Media Release: Governor Mills Announces Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative to Provide Maine Students Hands On, Outdoor Coastal Learning Experiences this Summer

Delivering on a promise from her State of the State Address, Governor Janet Mills announced today the launch of the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative to provide Maine students with hands-on, outdoor learning experiences this summer.


The Initiative, developed by the Maine Department of Education using Federal funding, will give middle and high school students the opportunity to participate in marine and coastal ecology learning programs, including marine research and exploration, boat building, sailing, career exploration with marine businesses, island immersion programs, and more.


For example, The Ecology School will take students on field trips to sand beaches, tidepools, and salt marshes to learn about Maine’s coastal ecosystems. The Herring Gut Coastal Science Center will expose students to sea run fish streams, oyster farms, mudflats, hatcheries, and laboratories, while also touring marine businesses across the Midcoast to let students see firsthand potential careers in Maine’s maritime industries. Sailing Ships Maine will offer students the chance to sail aboard a commercial training ship as an active member of the crew.


This outdoor learning Initiative will benefit at least 1,000 students from across Maine, with a focus on students from low-income families from regions of Maine where they do not typically have access to such experiences. 

“The Maine outdoors is one of our greatest treasures. At a time when devices and screens too often grab the attention of our kids, getting them outside and connected to our state has never been more important,” said Governor Janet Mills. “In my State of the State Address, I promised that we would partner with outdoor organizations to create new learning opportunities and help young people who may have lost ground in school during the pandemic. Today I’m delivering on that promise. Our Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative will help our students learn, grow, develop new skills, and build an appreciation for the outdoors that will lead to new, lifelong interests.”

“The Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative offers hands on, highly engaging programs that allow Maine’s young people to explore and learn from our state’s amazing bounty of natural resources,” said Pender Makin, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education. “Being outside connecting with nature and each other is so important in helping students recover from the pandemic. These outdoor learning experiences will build teamwork and leadership skills, reduce stress and anxiety, and develop new skills in our vast outdoor classroom which will translate to success inside the classroom as well. We thank all of the organizations that stepped up to be a part of this exciting initiative.”


This kind of experiential learning is highly engaging and allows students to problem solve and learn new skills in real world settings, build teamwork and leadership skills, increase self-confidence, and develop an appreciation of nature.


Spending time outdoors has been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety and to equip students with skills and knowledge that can help them succeed inside the classroom. Being able to interact with nature while building connections with peers is also beneficial students’ recovery following the disruptions and difficulties caused by the pandemic.    


The organizations that will receive funding through the Initiative welcomed the announcement:


“Governor Mills’ new Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative is such a breath of fresh air for Maine kids and for innovative education throughout the state. Through the support of the Maine Department of Education, Maine kids in middle school and high school will have access to experiential education experiences that get kids outside this summer to explore Maine’s amazing diversity of coastal ecosystems,” said Drew Dumsch, Ecology School Executive Director. “As part of the Initiative, The Ecology School is proud to be offering three sessions of the new Governor’s Academy for Coastal Ecology this July and will be offering up to 180 camperships for Maine students entering grades 6-9 to attend a free week of camp at our River Bend Farm campus in Saco.” 

“Schoodic Institute is thrilled to work with the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative to create hands-on coastal education opportunities here in Downeast Maine for under-resourced schools and low-income families,” said Nicholas Fisichelli, President and CEO of Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park. “Furthermore, the early-career internship positions created through this initiative will be springboards for bright careers in outdoor education in Maine.”

“Downeast Institute is delighted to have received support from the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative,” said Dianne Tilton, Executive Director of the Downeast Institute. “We have been helping students for years to enjoy science and math using outdoor marine science activities, and are excited to expand our program this summer.”

“All of us at Herring Gut Coastal Science Center are excited to bring the wonders and possibilities of marine science and aquaculture careers to Midcoast youth,” said Tom Mullin, Executive Director, Herring Gut Coastal Science Center.  The middle school and high school students will have a chance to have some fantastic hands on experiences made possible by these grants.”

“We are thrilled to have been awarded the
Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative grant from the State of Maine,” said Adam Shepard Executive Director of Rippleffect. “The programs at Rippleffect, focused on connecting participants to themselves, each other, and the natural world around them, are more important now than ever. This grant will help us continue to grow these opportunities for all children in Maine.”

“Thanks to the support of the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative, Sailing Ships Maine will be able to connect more Maine students who need step-up experiences, the chance to disconnect from social media, and the opportunity to engage human-to-human in problem solving challenges that build connection and confidence,” said Alex Agnew, Executive Director of Sailing Ships Maine. “By taking a leap and going to sea for a multi-night tall ship sailing experience, students’ minds can be broadened about the potential of their lives at the same time they are gathering valuable skills in leadership, teamwork, science, technology, engineering and math in a fascinating and engaging hands-on learning environment. We are thrilled to be a partner in this initiative for Maine students!”

