A Year of Success and Innovation: Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures in Brewer School Department

The first round of RREV (Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures) Awardees were announced in August of 2021. RREV is an initiative of the Maine Department of Education, funded by the Education Stabilization Funds through the US Department of Education’s Rethink K-12 Education Models, that bolsters Maine educators’ innovative efforts to support their students with agile, effective, and resilient learning experiences that improve learning outcomes for all students. Now, after a year of experience and development, the Department of Education would like to thank the awardees for their dedication to innovative education and highlight their achievements that have resulted from the RREV contracts over the past year. Continue reading to learn more about the ways in which the Brewer School Department has used their RREV funding this past year.

After a year of remote, online learning, many students and educators were eager to get back inside the classroom. This desire to have in-person learning once again was understood by most people, as online classes made learning harder for many students. However, Superintendent of Brewer School Department (BSD) Gregg Palmer believes that the rush back to the traditional classroom was also a “rush back to marginalization” for those students who felt more comfortable in online classes. “Tradition is a place of safety,” he said, however, some students feel as though the tradition of brick-and-mortar school buildings is far from safe. He, along with Renita Ward-Downer, Director of Curriculum at BSD, recognized that some students need an online alternative.

Nu posterIn August 2021, after receiving their RREV funding, BSD began to offer a remote learning pathway for students in 7th through 12th grades. At first, the intention was for the pathway to be fully online education with limited spots. The students would have access to in-person opportunities for extracurricular activities to ensure students were still able to make meaningful connections with peers and educators. However, the school quickly realized that their enrollment limit was not high enough, as greater need was shown by the number of students registering in the program. The district honored their promise of flexibility, though, and simply increased the number of students able to enroll in the program.

Ward-Downer said their goal with the program was to “truly tailor a person’s education,” and they have done just that. Once students understood that they were able to help define the shape of the program, they began to communicate with the district what they wanted and needed. In the case of many students, this meant not being 100% remote, but rather a mix of in-person and online education. The district, Palmer said, was happy to make this change, as it gives an intermediate option rather than the “all or nothing” structure of classic public school.

Many of the students who have taken advantage of this online option are students who have been chronically absent in the past. Prior to the introduction of this program, the district wasn’t appropriately addressing student needs, Palmer said. Now the district has found that kids who previously had no interest in school want to learn because their needs are being met. One student was consistently truant about a third of the school year prior to COVID, mostly due to anxiety surrounding being in class at school. Since enrolling in the online pathway that BSD has to offer, however, they have not missed a single day of school, and, at the end of the school year, was sad that it was over. The student is excited for the next school year to start for the first time.

Another group of students that found great value in the program were homeschooled students. Many families who switched to homeschooling at the start of the pandemic placed their students back into the public school system because of this program. They found that the online pathway helped relieve family stress while continuing to provide a similar flexibility to homeschooling.

Getting to this level of success wasn’t easy, though. The district had to battle the stigma that comes with online education along with misconstrued perceptions of the work they were trying to do. “The one thing we couldn’t be was afraid of upsetting people or being viewed as not supporting the idea of a full public education program,” Palmer said. If they had, he said, they would’ve opened the door to questions and doubts about what they were trying to do.

Even while they were confident in their work, others found ways to doubt the district. Parents were concerned that students would take advantage of the online program, using it to slack off. Others who provide supports to students including Special Education, were understandably concerned that identified students looking to try the new program might encounter difficulty having all their educational and social/emotional needs met. However, Brewer offered in-person support for these students and monitored how the pilot went for certain students. The results were very positive, with identified students improving their attendance, and all groups are now in support of the online pathway. Ward-Downer believes that “to grow, [we all had to] problem solve together” in order to find the best solution for the kids. Parents and educators alike found that the students in the online program are leaders, taking control of their education. This form of online education, Palmer said, takes a different kind of motivation than a typical public school education, and Ward-Downer added that they ensure their students have balance so they’re not just lying in bed all day. They both agreed that you cannot fake your way through the online pathway the way you might be able to in the back corner of a classroom. The Special Education department found that some of their students have been able to be more successful in the online pathway thanks to anxiety relief and increased flexibility. Since its introduction, the online pathway has continually gained momentum and support throughout both the student body and the community to get to where it is now.

Other districts around the state are noticing BSD’s success, too. Realizing how beneficial the online pathway has been for students in Brewer and how it has lowered truancy, other districts are looking to implement the innovation in their districts as well, and the educators in BSD say they are happy to help. Their goal for the next year, Palmer said, is to work with other districts to build a network of online programs. In true RREV spirit, the district aspires to inspire innovation and collaborate with other schools to provide as many students a chance at success as possible. Once other RREV pilots based off of Brewer’s are established, like Hampden and Bucksport, which have been recently approved, Palmer said he hopes that they will all be able to tap into each other’s different online courses and resources to offer all students a well-rounded education with multiple outcomes.

Martin Mackey, the former RREV Project Director who tragically passed away in April of this year, embodied the RREV spirit: to think and act boldly to meet the needs of students. His passion was to “change lives.” As such, he challenged each and every RREV participant to do just that as they designed pilot ideas that would ultimately have a lasting systemic impact on students.  After 18 months of leading RREV, Martin’s passion had been passed on to almost 200 educators who had participated in innovation professional development. From those educators, 27 Pilot ideas were brought to fruition and have received over $5.7 million in RREV awards. Through their pilot ideas, these educators have pledged to commit themselves to innovation.

