MEDIA RELEASE: Maine Department of Education Partners With SPIRIT SERIES to Engage 12,500 Students In Story-Based Social Emotional Learning and Literacy Program

The Maine Department of Education has partnered with SPIRIT SERIES to bring its acclaimed interdisciplinary, story-based social-emotional learning and literacy programs to 12,500 students across Maine. This effort, made possible through federal relief funds, will provide a 100 percent scholarship to participating schools during the 2022-23 school year. Funding is also included for professional development opportunities, so that educators can further integrate the SERIES’ programming into their classrooms.

SPIRIT SERIES empowers students to strive for academic excellence as they learn and practice positive core values and develop leadership, critical thinking, and relationship skills while expressing themselves in highly engaging project-based learning. The program mentors students as they think deeply about their lives and experiences, organize those thoughts into a written personal story, and then record them as videos for classmates, family, and their school community.

The immersive learning opportunities offered by SPIRIT SERIES provide schools with a classroom-proven way to support the very real needs of students impacted by the pandemic, specifically in the realm of social and emotional learning and interpersonal and intrapersonal communication skills. Maine schools will have access to three SPIRIT SERIES programs: SpiritCorps—21st Century literacy and storytelling intensives for 7th to 10th graders; SpiritSeries—drama-based literacy and character education interventions for 4th to 7th graders; and SpiritWorks—professional development workshops for educators.

“We’re excited to partner with SPIRIT SERIES to offer this immersive, interdisciplinary experience to schools and students across Maine,” said Education Commissioner Pender Makin. “The SERIES provides students with the ability to develop and share their personal stories and build meaningful connections with one another and their communities. That’s really important given how the pandemic made that kind of connection difficult.”

SPIRIT SERIES has successfully delivered programming in Maine since 2014, already serving over 6,000 students in more than 20 partner schools statewide. “After working with schools in Maine for the past eight years, we are excited to partner with the Department of Education to bring our programming to all corners of the state,” said Kent Pierce, SPIRIT SERIES New England Executive Director. “Using the power of story, the SERIES inspires self-discovery and reflection around character attributes that are key to personal growth and civic-mindedness.”

“Every student, regardless of their writing proficiency level, was engaged and they were engaged from the onset. Because this age group is often inward looking, they’re very concerned about themselves—so right away they were hooked on the process,” said Aaron Filieo at Cape Elizabeth Middle School. “We have standards around writing development and writing structure. Writing and presenting these SpiritCorps stories checked those boxes and then some.”

For schools that would like to learn more about this exciting opportunity, please contact the Department of Education through this interest form.

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Judy Camuso Participates in Read to ME Challenge

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Judy Camuso recently took part in the Read to ME Challenge by reading Poppy by the author Avi to Mrs. Perkins’ fourth grade class at Canal Elementary School. Following the reading, Camuso and the students learned about and dissected owl pellets.

Maine’s Read to ME Challenge is a month-long campaign every February to promote the importance of literacy for all of Maine’s students, regardless of age. In its seventh year, the campaign sponsored by the Maine Department of Education encourages adults to read to children for 15 minutes, capture that moment via a photo or a video, post it to social media using the hashtag #ReadtoME, and challenge others to do the same.

There’s still plenty of time to join the Read to ME Challenge and February break is the perfect opportunity to grab one of your favorite stories and read to a child in your life.

Schools, families, and community organizations can find a Read to ME toolkit and resources on the Department of Education website and the Department continues to share videos, photos, and updates from the Challenge all month long on social media.

Deputy Commissioner Dan Chuhta Participates in the Read to ME Challenge

Maine Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Dan Chuhta visited two schools last week to participate in the Read to ME Challenge. His first stop was at Sacopee Valley Middle School, where he visited Mrs. Bryant’s 4th grade class of young mathematicians and scientists who shared all they knew about geometry, astronomy, space travel, and even the seasons. Chuhta read A Computer Called Katherine written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison, that tells the remarkable and true story of Katherine Johnson and her pioneering work at NASA.

