An Innovative Approach to School Drama: Filming Begins on the MDI High School’s Fall Musical

BAR HARBOR – MDI Drama began principal photography on its 2020 fall musical, “Ruddigore; or The Witch’s Curse,” this weekend in Acadia National Park. Determined to provide an authentic and safe drama experience for students and the community, the staff and senior student representatives of the Mount Desert Island High School’s drama program decided that filming the show would create opportunities for innovation and new learning while adhering, not only to the school’s COVID-19 protocols, but to the state’s regulations on live performances and the MPA’s guidance on co-curricular activities.

The Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, which is in the public domain, has been adapted by director Frank Bachman and music director Anne Leonardi and trimmed to approximately forty minutes. Jeff Zaman, who teaches filmmaking and design thinking classes at the high school, is the director of photography.

MDI Drama staff members were aware throughout the spring and summer that flexibility might be required in order to produce MDIHS’s annual fall musical, particularly after the cancellation of the Maine Drama Festival and the school’s annual two spring plays. They did not want to cancel a fall production if they did not have to. Casey Rush, the director of MDI Drama, began online discussions with the adult staff and senior representatives of student actors and tech crew members in late summer to brainstorm possibilities when it became evident that they would not be able to proceed with the fall season in the usual way. On the basis of the experiences of livestreaming the drama department’s annual Bravo Awards and the high school’s successful drive-in graduation in the spring, and with the support of the school’s administration, the team decided that the most interesting and safest option would be to film the production and present it as a drive-in movie at the high school. 

Filming the musical outdoors on location has enabled the actors to abide by safety protocols while experiencing a different kind of acting. A closed set limits the number of people present, and actors only unmask when they are about to film their scene and are appropriately physically distanced from the crew and other actors. The tech crew is learning about the different creative considerations for sound, lights, and set design in filmmaking while incorporating Covid-19 mitigation protocols as well as the intricacies of creating safe sound recording situations for the singers and “MacGyvering” sound booths in cars, as well as how to use new equipment and computer programs.

Some scenes will be shot indoors on the stage of the MDIHS Higgins-Demas theater, where physical distancing and sanitizing protocols are in place. Group numbers will be created in post-production using footage of individual actors and dancers. Rehearsals are primarily online, with some in-person rehearsals held outdoors, weather permitting. The tech crew meets once a week for physical builds, following the school’s protocols on mask wearing, hand sanitizing and physical distancing, and has online sessions to learn the principles of designing for theatre and the computer-based programs they will have to use.

This story was submitted by Chris Dougherty, Learning Center, Mount Desert Island High School in partnership with Jason Anderson, Maine DOE VPA Specialist as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea email it to Rachel at

Maine Career Development Association Hosts Art & Poetry Contest for Maine Students

In celebration of National Career Development Month in November, the Maine Career Development Association is sponsoring a statewide Poetry & Art contest, that is open to students and adults state-wide.

The Contest is held annually on a national level in celebration of the importance of life-long career development and the personal empowerment of all people. Events and activities in celebration of National Career Month help examine lives, careers, and the alternatives available to increase everyone’s personal success and happiness.

Contest Eligibility

Adults and students enrolled in public, private schools in Maine, and students who are homeschooled in Maine are eligible to participate.

Contest division areas include:

  • Primary Grades: K – 2
  • Intermediate Grades 3 – 5
  • Middle Grades 6 – 8
  • Senior Grades 9 – 12
  • Adult Student 18 and older enrolled in school
  • Open Adult 18 and older (teachers, parents, professionals, etc.)

Each entry should celebrate and inspire career development with a positive tone while emphasizing the national theme.

For further information on how to participate in the contest including eligibility requirements for both poetry and art submissions and how make submissions, please view the Maine Career Development Association’s Art & Poetry Contest Flyer and Entry Form.

Winners in each category will be posted to the MCDA website ( as well as included in the MCDA newsletter! Winners will then be sent on to the NCDA to be judged nationally. National winning entries will be recognized on the NCDA website, as well as on display at the annual conference in Atlanta in 2021. The school coordinator of each state winner will receive a free year’s membership to the Maine Career Development Association!

DEADLINE: All submissions must include the official entry form, be postmarked by November 23rd, and mailed to Tara Kierstead, MCDA K-12 Representative, at the address on the entry form.

Please email Tara Kierstead at with any questions.


How Ashland District School has Adapted to Make Music Education a Priority

By Jonathan Simonoff, Visual and Performing Arts Chair for Ashland Community School

The Ashland District School (MSAD 32) music program tried really hard to keep a positive outlook during these difficult times. Instead of thinking “It’s too bad we can’t do this,” we tried to frame it as, “How great is it that we get to do this now?” We looked at our goals for each part of our Pre-K – 12 curriculum and tried to identify ways to still reach these goals in a safe but engaging environment. For some classes those changes were minimal but other parts of the program had a drastic overhaul.

