Media Release: Lewiston Students Create Ornaments for Maine’s Tree as Part of the National Christmas Tree Display in Washington, D.C.

(Photo from National Park Service)

Students at Robert V. Connors Elementary School in Lewiston created one-of-a-kind ornaments now adorning Maine’s tree as part of the 2022 National Christmas Tree display on the Ellipse in President’s Park outside of the White House.

Students and educators from Connors Elementary School’s Civil Rights Team led the effort and designed ornaments featuring familiar Maine scenes including the outline of the state, moose, lobsters, and pine trees filled with messages celebrating the themes of belonging, inclusivity, and feeling welcome. They wanted to ensure that those who don’t celebrate the holiday were also represented and highlight how Maine welcomes all.

“The students were really excited to be part of this, and we are really honored to have this opportunity,” said Kelsey Boucher, an art teacher at Connors Elementary and the 2022 Androscoggin County teacher of the year. “Students were already working on a Day of Welcome project and wanted to make ornaments about what makes them feel welcome at school. They got creative by filling in outlines of iconic Maine shapes with diverse images and messages around belonging, inclusivity, and welcoming all.”

Boucher joined her Civil Rights Team Co-Advisor Nesrene Griffin and Assistant Principal Travis Jalbert in Washington, D.C. today to represent Maine for the National Christmas Tree lighting this evening. The school will host a watch party for students, educators, and family members when the ceremony is aired on December 11.





The America Celebrates ornament program is an annual collaboration of the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of Education and the National Park Foundation (NPF). These ornaments adorn 58 smaller trees that surround the National Christmas Tree. The trees represent states, territories, and schools managed by the Bureau of Indian Education and the Department of Defense Education Activity. This year, more than 2,600 students participated in the America Celebrates ornament program. Click here for more information.


Media Release: Fourth Grade Teacher Sarah Collins Honored With Prestigious Milken Educator Award

A Hermon elementary teacher was surprised today as one of America’s top teachers. In front of a vibrant schoolwide assembly of cheering students, appreciative colleagues, local dignitaries and media, Sarah Collins, a fourth grade science teacher at Patricia A. Duran School, received the $25,000 Milken Educator Award from the Milken Family Foundation. Collins is the first teacher to receive the Award in the Hermon Public School District since the initiative began in Maine in 1990. The cash prize is unrestricted.

The Awards will recognize up to 40 elementary educators in the 2022-23 school year. Over the past 35 years, more than $140 million in funding, including more than $73 million in individual Awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers.

Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop was joined by Maine Commissioner of Education Pender Makin in presenting Collins with the Award and welcoming her into the national Milken Educator Network. Both Bishop and Makin are members of the 2001 Milken Educator Award class.

“Sarah has found ways to create a ‘living classroom’ for her students, creatively combining innovative technology practices with outdoor experiences that teach young learners about our world,” said Stephanie Bishop, vice president of the Milken Educator Awards and a 2001 Virginia Milken Educator. “Through virtual meetups with international scientists and online field trips around the globe, Sarah has inspired her students to connect to science in real and meaningful ways, and for that, we honor her as Maine’s newest Milken Educator.”

Hailed as the “Oscars of Teaching,” Milken Educator Awards inspire and uplift with the unique stories of educators making a profound difference for students, colleagues and communities. The specific states and schools on this year’s winners’ list remain a closely guarded secret until each Award is announced.

“Sarah brings her passion for science and learning to her students each and every day by providing them with engaging, immersive, project-based experiences. Her interdisciplinary approach connects science and technology across content areas and allows her students to apply the deep inquiry, critical thinking, and research and design, and other foundational skills they learn in her classes to other parts of their lives. She is a true innovator and a lifelong learner in every sense of the word, constantly seeking opportunities to strengthen her practice, support her colleagues, and build connections with her community.  The Maine Department of Education is so proud to join the Milken Family Foundation and the entire Hermon community in honoring Sarah with this well-deserved recognition,” said Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin.

