Education Commissioner Pender Makin Kicks Off Annual Read to ME Challenge by Reading to Sanford Pre-K Students 

Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin kicked off the state’s Read to ME Challenge at Sanford Regional Technical Center by reading If Only… to a group of spirited pre-k students. This is the eighth year that the Maine Department of Education is collaborating with schools, parents and communities on this month-long public awareness campaign to promote the importance of literacy for all of Maine’s students, regardless of age. You can watch video of Makin kicking off the challenge here.

The Read to ME Challenge encourages adults to read to children for 15 minutes, capture that moment via a photo or a video, and then post it to social media and challenge others to do the same using the hashtag #ReadtoME.

Makin also spent time talking with students who are part of Sanford Regional Technical Center’s early childhood education program. Students in the program split their time between their own classroom and interacting with children in the pre-k classroom. Sanford was also able to expand to full day pre-k this year after receiving a grant through the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan.

“The Read to ME Challenge is about creating a love of reading with children and promoting literacy across our state—and it’s fun,” said Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin. “Not only did I get to read to an amazing group of pre-k students today, but I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with high school students who are working hard to become future educators through this amazing early childhood education program at Sanford Regional Technical Center.”

The simple act of reading aloud to a child 15 minutes a day for five years results in 27,375 minutes of language exposure, which can put children on the path to high literacy achievement and helps them build knowledge and vocabulary. Research demonstrates a number of benefits to reading to children, from birth through their childhoods and even teenage years, including modeling reading as an enjoyable lifelong activity, stimulating brain development, reducing stress and anxiety, building knowledge of the world, and helping develop the skills necessary to succeed in their lives.

Schools and community organizations can find a toolkit and resources on the Department of Education website and the Department will be sharing videos, photos, and updates from the challenge all month long on social media.

Participants in the challenge are reminded to use the hashtag #ReadtoME and to tag the Maine DOE at @mdoenews on Twitter, @MaineDepartmentofEducation1 on Facebook, and @mainedepted on Instagram.

See who Commissioner Makin Challenged!

MEDIA RELEASE: Help Honor Maine Teachers – Nominations Open for Maine Teacher of the Year Program

The Teacher of the Year Journey starts with your nomination. Nominate someone from your town, county, or region today at

MAINE – Nominations are now open for the 2023 County Teachers of the Year and 2024 State Teacher of the Year. Members of the public are encouraged to nominate educators who demonstrate a commitment to excellence and who inspire the achievement of all students.

“Maine’s Teacher of the Year Program is unique,” said Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin. “In addition to much-deserved recognition of the incredible educators in Maine classrooms, it is also a year-long journey that gives educators from each county in Maine a platform to share their passions and knowledge. This program is a growing network of dedicated and caring education colleagues from across our State and nation, so please take a few minutes and nominate someone today.”

Nominations can be made through a nomination form on the Maine Teacher of the Year Website now through 5:00 pm on Feb. 5, 2023. Nominations will be accepted from students, parents, caregivers, community members, school administrators, colleagues, college faculty members, and associations/organizations (self-nominations, and nominations from family members are not accepted).

To be considered for the County and Maine Teacher of the Year award, a person must:

  • Hold the appropriate professional certification for their teaching position;
  • Be a full-time, certified, in good standing, PK-12 teacher in a state-accredited public school, including a career and technical education and adult education center, a public charter school, or a publicly supported secondary school (a private school that enrolls 60 percent or more publicly funded students, sometimes referred to as “town academies”);
  • Be actively teaching students at least fifty percent of the workday at the time of nomination and during their year of recognition.
  • Maintain their teaching position and remain in the County for which they are selected throughout the year of recognition.
  • Have a minimum of five years of teaching – three of which are in Maine.

Maine’s County and State Teachers of the Year serve as advocates for teachers, students, and public education in Maine. They serve as advisors to the Department of Education and state-level education stakeholders across Maine.  Additionally, County and State Teachers of the Year join a cohort of teacher leaders that actively work together for the betterment of education in Maine. They also receive on-going professional learning and participate in many state and county leadership opportunities.

The 2023 County Teachers of the Year will be announced in May. The 2024 Maine Teacher of the Year will be selected from the 16 county honorees. Through a selection process designed for educators by educators, the field will be narrowed to semi-finalists and then state finalists before the Maine Teacher of the Year is announced by Maine’s Education Commissioner at a school assembly in the fall. Each year, State and County Teachers of the Year are honored at the annual Teacher of the Year Gala also held in the fall.

On behalf of, and in partnership with Maine Department of Education, the Maine Teacher of the Year program is administered by Educate Maine, a business-led organization whose mission is to champion college, career readiness, and increased education attainment. Funding is provided by Bangor Savings Bank, Dead River Co., Geiger, Hannaford, the Maine Lottery, the Silvernail Family, and Unum, with support from the State Board of Education and the Maine State and County Teacher of the Year Association.

