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.

Climate Data-Art Workshop for Educators

Join the Maine Department of Education and Friends of Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge as they cohost an afternoon with Jill Pelto, an accomplished climate change artist with a passion for constructing new ways to communicate science through art.

March 31, 2022
3:00 – 6:00 p.m.
virtual event

This 3-hour workshop is designed for middle and high school teachers that would like to learn how to braid climate science, data, and visual art as a means of communicating both the data and the urgency of climate impacts in a novel way. Jill’s data-art approach has been utilized in classrooms internationally.

During the workshop, teachers will demo the activity as “students” and create an original artwork that integrates scientific data collected by researchers from Friends of Maine Coastal Islands, including Tern (Arctic, Common, Roseate) recovery and Atlantic Puffin fledgling rates in Maine. This activity can be adapted for the classroom using the same datasets, or other datasets that teachers (or upper-level students) identify.

Instructional objectives of this workshop include:

  1. Understand the meaning of the data
  2. Relate to the data personally
  3. Create an original artwork that illustrates a story

Register here for this workshop. An agenda, list of simple materials to have at hand during the workshop, and the Zoom link will be sent to all participants after successful registration. Space is limited.

If you have any questions about this event, please contact Shari Templeton at shari.templeton@maine.gov or 207-530-6407.

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 rachel.paling@maine.gov

Huge Increase in Independent Capstones at Portland High School During Unique School Year

This year, many Portland High School seniors took on unique independent projects as their senior capstone. Projects included building an artist’s shed, building a smoker, art work, career research, building a guitar, making electronic music, and researching topics such as Buddhism, reading and mental health, preparing for the Navy, lobstering and African clothing. 

Capstone requirements include student choice and research. Most students complete their capstone through a class, but some students design their own independent projects. In a typical year, there may be two or three students who take on an independent capstone, but this year over twenty students designed their own project. Independent capstones help students to explore a particular passion.

Skye Ferris, who made a series of portraits of friends and family reflects, “My advice for next year’s students is to choose a project that you are actually excited to complete, as I found my own process very enjoyable and it was something I had wanted to do for some time.”

Elias Parker who worked with two other students to help build an artist’s shed said, “ I am most proud of the seemingly far-fetched idea we had, and our ability to follow through and not sacrifice any magnificence nor quality in our project.”  When asked about advice he would give other students, Eli shared “GO BIG, you’ll be proud of yourself”

This large increase is likely due to the fact that the pandemic allowed for more independent learning, time to explore personal interests, and flexible time in which to do the projects. Hopefully this is a start to many meaningful independent projects in the future!

Information for this article was provided by Portland Public Schools as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea, email it to Rachel at rachel.paling@maine.gov.

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 rachel.paling@maine.gov.