More About Sarah Collins

Using Technology and Ecology to Teach Science: Collins secured a Maine Environmental Education Grant to develop an outdoor classroom and garden “lab” where children learn about soil quality and plant growth. Students found fallen trees that became raised beds, and Collins solicited donations of soil and seeds from the community. Growing vegetables helps cement students’ understanding of where their food comes from, and produce from the garden ends up on the menu in the school cafeteria. Because Duran is in a rural area near Bangor, Collins uses technology to expand students’ experiences beyond the classroom, arranging virtual meetings with scientists in a multitude of locations and occupations. Her young scientists have learned from a wildlife ecologist studying coyote behavior in South Carolina, a Hawaiian volcanologist, and a scientist from a local university as she performed experiments in Antarctica.

Multi-pronged Approach to Learning: Dedicated, empathetic and determined to reach every student, Collins uses multiple methods of assessment to encourage children to express their scientific reasoning and understanding. Students write focus questions, record and discuss observations, make drawings, analyze data, and perform self-assessments using notebook entries and checklists. Collins works with the University of Maine’s Research in STEM Education (RiSE) Center, bringing research-based, hands-on learning experiences back to Duran. She worked with Duran’s media specialist to develop a 3D computer design club and has presented at the Maine Science Teachers Association’s annual conference on the use of student notebooks in the science classroom. The project-based learning module on habitats Collins developed for the Maine Department of Education’s MOOSE (Maine Online Opportunities for Sustained Education) platform has been used by students across Maine, around the U.S. and internationally.

Meaningful Partnerships with Parents: Collins partners with parents to keep families involved in their children’s learning. During the pandemic, she researched avenues to get resources into students’ hands, led frequent virtual field trips and found accessible, hands-on science lessons students could execute at home.

Education: A graduate of the University of Maine Orono, Collins earned a bachelor’s in elementary education in 2008 and a master’s in literacy education in 2014.

Governor Mills Announces $25 Million Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan Program to Offer Paid Work Experiences to Maine Students

Governor Janet Mills today announced the Maine Career Exploration program, a $25 million, two-year initiative of her Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan to connect 6,000 young people in Maine to future career opportunities by funding paid work experiences with employers across the state.

Through offering paid work experiences for Maine young people aged 16-24, the Maine Career Exploration program will enable thousands of students to enter the labor force in fields of their interest through work opportunities with Maine employers. In addition to work experience, students may also earn education credits through the program.

The Maine Career Exploration program is a recommendation of Maine’s 10-year Economic Development Strategy (PDF), unveiled by Governor Mills in 2019, to support Maine’s goal of adding 75,000 workers to Maine’s workforce by 2030. The program is led by the Department of Economic and Community Development in partnership with the Department of Education, Department of Labor, and the Governor’s Children Cabinet.

The Governor announced the Maine Career Exploration program today at Morse High School in Bath. Bath, Brunswick, and Topsham schools have used Jobs Plan funds to create a Regional Internship Program, in partnership with the Midcoast Chamber of Commerce, to provide students with work-based learning experiences at local businesses.

“Through the Maine Career Exploration program, high school students will gain meaningful, hands-on work experiences at local businesses that will prepare them to succeed in careers right here in Maine, strengthening our workforce over the long-term,” said Governor Janet Mills. “My Administration will continue to address Maine’s longstanding workforce shortage by making sure our students have the skills, and our businesses have the workers, that they need to succeed.”

“Our state needs to add 75,000 new workers by the end of the decade to keep our economy strong. Preparing Maine students for success in the workforce is a key part of achieving that goal,” said Heather Johnson, Commissioner of the Department of Economic & Community Development. “Maine Career Exploration will introduce thousands of Maine students to future employment options, giving them real world work experience and supporting our business community at the same time.”

