. As a start they learn about the importance of text in graphic art, how it can be used, and why just choosing any font is not the right thing to do.

“The images you see are examples of their first text project in the class where students chose statements that are considered ‘cliche’ and then they recreate them visually only using text,” explains Hutchins.

Over the course of the semester students recreate a package for a product. They measure the packaging, create a template, and then create the imagery and designs for the product. They also create business cards, book jackets, album covers, board game designs and movie posters over the course of the class.

“This is a unique class because it teaches students the importance of art in our society, and that a graphic designer’s artwork is everywhere,” added Hutchins.

Students that take the graphic arts pathway at Bangor High School’s VPA Academy traditionally take photography, digital art, graphic design and then their senior year take Advanced Placement 2D Design and submit a portfolio to be graded for college credit.

Information for this article was provided by the Bangor School Department as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. The Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign is an avenue for Maine schools to celebrate successes and share innovative ideas, practices, and models that can be adapted and easily implemented by other Maine schools. Stories are not an endorsement of specific materials, services, or practices and are not intended to promote learning programs that are of cost to students, families, or schools. To submit a story or an idea, email it to Rachel at