For example, the youngest elementary grades have not changed much but some parts of instruction are being recorded so that vocal and instrumental songs can still be shown to the students. Those classes are also being taught in each grade’s homeroom now.

In the past, 4th grade students would use recorders as part of pre-band lessons. This year we are using ukuleles to try to hit upon these concepts. Each student has a ukulele they get to use in class that is sanitized after.

Our beginning band students have also seen a significant change. Since we are not starting any students on traditional band instruments, we have made use of keyboards and drum pads. The class has been put into groups and each student in 5th grade gets a weekly small group lesson on keyboards for note reading skills and drum pads for extra rhythm reinforcement. We are in week 3 of these lessons and so far, every kid is reading and playing very well. I do remind them that they will get a chance to try the band instrument they want but these skills will help them later.

Last year our middle school students usually would have the option of signing up for middle school guitar class or middle school band. This year the guitar class is still an option and the other class they can sign up for is middle school percussion, which focuses on reading and playing rhythms on a variety of traditional and non-traditional percussion instruments.

Perhaps the groups that have changed the most this year are my high school classes. Normally high school students would have the option of taking guitar class or high school band. The guitar class is still running as normal but high school band has changed significantly.

My ed. tech and I have developed an alternating multi-course option for my high school students. We rotate courses every other day and students were able to sign up for one course each day. The courses offered as follows – Piano Class, Percussion Class, Strings Class, Rock Band, Independent Study, or 1 study hall. For example, a student could take piano one day and strings the other day and they follow that schedule for at least a semester before potentially changing their courses.

The classes are pretty self-explanatory.  Piano class (a very popular choice) is like a group piano lab. Percussion class has students spending time practicing rhythms and working on drum set techniques. Strings class is teaching students violin. Rock band (another popular choice) has students working with guitar, bass guitar, piano, and drum set to play modern music and independent study allows students to set up and achieve their own musical goals with check-ins with me to track their progress and give advice. For example, I have a few students working on playing the ukulele and using online guides to help them. I also have some students working on creating their own compositions. Study hall is a chance for students catch up on their other academics.

This set up comes with the understanding that students need to be self-motivated and disciplined since some of the time in class they are expected to work independently while myself or my ed. tech are working with other students. It has been very rewarding both for students and teachers to see progress being made and finding new ways to connect with and learn about music.

It also has been a lot of work to set up in terms of making sure we have enough keyboards and violins. We also are writing some of the music out by ear for students (particularly the Rock Band) to perform. But now that we are a month into school, things seem to be moving along nicely and I am very happy with how this year is shaping up!

This story was submitted by Jonathan Simonoff, Visual and Performing Arts Chair for Ashland Community School in collaboration with Jason Anderson, Visual and Performing Arts Specialist for the Maine DOE as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea email it to Rachel at

Maine Kids Rock Initiative Welcomes New Educators for 2020/21 School Year

The Maine Kids Rock Initiative, a statewide program that offers professional training to teachers as well as grants for instruments and equipment to schools with identified needs, enters its fourth year with the addition of the following educators to its roster:

  • Kate Smith (Central School, RSU 35)
  • Janice Marro (Great Works School, RSU 35)
  • Michelle Snow (South Portland High School)
  • Mike Hutchinson (Houlton Southside School, RSU 29)
  • Sharyn Walker (Mill Pond Elementary/Hodgdon Junior/Senior High School, SAD 70)
  • Scott Walker (Hodgdon Junior/Senior High School, SAD 70)

These teachers join the ranks of nearly 60 additional teachers across Maine who utilize the Modern Band approach to music education with nearly 1,000 students at all grade levels.

The Maine Kids Rock initiative continues as a partnership between the Maine Department of Education and the national non-profit organization Little Kids Rock.

Throughout the year these teachers will receive free professional development opportunities, and their schools will receive a set of classroom instruments for students to use as they explore music education through a modern music lens.  Learning opportunities for students go beyond just learning to play a guitar or drums; they also explore songwriting, the development of interpersonal skills, and boost self confidence as performers.

“The Maine Kids Rock program has helped give more kids opportunities to be a part of a music program that would not normally be in the department,” says Kevin Mania, music educator in RSU 29 in Houlton and a member of the first cohort of Maine Kids Rock educators four years ago.  “In fact, there are many kids that take this class that are looking for a place to fit in, and be a part of a collaborative learning environment. Jazz band is still very important in our school music programs, modern band is fulfilling the need for kids to play current music that inspires them today.  It breaks barriers by letting kids start out late in the game and develops lifelong learners.”