He next travelled to Bonny Eagle Middle School, where he met the talented writers and scholars in Mrs. Deering’s 6th grade classroom. While there, he read two student written stories found in the outstanding anthology Shadowboxing, published by the Portland-based nonprofit organization, The Telling Room.

DanReadtoMEChallengeThe Read to ME Challenge is month-long public awareness campaign to promote the importance of literacy for all of Maine’s students, regardless of age. The challenge encourages adults to read to children for 15 minutes, capture that moment via a photo or a video, and then post it to social media and challenge others to do the same using the hashtag #ReadtoME.

Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin launched the Read to ME challenge earlier this month with second graders at Solon Elementary School, and educators, parents, and families across the state continue to post about their reading adventures. There’s still plenty of time this month to grab a favorite book to read aloud to a young person and share as part of the Read to ME challenge.

Get Ready to Read! Celebrate the Read to ME Challenge During the Month of February

For the 7th year, the Maine Department of Education will collaborate with community organizations and schools to support the Read to ME Challenge, a month-long public awareness campaign held in February to promote the importance of literacy across the curriculum for all of Maine’s students, regardless of age.

This simple but powerful campaign challenges adults to read to children for 15 minutes, capture that moment via a photo or a video, and then post it on social media and challenge others to do the same. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #ReadtoME and tag the Maine DOE at @mdoenews on Twitter, @MaineDepartmentofEducation1 on Facebook, and @mainedepted on Instagram! Capturing the power of reading and talking about any type of text with children and youth of any age promotes life-long habits essential for being a literate citizen.

The Read to ME Challenge will run for the month of February, leading up to Read Across America Day on March 2, 2022. The Maine DOE will be kicking off the Read to ME Challenge this year on February 1st with the Commissioner doing a special reading – more information will be forthcoming via the Maine DOE Newsroom.

For more information, contact Dee Saucier, Elementary Literacy Specialist for the Maine DOE.



RSU 40 Teachers Find Connection with Students Through Poetry – a Podcast by 2020 Lincoln County Teacher of the Year

In the spring semester of 2021, RSU 40 English teacher Heather Webster embarked on a project to encourage her students to utilize their creative side. She guided students through completing an “I am” poem following a standard structure- each line begins with a statement about oneself. She chose this creative writing journey for her students because “I am” poems give space for students to be open, honest, and vulnerable with their teacher and classmates, a deep connection that has been missing for many students and teachers throughout the rollercoaster of changes brought on by the pandemic.

One day, walking down the hall shortly after starting the poetry unit, Webster noticed a wall of self-portrait. She went to take a closer look and realized that Brooke Holland, RSU 40 art teacher, had beat her to the “I am” poems with her students (many of which overlapped with Webster’s students). Webster was immediately impressed with the work of the students. “I realized that the poems demonstrated wonderful common threads from our students’ experiences,” Webster stated. More specifically, Webster was awed at the commonality between each students’ pandemic experience, which they shared in their poems.

Reflecting on the start of the COVID19 pandemic, Webster remembers how hard it was to get students to participate and also reflects on how silent students became. She met with her colleague Holland and discussed how impressed they were with their students. After a year and a half of silent students, seeing the students’ creative sides and hearing personal reflections on the pandemic was so enlightening for both teachers. The “I am” poem project gave both teachers insight into their students’ lives over the past year. Both teachers had been feeling distant from their students over the course of the pandemic, but this project allowed them to know their students on a personal level once again. Webster notes that after a year of non-stop discussion of learning loss, “[The students] will be okay. It will be okay.”

Heather Webster was the 2020 Lincoln County Teacher of the Year and a Maine teacher of the Year Finalist. Her podcast on the experience of the “I am” poem can be listened to below.

Non Fiction Final Project

This article was written by Maine DOE Intern Clio Bersani in collaboration with RSU 40 as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea email it to Rachel at