“By expanding real-world, engaging learning opportunities with Maine employers, the Career Exploration program will help students explore career options, develop critical work and life skills, and plan for their futures,” said Pender Makin, Commissioner of the Department of Education. “These opportunities are also important for strengthening Maine’s workforce and building connections between schools and local businesses.”

“The mission of JMG is to identify students who face barriers to education, and to guide each one on to a successful path toward continued education, a meaningful career, and productive adulthood,” said Craig Larrabee, JMG President and CEO. “Our commitment is to equitably expand opportunity for students who need it most, particularly those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. With this funding, JMG will support more than 4,000 high school juniors and seniors, throughout all sixteen counties of the state, in engaging with Maine’s employers to gain meaningful workforce experience.”

“This funding will significantly enhance the quality of our Mt. Ararat High School Community Pathways program. Most importantly, we will be positioned to provide many more meaningful and engaging learning experiences to support students in pursuing their dreams, interests, passions, and aspirations,” said Douglas Ware, Community Learning Coordinator at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham.

“Governor Mills and her administration saw the workforce need, heard from the businesses and the schools, and made the incredible choice to invest in some of Maine’s best problem solvers – our teachers, administrators and business leaders,” said Cory King, Executive Director of the Midcoast Chamber of Commerce. “The investment into this program through the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan is helping make this concept of paid, meaningful work for students a possibility.”

The Career Exploration program has three primary components:

Awards to Schools and School Districts

The Maine Department of Education has awarded over $5.6 million to 26 school districts, schools, adult education programs, and higher education institutions to create or expand extended learning opportunities for students, which include paid work experiences.

Examples of these efforts include:

  • The Aroostook County Action Program and Eastern Maine Development Corporation will provide paid work experiences to youth in northern and eastern Maine. Career Exploration funds will be used to strengthen and expand existing workforce & training programs through new employer partnerships, reaching students who do not qualify for existing programs, and offering support services to address transportation and technology needs.
  • In RSU 13 in Rockland, students will explore different career paths and learn basic job-seeking skills and financial literacy. Following these classes, students will participate in 10-week internships with local businesses.
  • Telstar Middle High School in Bethel will develop workforce opportunities for students in grades 9-12. These include job shadowing, career immersions with employers, credit-earning experiences, career camps during school breaks, and local internship programs.

Jobs for Maine Graduates

  • Funding from the Career Exploration Program will support expansion of extended learning opportunities, paid work experiences, and coaching now offered by Jobs for Maine Graduates for rising juniors and seniors at 90 high schools in Maine.

Community-Based Organizations

  • Through the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet, five community-based organizations in Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Androscoggin, Penobscot, and Aroostook counties will help disadvantaged young people access meaningful paid work opportunities and valuable employment experience.

The Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan is the Governor’s plan, approved by the Legislature, to invest nearly $1 billion in Federal American Rescue Plan funds to improve the lives of Maine people and families, help businesses, create good-paying jobs, and build an economy poised for future prosperity.

In the last year since the Jobs Plan took effect, the Mills Administration has delivered direct economic relief to nearly 1,000 Maine small businesses, supported more than 100 infrastructure projects around the state to create jobs and revitalize communities, and invested in workforce programs estimated to offer apprenticeship, career and education advancement, and job training opportunities to 22,000 Maine people.

Read a full report of the Jobs Plan’s investments in the past year here. For more about Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, visit

Media Release: Casco Bay High School Teacher Matthew Bernstein Named 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year

In a surprise ceremony held at Casco Bay High School in Portland, the Maine Department of Education and Educate Maine named ninth grade Humanities and Social Studies teacher Matthew Bernstein as Maine’s 2023 Teacher of the Year while students and colleagues at the school congratulated and honored his tremendous impact on his students and dedication to teaching.

“We are thrilled to announce Matthew Bernstein as Maine’s 2023 Teacher of the Year. Today we celebrate Mr. Bernstein’s love of teaching, his dedication to his students, and his leadership role in education,” said Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin. “Mr. Bernstein’s students and colleagues at Casco Bay High School have described him as energizing, empowering, inclusive, a mentor, supportive, patient, and loving. Congratulations!”