“Maine Maritime Academy is excited to have been selected as a grant recipient through the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative in support of Summer Coastal Ecology Programs. With the expansion of the Discovery Voyage program, MMA will be able to introduce students from around Maine to the coastal estuaries and marine environments that are vital to the economic sustainability of the coastal ecosystems of our state,” said Kimberly Reilly, Vice President of Enrollment Management and Marketing for Maine Maritime Academy. “Maine Maritime Academy’s location on Castine Harbor allows students to go beyond the classroom and affords them the opportunity to be on the water for an up-close exploration of coastal environments.”


“Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership is honored to receive DOE funding to support new and expanded experiential science education initiatives in partnership with The Game Loft, The University of Maine 4-H Camp & Learning Center at Bryant Pond, The Apprenticeshop, Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, along with teachers and leaders at partner schools across the state,” said Tara Elliott, Grants Coordinator for Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership. “This support from the DOE will bring  new students to Hurricane Island’s sustainable campus for hands-on learning and will expand our education initiatives into the school year, bolstering support for teachers and schools implementing place-based learning while also getting students more time doing science outside. We hear firsthand from students and teachers about the uniquely impactful experience of learning on Hurricane Island, and we are grateful to be able to offer these experiences to a greater number of Maine youth.”


Organizations participating in the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative include: Herring Gut Coastal Science Center in Port Clyde, Hurricane Island + Bryant Pond in Bryant Pond, Hurricane Island + Game Loft, Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Sailing Ships Maine in Portland, the Ecology School in Saco, Boothbay Sea and Science Center in Boothbay, Casco Bay High School and Rippleffect in Portland, Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Science and Education in Beals, Hurricane Island Foundation in Rockland, Laudholm Trust in Wells, Rippleffect in Portland, Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park, and the University of Maine System Cooperative Extension summer camps at Blueberry Cove and Tanglewood.


The Initiative is funded by nearly $900,000 in Federal funding from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Funds. Full program descriptions can be found here.

Media Release: Maine School Safety Summit Brings Together More than 300 Educators, School Leaders, and Law Enforcement Personnel to Collaborate on School Safety Issues

The Maine Department of Education’s Maine School Safety Center held its annual Maine School Safety Summit this week at Windham High School, with a focus on how educators, school leaders, law enforcement, and communities can increase collaboration and communication around school safety strategies. The three-day summit attracted more than 300 participants from across the state with roles ranging from school principals, social workers, and nurses to school resource officers, first responders, and emergency preparedness professionals.

Nearly 50 workshops were offered on a wide range of school safety topics, including trauma awareness; supporting the safety and well-being of young people; brain science; restorative practices; social media use; emergency operations planning; food security linked to school security; behavioral threat assessment; bus safety; and more. Staff from the Maine Department of Education’s Office of School and Student Supports and Office of School Facilities and Transportation also helped lead several workshops.

The Maine School Safety Center (MSSC) was created two years ago, and codified into law this year, with the mission of developing a safe school infrastructure that will deliver high quality, up-to-date best practices, procedures, training, and technical assistance and support to Maine schools. MSSC offers school supports and services on school emergency management, threat assessment and mental health, restorative practices, training, and school safety and security. MSSC has provided hundreds of trainings, courses, and professional learning experiences to support school staff and school leaders throughout Maine.

MSSC’s approach to school safety is comprehensive and is guided by the beliefs that supporting the well-being of students and a healthy school environment is essential to the reduction of behaviors that threaten the safety of the school community; everyone who comes in contact with students and a school system has a responsibility to help create and sustain a healthy school environment and ensure a student’s well-being; the school environment, culture, approaches to discipline, and interface with the community are crucial to the well-being of all students, and particularly to those students who are alienated from the school program and those with behavioral and/or mental health issues; and schools and communities need to collaborate to create a systematic approach to school safety.

“This summit was planned long before the tragedy in a Texas elementary school last month, but that event, and so many others, certainly underscore the fact that school safety and security, emergency prevention, and emergency response preparedness remain top concerns for students, staff, families, and communities nationwide and here in Maine,” said Education Commissioner Pender Makin in her keynote address. “This three-day event offers a wide variety of professional learning opportunities and technical assistance to help schools and their community partners enhance all aspects of school safety, ranging from culture and climate to hazard planning to crisis response and recovery planning. What is clear throughout all of the sessions, and reinforced by who is here attending the summit, is the overarching message that partnerships, relationships, communication, and collaboration are the keys to this work.”

“We all know that when we put our minds and our hearts together, we can be brilliant. Throughout the last 27 months, we have all worked together to stay safe, to keep our schools open and to make sure that we took care of our students and each other–both professionally and personally,” said Eileen King, Executive Director of the Maine School Superintendents Association. “Keeping our students and staff safe is the priority, change is the reality, and collaboration must be the strategy.”

