MEDIA RELEASE: Maine DOE Issues Guidance on High School Graduation Ceremonies

On Wednesday, the Maine Department of Education issued guidance to Maine’s education leaders regarding high school graduation ceremonies amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance was issued at the request of superintendents and other school leaders who are making extremely difficult decisions about graduation ceremonies, as the 2019-2020 school year comes to a close.

Maine Department of Education assembled a group to explore and make recommendations on ways that schools can celebrate the class of 2020, while taking into consideration public health concerns, social distancing recommendations, and government-issued restrictions on social gatherings. The group complied the best available advice and information, which was then reviewed by health and education experts.

“School and district leaders have requested guidance, and unfortunately there is no one right way to approach this,” said Commissioner Pender Makin.  “Local school communities must assess their unique needs and capacities, and many variables will impact decisions around graduation celebrations. Many schools are hosting virtual events or postponing the ceremonies, but for those who are planning an in-person event, this guidance addresses important safeguards and considerations.“

Decisions around whether to host graduation ceremonies will remain at the discretion of local school boards and superintendents and must be conducted in accordance with Governor Mills’ “Stay Safer at Home Orders.” As we remain in a state of civil emergency, planners of important events are urged to consider the fact that regulations and recommendations are subject to change, due to the dynamic nature of this situation.

The following guidelines must be taken into consideration when planning events:

  • June-August, 2020, social gatherings will be limited to no more than 50 people. (In May, the limit is no more than 10 people).Physical (social) distancing of at least 6 feet must be maintained at all times.
  • Cloth face coverings must be used in all public settings. (Exceptions: Cloth face coverings are not required for children under age 2, a child in a child care setting, or for anyone who has trouble breathing or related medical conditions, or who is otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance).
  • A 14-Day Quarantine is required for all individuals entering or returning to Maine prior to going out in public.
  • Some municipalities have additional requirements and guidelines that must be followed.

In-Person Outdoor or Indoor Ceremonies:

Beginning in June, when group sizes of up to 50 will be permitted, there are some options available for very small graduating classes (or for larger classes, broken into smaller groups through multiple ceremonies) while maintaining social distancing. The following guidelines should be followed to ensure a safe event:

  • Limit the number of participants, staff, and guests to fewer than 50 people, in total.
  • Seat graduates 6 feet apart in all directions.
  • Seat guests 6 feet apart in all directions.
  • Require use of cloth face masks.
  • Develop accommodations, with increased distancing and precautions, for those with underlying health issues.
  • Mark the standing locations of graduates waiting in line and during processional at 6 foot intervals.
  • Ensure additional staff support to monitor and maintain acceptable distance.
  • Utilize one-way direction of movements and use separate entrances and exits if possible.
  • Consider how diplomas will be collected when a student’s name is called. Staff may consider placing the diploma on a table for the student to collect. Students may walk across the stage, collect the diploma from the table, and pose for a picture individually or appropriately distanced from a school/district official.
  • Communicate expectations and guidelines in advance to ensure understanding and compliance.
  • Develop plans for use of restrooms and access to soap and water for hand washing with marked waiting spaces at 6 foot intervals to avoid crowding at bathroom stalls or sinks. Arrange for a custodian to monitor and replenish soap/paper towels.
  • Provide hand sanitizer in multiple areas.
  • Contact your local law enforcement to help with planning and crowd control.
  • Consider designating a single person to take an official photo/video of each graduate receiving their diploma and prohibit others from approaching the area to take their own pictures or video.

Drive-In Options:

  • Before planning a drive-in ceremony, please consider the needs and rights of families who do not have access to a vehicle and make equitable arrangements.
  • Maine drive-in movie theaters have been granted permission to open, as long as they meet a set of criteria and follow certain guidelines. Schools may contract with a drive-in movie theater operating within those regulations.
  • If a school wishes to plan a “drive in” ceremony outside of an approved, open, theater, there are many precautions that should be taken:
    • Work with local law enforcement to get approval for use of a field or parking lot, and to support traffic flow and crowd control.
    • Measure out parking spots that are spaced a minimum of 6’ apart.
    • Communicate rules ahead of time regarding the need for all participants to stay inside the cars with the doors closed and to wear cloth masks if windows are down.
    • Allow one student at a time to leave the family’s vehicle to pick up a diploma, using the guidelines above for in-person ceremonies.

Other options for honoring graduates:

  • Virtual Ceremonies or video tributes:  Ask seniors to send individual videos with short messages to their graduating classmates. This can be compiled with more traditional speeches that can be done by video or livestream to create a keepsake video.
  • Hashtag Campaigns:  Highlight seniors on social media each day with special hashtags that allow for family, friends, and community members to congratulate individual students (who agree to participate) with photos and messages.
  • Postpone the graduation ceremonies until it is safe to gather in large groups once again, or host them in one year as an “early reunion.”