“We are proud to administer the Maine Teacher of the Year program in collaboration with the Maine Department of Education,” said Dr. Jason Judd, Educate Maine Executive Director.  “Now more than ever, we need to recognize the excellence within our educator workforce, amplify the voices of classroom teachers, and elevate the teaching profession in Maine. The 2023 County Teachers of the Year will be the tenth cohort to engage in this reflective and rigorous process and join the growing network of teacher leaders teaching, learning, and leading in Maine.”

The Maine Teacher of the Year program is committed to a nomination and selection process that ensures people of all backgrounds are represented.  Educate Maine and the Maine Department of Education champion that commitment by encouraging the nomination of educators from all culturally diverse experiences and backgrounds.

Through the generous support of Maine businesses, there is no cost to the local district when the Teacher of the Year is out of the classroom on their official duties, which includes representing educators state-wide and nationally through safely distanced in-person and virtual events that highlight the important work of Maine schools, communities, and educators.

For more information about the Maine Teacher of the Year program, visit the Maine Teacher of the Year website. Help us promote the Teacher of the Year Program by using the promotional materials on our website!  Our goal is to expand and diversify our nomination pool!

Media Contact: Dolly Sullivan, Educate Maine at

Media Release: Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin Visits Nokomis Regional Middle and High Schools to Highlight Maine’s Leadership During Computer Science Education Week

In celebration of Computer Science Education Week, Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin visited Nokomis Regional Middle School and High Schools to showcase how Maine is leading the nation in offering universal computer science education to all students at all grade levels in the state. Through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, the Maine Department of Education provided every Maine public school with a free mobile computer science lab to ensure that every student, pre-K through grade 12, has access to interdisciplinary, project-based computer science education with real-world applications.

“We are the first state in the nation to provide universal access to computer science education for all pre-K through grade 12 students,” said Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin. “Computer science encourages students to think outside of the box and to solve problems creatively. This is authentic, engaged learning with students using the skills and strategies of computer science to solve real world problems and share their knowledge. Seeing this teaching and learning has been inspirational beyond words. These students are engaged, working collaboratively, and have immense pride in the projects they are working on. When you have educators who are so openhearted, openminded, and eager to share, they are inspiring their students and peers across the state.”

At Nokomis Regional Middle School, Makin met with sixth grade students and their educators who provided live demonstrations of the robotics projects they completed from equipment available to all Maine schools. Students designed, coded, and built their robotics projects while also strengthening their teamwork, collaboration, and communication skills. Students worked asynchronously with a teammate and had to provide notes, video updates, and other status updates. All students attend computer science education at Nokomis, with each grade level building on the skills and knowledge they learned in the previous grade. Fifth graders engage in projects focused on building teamwork and compete using cars and boats they build, sixth graders expand on those skills as showcased for the Commissioner, seventh graders add in production skills by building skateboards, and eighth graders build 3D design skills. The projects can also be integrated across all content areas.

Students at Nokomis Regional High School continue to build on the real-world skills and knowledge they learned in middle school while also sharing that knowledge with others. Makin joined a group of Student Leadership Ambassadors of Maine (SLAM) as they broadcast a live show to 37 other schools across the state to share their skills and knowledge with their peers.

“This is not a separate class—it’s an extension of every class,” said Keith Kelley, Innovative Technology Teacher at Nokomis Regional Middle School. “Students are building the robots, they learn coding, they compete, they are doing technical reading, they are having to learn how to virtually interact with a classmate and document their work to share with that teammate. It’s real-world engagement and our classes all build on each other. These projects can also be integrated into every content area so it’s fabulous the state is offering this to all schools. Kids live in a virtual world—and they are learning to use technology ethically, efficiently, and safely through hands-on engagement and working with others.”

“You don’t have to be a technology teacher to engage in computer science education. I was a language arts teacher and a librarian—any teacher can do this,” said Kelley.

Through the mobile computer science lab program, schools were able to order one of three mobile lab options: Robotics and Programming, Augmented and Virtual Reality, and Coding and Hardware. Each lab contains computer science equipment valued at $5,000 and is designed to be integrated into any content area and skill level. Additionally, the DOE is providing free professional learning opportunities for educators.

The DOE has a comprehensive computer science education plan guided by seven key principles: authentic and project-based instruction, computer science as a prek-12 learning continuum, equitable and inclusive access, educator-produced professional learning and statewide sharing, integrated applied learning, educator-informed policy and state planning, and computational thinking as a foundation. You can read more about Maine’s computer science education framework here.

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.