“School boards across the state engage in and support sound school safety practices for students and staff,” said Steve Bailey, Executive Director of the Maine School Board Association. “Through the leadership of the DOE’s Maine School Safety Center, and the collaboration with other partner agencies and associations, this identified effort to expand and promote safety practices and important inter-agency relationships will be an important next step to helping keep our schools safe, while also knowing what to do and who to turn to should additional resources be needed.”

“Safety is a top priority for students and for school staff, and with safety encompassing so many things, physical and emotional/mental health, security, cyber, food security, and more, we need to do what we can to work collaboratively to address these issues and provide the public education our students deserve,” said Grace Leavitt, President of the Maine Education Association.

“It’s imperative that law enforcement and educators have an open line of communication and a collaborative working relationship,” said Chief Kevin Schofield, Maine Chiefs of Police, Windham Police Department. “It’s incumbent upon all of us to take this issue seriously and work together to make sure our students and schools are as safe as possible.”

The Maine School Safety Summit was sponsored by the Maine Department of Education, Maine Juvenile Justice Advisory Group, Maine School Superintendents Association, Maine Chiefs of Police Association, Maine Sheriff’s Association, Maine Principals Association, Maine Department of Corrections, Maine School Resource Officers Association, Strategies for Youth, and Maine School Board Association.


Commissioner Makin Releases End of School Year Video Message to Thank and Celebrate Educators

Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin released a special video message to thank and celebrate educators and school leaders as they wrap up another school year.

“Thanks to the heroic efforts of our state’s educators, staff, school leaders, and school board members, Maine schools continued to turn out their daily miracles through some of the greatest challenges ever faced in public education,” said Makin in the video.

Watch the video here.

Makin detailed the time she got to spend in schools across the state this year, getting to meet with with educators, school staff, and students and experiencing some of the amazing teaching and learning happening in Maine schools.

“Our schools are truly the heartbeat of our communities, teeming with innovation, creativity, joy, resilience, triumph, and unlimited hope,” Makin shared. “I learned something exciting and new at every school I visited this year, and above all I witnessed the very best of what it means to be a changemaker in the lives of our most precious assets, the kids of Maine.”

Makin closed her video message with a note of thanks and wishes for a good summer.

“Thank you for your courage, your persistence, and the love that you’ve given to this most important work,” said Makin.

Panelist Opportunities for Maine Science Educators 

The Maine Department of Education is currently recruiting elementary (5th grade) educators and alternate participants (grades 8 and 3rd year of high school) to participate in an upcoming standard setting for the state’s science assessment, Maine (MEA) Science.

Maine educators and the DOE play a crucial role in the development of this assessment for students. No prior experience with standard setting or standard setting methodology is required however, panelists should be a science expert that teaches students who participate in the Maine Science assessment and have a thorough understanding of the assessed Maine Learning Results (MLRs) Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Participants must be able to differentiate between student performances at different levels of achievement. Standard setting panels consist of 10 educators per grade band (grade 5, 8, and 3rd year of high school).  Panelists will have the opportunity to discuss and determine application thresholds for Maine.

Current needs include:

  • Grade 5 – 4 Educators
  • Grade 8 – Alternates*
  • 3rd year of High School – Alternates*

*Alternates need to indicate they would be available should a panelist be unable to participate.

The standard setting is scheduled to take place from July 26th – 28th 2022 in Augusta. Travel, accommodations and expenses will be covered with a daily stipend provided to selected panelists.

Please consider applying or sharing the upcoming opportunities with colleagues. The expertise and contributions of Maine educators are a critical element of the continued development cycle for these assessments.

Interested? Complete the panelist registration survey. 

Want more information? Please reach out to Janette Kirk, Chief of Federal Programs at

Registration Now Open for Maine Educator Summit August 9th & 10th

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) is excited to announce that registration for the 2022 Maine Educator Summit is now open. This summit provides all Maine educators and school staff with opportunities for professional learning, peer networking, and resource materials to further support students impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic. In sponsoring this event, the Maine DOE aims to further support Maine’s education workforce in the areas of resilience, responsiveness, and a renewed approach to education.

Registration for the 2022 Maine Educator Summit at the Augusta Civic Center on August 9-10, 2022 is now open and will close July 15, 2022. The summit will offer a multitude of sessions around topics like interdisciplinary learning, school safety, supporting students’ mental and physical health, special education, building the educator workforce, and more. Participants will be able to join several different learning sessions, and the Maine DOE is encouraging teams from each SAU to register. Further information regarding accommodations, transportation, and the event schedule is available on the DOE Maine Educator Summit web page.

Reimbursement of accommodations, meals, and mileage is available.

Contact hours will be provided.

For further information about the 2022 Maine Educator Summit, please reach out to
Teri Peaslee, Summit Coordinator at (207) 530-7672.