MEDIA RELEASE: Governor Janet Mills Kicks off Teacher Appreciation Week with a Special Message

Governor Janet Mills is helping to kick off a week-long celebration of Maine educators for Teacher Appreciation Week. Celebrated May 4th through May 8th this year, Teacher Appreciation Week is observed nationally, and is a time when all are encouraged to take a moment to thank teachers for all they do to positively impact the lives of students and families.

“This is national Teacher Appreciation Week, a time to recognize the significant contributions our teachers make to public education and honor their commitment to the success of Maine students,” said Governor Mills in a special video message. “On behalf of the people of Maine, I want to thank all teachers for dedicating their careers to providing our students the foundation for greater opportunity and lifelong learning.”

The Governor and the Maine Department of Education are encouraging families and students across Maine to join them by sending letters, cards, and social media posts to thank and acknowledge the dedicated teachers in their lives.

“We have never been prouder of the Maine educators who have been serving students in countless innovative ways during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Commissioner of Education Pender Makin. “Teachers are working harder than ever before, and I can’t think of a better time for families around the state to applaud their tireless efforts to educate Maine students under some of the most challenging circumstances we’ve ever experienced.”

Join us as this week by taking a moment to thank your teacher for all their hard work! If you are posting on social media be sure to use the hashtag #Thanks4TeachingME, and tag the Maine Department of Education at @mdoenews (Twitter) at @MaineDepartmentofEducation1 (Facebook) the Maine DOE the Maine DOE will help share your message.

MEDIA RELEASE: Maine Teachers to Host New Educational Program Called “The Learning Space” on Maine Public Television

Maine Public, the Maine Department of Education, and Educate Maine have joined forces to create original, educational programming for grade school students in Grades 3 to 5.

Dedicated teachers from across Maine have developed original video lessons, pulling content from their own lesson plans and sources to provide exceptional learning opportunities for Maine students.

The Learning Space will be broadcast on Maine Public Television at 12:30 p.m. each weekday starting on Monday, April 27. As more episodes are developed, the broadcast schedule will expand to run from Noon to 1:00. Episodes of The Learning Space will be archived for later viewing on numerous platforms online including on mainepublic.org. The Learning Space will air through the spring to mid-June.

This project would not be possible without the help from these valued partners:

  • MSMA: Maine School Management Association
  • MCLA:  Maine Curriculum Leaders Association
  • MSTOYA: Maine State Teachers of the Year Association
  • NBCTs of Maine: National Board Certified Teachers of Maine
  • MEA: Maine Education Association
  • MPA: Maine Principals Association
  • MADSEC: Maine Administration of Services for Children with Disabilities

MEDIA RELEASE: NAMI Maine Launches Teen Peer Support Text Line 

Text Line Aims to Provide Mental Health Support During COVID-19 Crisis and Beyond

Maine’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Maine) has announce the launch of the Teen Text Support Line, a new mental health program for youth 14 – 20 years of age living in Maine.

The Text Line can be reached at (207) 515 – 8398 (TEXT). The Teen Text Support Line operates from 12pm – 10pm each day and provides adolescents who may need additional mental health support with a safe space to talk with another young person. Staff providing support via the Teen Text Line are between 19 – 23 years of age.

“NAMI Maine is focused on providing mental health support to all Mainers,” says NAMI Maine CEO Jenna Mehnert. “We saw the need to create a mental health peer support teen text line and were able to launch this new resource.”

“In this time when routines are changing more than ever, it is important for youths to have some connection to others who can understand some of the struggles and disappointments that we are experiencing,” says one Maine 8th grader. According to the 2019 Maine KIDS COUNT Data Book, Maine’s youth have the highest rate of diagnosed anxiety in the nation, and the country’s third highest rate of diagnosed depression among children aged 3 – 17.

The Teen Text Line is not a crisis line. If you believe that you or someone you know could be in crisis, please do not hesitate to connect with the Maine Crisis Line via phone or text at (888) 568-1112.

Through support, education, and advocacy NAMI Maine is dedicated to building better lives for the one in four Mainers who are affected by mental illness.

For more information, visit www.namimaine.org/page/teentextline, or contact NAMI Maine’s CEO Jenna Mehnert at (207) 907-0303 or jenna@namimaine.org.

MEDIA RELEASE: MDI and Camden Hills High Schools Named Green Ribbon Schools by U.S. DOE

Green Ribbon Schools are honored for reducing environmental impact and costs, improving health and wellness, and offering effective sustainability education.

The U.S. Department of Education today released the names of the 2020 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, District Sustainability Awardees, and Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees.  Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport and Mount Desert Island High School in Bar Harbor are among the 2020 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS).

