Maine DOE Child Nutrition’s First VISTA Member Paves the Way for Future Work

Caroline Bennett, a Volunteer In Service to America (VISTA) member of AmeriCorps joined the Maine Department of Education (DOE) Child Nutrition team in January 2021 to build capacity and resources related to alleviating food insecurity among Maine students, with a focus on school meal programs.

As Caroline’s one-year stay with the Maine DOE comes to a conclusion this month, we are celebrating the impact she has made as one of the first VISTA members to join our team. She is the first of a cohort that is focused on ending hunger in Maine by 2030.

Caroline’s projects supported the overall goal of improving access to healthy food, through the federal school meals programs. Her projects focused on three main areas:

  1. Determining barriers and best practices of increasing student participation in federal school meal programs by surveying both food service directors and parents. As a result of her work, a toolkit of information, tips, and social media templates has been created for school nutrition programs across the State to use. The toolkit can be found on the Maine DOE Student Eligibility & Applications webpage under the “Free and Reduced Applications” tab, then Resource Materials.
  2. Developing a foundation of resources to move towards all meals at no charge for Maine students. As a result of LD 1679, “An Act to Address Student Hunger through Expanding Access to Free School Meals,” she assisted with the cost analysis of the bill and collaborating with other partners such as Full Plates Full Potential.
  3. Creating a positive media campaign for completing the student meal benefit application. A toolkit was created to educate families on the importance of completing the confidential meal benefit application, including translated materials to help reach all Maine communities. Find the toolkit here.

Other focus areas included promoting the meal benefit application for families who are eligible for pandemic EBT benefits, and building resources for cultural diversity in school menus that can be used by school nutrition professionals. As a result of her work, 218 school districts that participate in the school meals programs have access to these resources, and 91,413 new pandemic EBT issuances were made.

Caroline’s work laid a great foundation for the Department’s future work to continue providing meals at no charge for public schools in School Year 2023. School districts are urged to educate families on the importance of completing the confidential meal benefit application as it informs key funding for schools, as well as connects families to important resources and benefits.

This important work will continue in future years as Child Nutrition looks to host another VISTA member in SY 2023.

Caroline’s future plans include attending the University of New England Master of Science in Applied Nutrition. We wish her the best in her future endeavors!

For further information contact the Maine DOE Child Nutrition Team.

WEBINAR: Resources to Address the Mental Health Impact on Students, Families, and Staff

Please join the Federal School Safety Clearinghouse on January 20 at 3:00 PM EST for an informational webinar on the latest resources to address the mental health impact on students, parents, teachers, and school personnel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The session will feature guest speakers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network, which is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Presenters will provide an overview of national COVID-19 guidance for K-12 schools and share resources to address the mental health impact on students, parents, teachers, and school personnel.

The discussion will feature additional school safety-related resources available through SchoolSafety.gov, as well as a Q&A session.

  • When: January 20, 2022, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM EST
  • Where: Adobe Connect (access link to be provided one day in advance of the event)
  • For: K-12 School Superintendents and Principals; School and District Administrators; Teachers and School Staff; School Counselors and School Psychologists; Emergency Management; Parents and Guardians; and Students
  • Registration: https://schoolsafetycovidandmentalhealthwebinar.eventbrite.com

If you have any questions, please contact the Federal School Safety Clearinghouse School Safety team at SchoolSafety@hq.dhs.gov.

Regional School Calendars Due June 1, 2022

This is a reminder that Regional School Calendars are due by June 1, 2022 for school administrative units (SAU) and private schools approved for tuition purposes, in coordination with their local secondary career and technical education (CTE) school. This requirement is part of Public Law 2011, Chapter 686 to promote collaboration among local school administrative units that may benefit from inter-administrative unit collaboration beyond CTE.

For school year 2022-23, both regional school calendars and individual calendars for each school administrative unit must be submitted by the director of the local CTE Center/Region to the Department of Education (DOE) no later than June 1, 2021 for a decision on approval by July 12, 2022. Guidance and templates can be accessed electronically at www.maine.gov/doe/regionalcalendar/.

Given the coordination required for fulfillment of this law, the Maine DOE recommends that SAUs initiate discussions as soon as feasible, including representatives from all affected secondary schools and their associated career and technical education center or region.

For more information, including guidance, instructions, templates, a waiver process, and a link to the complete law, please visit www.maine.gov/doe/regionalcalendar/ Further questions should be directed to Doug Robertson doug.robertson@maine.gov / 624-6744 or Dwight Littlefield dwight.a.littlefield@maine.gov / 624-6721.

Bath Middle School Takes Hands-on Approach to Learning About Ocean Sustainability

Inspired by the Expeditionary Learning model, Bath Middle School has taken a hands-on approach to examining the issue of ocean sustainability.  As part of this project, as citizen scientists, the 7th-grade students took to the local waterfront to collect data on the invasive green crab species and graphed their results.

Students also visited the Maine Maritime Museum in downtown Bath to learn about the history of Maine’s fishing and shipping industry.  Working with Museum educators, they generated timelines through the examination of the museum’s artifacts.

The culminating activity was for students to design and build a product that would address an issue that threatens the sustainability of our oceans such as pollution, climate change, or invasive species.  On Thursday, December 16th, parents, and the community were invited to attend an event that displayed the students’ work.

parents at event

In a “Shark Tank” format, the top five projects were pitched to a panel of judges to determine a winning product.  Students created videos, websites, and prototypes to convince the judges of their product’s ability to impact and help solve an issue that puts the sustainability of our oceans at risk.

After much deliberation, the judges determined that the winning product was Compostable Condiments designed by Sadie C. and Laura K.  This product proposed using an invasive seaweed to make a biodegradable substitute for the plastic used in takeout packets like ketchup.

Congratulations to all the 7th graders for their innovative ideas that could help to preserve one of Maine’s most essential natural resources.

This story was written and coordinated by MLTI Ambassador Holly Graffam as part of the Maine Schools Sharing the Success Campaign. To learn more, or to submit a story or an idea for a story, email rachel.paling@maine.gov. 

Maine School Safety Center to Offer School Emergency Planning Virtual Office Hours

Melissa Condon, the Emergency Operations Planning Officer for the Maine Department of Education’s Maine School Safety Center will be offering virtual office hours for anyone working in Maine’s education workforce who is interested in talking about School Emergency Planning.

Sessions will be offered Weekly on Mondays & Wednesdays from 8:00am – 10:00am starting on Monday, January 19th and ending on Monday, February 28th

If you are interested in registering to attend any of the Office Hours, email Melissa.A.Condon@maine.gov for a link to join the virtual meeting.

Description: 

Available for personalized discussions for School Administrative Units (SAUs) related to various areas of emergency management and planning to include mitigating against, preparing for, responding to, and recovering from various threats and hazards that exist both to the school and surrounding community.

This is an opportunity to ask questions and/or seek technical assistance for topics such as:

  • The development of a Comprehensive Health and Safety and Emergency Management Plan
  • Identifying and planning for all hazards and potential hazards that could reasonably be expected to affect a SAU
  • Forming a collaborative, multi-disciplinary planning team
  • Developing and enhancing MOUs/MOAs with community partners
  • Physical site assessments
  • Emergency management training and education opportunities
  • Emergency exercises/drills
  • Continuity of Operations

For further information or questions, contact Melissa Condon at Melissa.A.Condon@maine.gov.