Bernstein’s Teacher of the Year journey began in May, when he was named the 2022 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year. Along with 15 other County Teachers of the Year, Bernstein was selected from a pool of hundreds of teachers who were nominated earlier this year. In August, he was named one of four state finalists before being selected as the 2023 Teacher of the Year.

Bernstein’s pedagogy is centered around student voices and student activism. He believes that the purpose of education is to help students find their way of contributing to a more equitable world. He is passionate about creating opportunities for students to experience joy and belonging at school on a daily basis and, to that end, he believes in cultivating meaningful relationships with students, often through his work as a 9th grade crew advisor, that are grounded in deep listening and holistic support. Bernstein has served as a team leader, crew team leader, and is currently a professional learning community coach where he facilitates ongoing professional learning with his colleagues.

He is a member of the Portland Public Schools Social Studies Vertical Content Team, collaborating with teachers across the district and local experts to develop Wabanaki Studies curriculum. It is through these efforts to embrace opportunities that deepen his knowledge and practice that he was recently named a 2022 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholar, participating in a seminar entitled, “Teaching the Holocaust through Visual Culture.”

While not teaching, Bernstein is playing or coaching soccer and basketball, reading a book, or trying to determine where to find Portland’s best slice of pizza. He has a Bachelor of Arts in History with a European History concentration from Bowdoin College where he was also a Bowdoin Teacher Scholar. He is the 2022 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year.

“I’m extremely grateful that Mr. Bernstein is getting the recognition that he deserves after years of being a role model for me and so many others. With all of his hard work, kindness and compassion I’m in a true awe of the human that Mr. Bernstein is, all I can hope for is to be the kind of educator that he is,” said former student Yusur Jasim who nominated Bernstein.  

The Teacher of the Year Program is a year-long process that involves educator portfolio and resume submissions, interviews, oral presentations, and classroom visits made by a selection panel comprised of State Board of Education members, school administrators, Maine Department of Education staff, legacy Teachers of the Year, and other Maine business partners.

“Educate Maine is proud to administer the Maine Teacher of the Year program. Matt Bernstein is an intentional and dedicated practitioner who will serve as an ambassador for educators and students across our state.  We look forward to working with him as we continue our efforts to recognize excellence within our educational workforce and elevate the teaching profession in Maine,” said Educate Maine Executive Director Jason Judd.  

As the 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year, Bernstein will spend his year of service advocating for students and teachers and speaking to the importance of education in preparing Maine students for the future.  He will also represent Maine in the National Teacher of the Year program.

“Matt Bernstein puts celebrating and recognizing the needs of individual students at the forefront of his teaching. Whether it is through the subtle check-ins he has with each student before, during, and after lessons or the immense time that goes into planning thoughtful lessons related to what his students need, Matt establishes a classroom community — his crew — by always putting student choice and voice first. Students want to be in Mr. Bernstein’s room because they know that that is a space where they can be seen, heard, and truly listened to and I know Matt will take that same practice forward as he represents Maine as 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year,” said Kelsey Stoyanova, Maine’s 2022 Teacher of the Year.  

“He is a passionate, knowledgeable, enthusiastic and energetic teacher who represents everything that is good about Maine educators,” said Tory Kornfield, Teacher of the Year Selection Member and Maine State Board of Education Representative. 

The Maine Teacher of the Year program is administered by Educate Maine, a business-led advocacy organization, in partnership with the Maine Department of Education, the Maine State Board of Education, and the Maine County and State Teachers and County of the Year Association (MCSTOYA). Funding for the program is generously provided by Maine businesses.  The program’s lead sponsor is Bangor Savings Bank.  Other program sponsors include Dead River, Geiger, Hannaford, the Maine State Lottery, Unum and the Silvernail Family.