Camden Hills Regional High School and Mount Desert Island High School were nominated by the Maine Department of Education based on their accomplishments in the three pillars of the ED-GRS program: 1) reducing environmental impacts, such as waste, water, energy, greenhouse gases, and transportation in the areas of facilities, grounds, and operations; 2) improving health and wellness through coordinated school health, with consideration to air quality, contaminant control, acoustics, daylighting, thermal comfort, school nutrition, and outdoors physical activity; and 3) offering effective environmental and sustainability education that emphasizes hands-on, real-world learning, civic engagement, STEM connections, and green career preparation.

“With a deep appreciation for the beautiful natural resources of our great state, environmental sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint are priorities of Governor Mills and her administration, including the Department of Education,” said Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin. “Our schools are leading the way by providing their students with opportunities for environmental education and innovation. These students will be the future leaders and stewards of our planet, and are learning about their role, responsibilities and impact as global citizens.”

Camden Hills Regional High School (CHRHS) is a public high school located in coastal Rockport, Maine, serving 720 students in grades 9 through 12. CHRHS policies, budgeting, and its people all focus on ensuring systems that will promote and support healthy students, a healthy school, and a healthy planet. Over 77 percent of teachers incorporate sustainability education in courses.

A student sustainability group, Windplanners, with overwhelming support from district administration and the community, has worked to reduce the environmental impact of the school. Their initiatives include a major study and capital campaign to install the 100-kw wind turbine, working through one of the first power purchase agreements for high school installations in the state for a 159-kw solar array. These two installations provide 30 percent of electricity needs from on-site renewables. Working with the facilities director, students helped initiate several energy-efficiency projects that have reduced demand by another 20 percent.

CHRHS’ newest initiative involves several staff members and the Windplanners in building an organic waste management system. CHRHS installed a terraced garden on some marginal land that was considered a mowing hazard. Each year, the school designs and plants the school garden with the goal of the harvest maturing when school begins in the fall. The school is also home to an orchard and asparagus patch that produce when school is in session. Both of these initiatives have been focused on helping increase the amount of local produce that supplies the school cafeteria. Whenever possible food is locally sourced, or even comes from the school garden.

Students have access to people and resources that support their emotional growth and well-being. Camden Hills actively works to create a safe and open space for its students. The library has become a wellness area providing resources like massage chairs, therapy dogs, animal cams to view nature in action, adult coloring pages, and board games. A nature trails follows the circumference of the CHRHS campus and allows students and staff to go on walks and enjoy the beautiful woods on the campus while unplugging from the stress of school and getting exercise.

Mount Desert Island High School (MDIHS) is a rural public high school in Maine that draws 542 students from 10 K–8 schools in and around the Mt. Desert/Bar Harbor. Green and sustainability efforts are supported by school and district administrators, school board members, the school’s Environmental Concerns (Eco) team, teachers across departments, and staff, including counselors, custodians, and cafeteria staff. There is widely shared interest in the health and wellness of students and staff, support for educational experiences that prepare students to be active informed citizens interested in the changing world, and an increasing emphasis on environmental sustainability.

Decisions for the past decade have been made with environmental health and efficiency in mind. Most obvious are the 1400+ solar panels on the roof of the high school. MDI High School was the first high school in Maine to generate all of its electricity needs from on-site solar in the fall of 2019. Soon, everyone will be able to see the new electric bus parked outside with its diesel counterparts. There is an electric vehicle charging station in the parking lot for staff and students to use.

In 2011, energy efficient boilers were installed when replacement of the old boilers was necessary. Two years ago, the school completed a conversion to LED lights inside school and LED “night-sky” compliant lighting in parking areas. Composting in the cafeteria started at the end of 2018–19. The school contracted with Agri-Cycle to efficiently convert food waste into electricity, fuel, fertilizer, and other beneficial products. Cafeteria staff participated in the Smarter Lunchroom program to learn additional ways to cut down on food waste. During the building renovation in 2017, filtered water bottle filling stations were installed throughout the school to reduce plastic waste and promote hydration.

An active staff wellness program is led by two teachers who challenge their colleagues each month to improve their physical and mental health through water challenges, movement challenges, morale boosters, and other activities. For many years, the nurse at MDI High School coordinated a small Wellness Fair once a year for high school staff. This has turned into a districtwide biennial Health and Wellness Professional half day held at MDIHS in March to build community, emphasize wellness, and help staff relax and rejuvenate.

During the 2019–20 school year, more than 50 percent of MDIHS students will be in at least one course that includes a focus on climate change, human impacts on the environment, and/or proposing and designing solutions for problems they identify and research.

Across the country, 39 schools, 11 districts, and five postsecondary institutions are being honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education.
The honorees were named from a pool of candidates nominated by 27 states. The selectees include 28 public schools, including three magnet schools and four charter schools, as well as 11 nonpublic schools. Forty-five percent of the 2020 honorees serve a disadvantaged student body.

The list of all selected schools, districts, colleges, and universities, as well as their nomination packages, can be found here. A report with highlights on the 55 honorees can be found here. More information on the federal recognition award can be found here. Resources for all schools to move toward the three Pillars can be found here.