Kate Smith, a member of the newest cohort, says “Participating in the Maine Little Kids Rock Initiative is very important to me because I know it’s a critical step in ensuring my curriculum content is relevant and culturally inclusive. The training I received at the Modern Band Summit in July not only helped me understand how to teach traditional modern band instruments, it also offered workshops that helped me understand the modern band’s role in cultural expression and tradition.”

For more information about the Maine Kids Rock Initiative through the Maine Department of Education, please contact Visual and Performing Arts Content Specialist Jason Anderson at

MEDIA RELEASE: Music Education Provides a Note of Hope for Many Amid COVID 19

As schools head back into session in the midst of a global pandemic, we face a never-ending torrent of restrictions and requirements to keep all people safe while still providing and getting quality education. A well-rounded and comprehensive education consists of many necessary components to keep students engaged and learning. This includes a robust music education programming, a fact that educators alike are well aware.

“The skills we learn in music lead to experiences that are creative, aesthetic, and uplifting,” said Sandy Barry, Maine Music Educators Association (MMEA) President and Middle School Band Director at Mahoney Middle School in South Portland. “A music classroom embodies the best of 21st century skills, including problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration and interdependent learning.”

Yet on the minds of musicians (and music educators) around the world is the heartbreaking truth that singing and playing wind instruments while near other people is now considered a risk in transmitting COVID-19.  While we mourn the absence of live concerts and impromptu choir practice in the halls, or even just singing at the top of our lungs in the car with our friends, music educators are busy trying to orchestrate a very different but essential music education program this school year.

“Preserving access to music education for all of our students during this difficult time is crucial.  As we reimagine music education along with our students, it is important to focus on all that we can do in the music classroom, even though group singing and wind playing looks different right now,” said Ben Potvin, MMEA Past President and Grades 3-5 Classroom Music, Band, and Chorus at Mast Landing School in Freeport (RSU5). “Maine’s music educators are up to the challenge of fostering connections with our students and maintaining safe, high-quality music instruction.”

With hard work and a deep commitment to ensuring quality music instruction continued, Maine’s music teachers took on the challenges posed by COVID-19. “I am in awe of the creative and innovative ways in which our music, and all our visual and performing arts, educators have re-imagined their craft,” said Commissioner of Education, Pender Makin.  “Music is one of the core expectations for our schools exactly because it nurtures this kind of flexible problem solving and creativity, skills that are vital for our classrooms and for the 21st century.”

Even when schools had no choice but to deliver remote education in the spring, music educators still found a way to encourage and engage students from home and students blossomed with the opportunity to get more of want they wanted.

“Because I had more time and flexibility in my schedule when we were distance learning, I was able to focus on my own musical goals and develop a more consistent practice routine,” said Delia Harms, a Junior from Massabesic HS in Waterboro who plays the bassoon in the school band, the Portland Youth Wind Ensemble, and the Symphony Orchestra. “I had time to really dig into more challenging music, but also to focus on returning to the basics and developing fundamental skills. Though it was different, every moment that I was able to connect with others about music, through recordings or on zoom, it brought back some of that excitement and connection that music has always created. It has been inspiring to see the resilience and commitment of my musical community that has allowed them to persevere through these difficult circumstances to continue making music.”

For many, the chance to continue having a creative space to practice and learn music through education programming provides solace during an uncertain time.

“Access to music education is incredibly important for a number of reasons, especially now, but the first one that comes to mind is to create a support system for kids” said Colette (Coco) Carrillo, a Junior from Waterville High School who is an active member of the school choral program.” So many people I know see their school’s music programs as a creative outlet and a safe place that they don’t have anywhere else in the school. It offers them an activity that can not only relieve their stress but can also build so many skills for their futures. Whether it’s in person or online, kids in music programs do those activities for a reason. They want to share their passion with friends, learn new material, and improve their skills. Getting rid of those programs or lowering the standard will harm their academic minds as well as their artistic minds.”

Finding a new way to learn during the pandemic has been a challenge for everyone, and the reinvention of how we educate students and how we prioritize what we need to do has provided a valuable lesson in and of itself.

“When schools began to shut down, the music department was arguably hit the hardest, as playing/ singing together does not lend itself to virtual mediums very well due to the fact that digital latency prevents synchronization,” said Tyler Lucca, a Junior from Yarmouth High School who plays the trombone in the school’s honors level Wind Ensemble and Jazz Band, and sings in the honors level Chamber Choir. “This made making music with my peers nearly impossible, at least in the traditional way, and it showed me how important these classes that we took for granted truly are.”

Music education is essential to a robust educational experience and while it may look very different this year, and possibly for years to come, it is more than just another education standard to meet or a lesson plan to fit into the schedule. It’s an emotional state, it’s a way to cope, and for many it’s a vital part of what makes them who they are.