For more information about the Maine Teacher of the Year program, visit


Media Release: Maine Department of Education Awards $1.6 Million in RREV Funding to Support Education Innovation

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) today awarded $1.6 million in Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures (RREV) funding to support education innovation in twelve school administrative units (SAUs) across Maine. These federal funds will be used to invest in strategies to engage students through outdoor learning, alternative education, online learning pathways, and more.

Awardees for this fourth round of RREV funding include RSU 35 Marshwood Great Works School, RSU 34 Old Town Middle/High School, RSU 73 Spruce Mountain Elementary School, Gorham High School, MSAD 61 Lake Region Middle School, MSAD 11 Gardiner High School, Limestone Community School, Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, Wayfinder Schools, RSU 13 Oceanside High School, MSAD 49 Lawrence High School, and MSAD 59 Madison Elementary School. The first round of RREV investments were made last fall, a second round in March, a third round in June, and total RREV investments now near $8 million with 39 awardees.

“RREV investments help fuel the innovation and creativity of Maine educators so that all Maine students are engaged, prepared, and can thrive,” said Education Commissioner Pender Makin. “We’re excited to invest in these educator-led efforts to deepen student engagement through outdoor education initiatives that provide students with hands-on, project-based learning opportunities as well as initiatives that create multiple education pathways that fit the needs of all of Maine’s students.”

Schools will use this funding in a variety of innovative ways, including:

  • Spruce Mountain Elementary will create a greenhouse classroom for all students to use.
  • Gorham High School will create outdoor learning spaces, fund field trips for students, and offer students and teachers learning experiences to extend their capacity toward outdoor learning.
  • Lake Region Middle School will build both a large greenhouse and an outdoor learning pavilion to increase their capacity for outdoor education and ensure that these spaces are ADA accessible.
  • Gardiner Area High School will ensure that every freshman spends 75 percent of their Earth Science class outdoors to provide a real-world context for their learning.
  • Oceanside High School will bring together cohorts of eight to ten high school students, with a specific focus on students who are at risk of dropping out, to meet weekly to work on both social emotional learning and supplementing their academic requirements and standards with hands-on outdoor training and projects.
  • Lawrence High School is developing an intensive alternative education program for some of their most struggling students called the Lawrence Education Alternative Program (L.E.A.P).
  • Madison Elementary School will make their current trail ADA accessible and install a dock system onto their wetlands to be used as an outdoor classroom space.
  • Old Town Middle/High School will create a remote/hybrid program called Coyote Online Opportunity (Co-Op) as a pathway for students to receive a quality education in a setting that best works for them.
  • Limestone Community School will pilot an outdoor education program that is accessible to all middle level students as part of their regular school day.
  • Wayfinder Schools is focused on their Passages Responsive Education Project (PREP) pilot to meet the needs Maine youth who have struggled in traditional school settings and are off-track to graduate.
  • The Maine Academy of Natural Sciences will construct a Makerspace Barn to engage students in experiential outdoor projects while providing the resources and space to offer a blacksmithing course on campus to all interested students.
  • Marshwood Great Works School’s Great Works Ventures Outdoors will expand outdoor learning opportunities as a way to provide essential growth opportunities for every student.

The Maine DOE was awarded $16.9 million from the U.S. Department of Education’s Rethink K-12 Education Models Funding. As one of 11 States to receive funding, Maine created RREV to support the work of visionary educators to develop innovative pilot programs around remote and outside of the classroom learning, including professional development and pilot design classes. Courses in innovative design process are available through several of Maine’s public and private universities at no cost to Maine educators who wish to participate. In addition to the innovative pilot development classes, the Department is also offering asynchronous, innovative principles webinars which are available to all educators in self-paced, independent modules.

For more information on how to get involved in RREV and to learn more about the pilots, visit 

Interviews are available with RREV grant recipients upon request as well as the recording of the announcement featuring RREV grant recipients discussing their projects.