The Maine DOE encourages all schools and districts across the State of Maine to learn more about these innovative educators and their RREV pilots through the RREV website and the online RREV collaborative platform known as EnGiNE. It is through EnGiNE that we all hope to continue the Martin Momentum to change students’ lives through innovative and responsive educational programs.

White House Announces Affordable Connectivity Program

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) is happy to share the following news from the White House regarding the Affordable Connectivity Program.

The Affordable Connectivity Program provides a $30 monthly discount on internet service from participating providers for low-income households, such as those that receive federal assistance through SNAP or Medicaid. The White House recently announced they have secured commitments from 20 leading internet providers that will lower high-speed internet costs for millions of American households. The commitments from the leading service providers will lower internet costs up to $30 a month, and up to $75 a month on Tribal Lands. The providers will increase speeds or cut prices to ensure they offer ACP eligible households high-speed, high quality internet plans for no more than $30 a month. These providers include AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, who serve many states, and smaller providers who serve rural areas such as Earthlink LLC in Maine.

The White House also announced they will be launching a comprehensive effort to ensure the eligible households can take advantage of the new program. GetInternet.Gov is a website that can be used to sign up for ACP and find a participating provider in your area. For a full list of participating providers and facts on the Affordability Connectivity Program please refer to the White House fact sheet.

For more information, visit the Get Internet website

NEW Outdoor Learning Accelerator Program Includes Funding & Resources

The Maine Department of Education’s Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures (RREV) initiative is offering a new Outdoor Learning Accelerator award program in an effort to mobilize funding and resources to create more opportunities for schools in Maine to innovate around outdoor and environmental learning in the 2022-23 school year. This will also create opportunities to share ideas and learning with other schools through RREV’s online learning platform, EnGiNE.

Who can apply?

  • The goal of this project is to fund innovative pilot projects across the state of Maine. This effort emphasizes iteration on an existing model rather than creating something from scratch.
  • Preference will be given to projects from different Superintendent Regions.  Awards will be determined by the Maine Department of Education and priority will go to highest need schools and districts who apply.
  • Preference will be given to projects that incorporate collaboration with a partner organization.
  • Schools that have already received funding through the RREV Grant for an outdoor learning project are not eligible for the outdoor learning accelerator program.
  • At least one classroom educator and an administrator must both take part in the four-week Outdoor Learning Accelerator Workshop that will support participants in developing an innovative outdoor or environmental learning project for their school or district. A community partner is also welcomed to join the school team in the workshop to support project development. Participants will be provided a template application with resources to support project design.
  • This opportunity is open to educators in public and private schools.

How much funding is available?
Each school or district can request up to $100,000.00 to support implementation of your innovative outdoor and environmental learning project in the 2022-23 school year. We hope to fund at least 10 projects.

We are excited to connect with you about your innovative outdoor and environmental learning projects in your schools or districts in this innovation accelerator program!

To learn more including how funds can be spent, an FAQ, and timeline, download the Outdoor Learning Accelerator Program Flyer (PDF).

For further information and questions, reach out to Martin Mackey, Maine DOE RREV Director, at martin.mackey@maine.gov.

MEDIA RELEASE: Maine Department of Education Announces $1.2 Million in Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures (RREV) Funding to Support Education Innovation

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) today awarded $1.2 million in Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures (RREV) funding to support education innovation in six School Administrative Units across Maine. These funds will be used to support projects focused on workforce development, environmental stewardship, outdoor education, a marine institute, and internship opportunities as well as supporting unique approaches to remote learning.

Awardees for this second round of RREV funding include East Grand School in Danforth, Belfast Area High School, Portland School Department, Telstar High School in Bethel, RSU 22 in Hampden, and RSU 25 in Bucksport.

“Education is changing in so many new and exciting ways, and we should be at the forefront, introducing our children to the great outdoors and offering them hands-on experiences outside the classroom that will spark new perspectives, engender new friendships, and deliver new skills,” said Governor Janet Mills. “Using these federal enrichment funds, creative Maine educators can get children outdoors this summer, exposing them to lived experiences that will get them ready for life and new careers.”

“Educators in Maine are constantly paving the way with their innovation and creativity, and RREV offers a way to supercharge these efforts,” said Education Commissioner Pender Makin. “We’re excited to invest in these educator-led projects to rethink teaching and learning in ways that deepen student engagement, expand beyond the traditional classroom, connect students with Maine’s bounty of natural resources, and allow them to explore career paths that fuel their passions.”

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. RREV is flooding Maine with innovative practices, 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.

The first round of nine RREV pilots were announced last fall with an initial investment of more than $2 million to support projects including expanded outdoor learning, a makerspace, hiring an Outdoor Learning Coordinator, expanded internships, service learning, and work/study opportunities, and engaging remote learning pathways. MSAD 17, Brewer School Department, MSAD #28, RSU 89 Katahdin Schools, Mt Blue HS/ Foster Technology School, Harpswell Coastal Academy, Noble High School, MSAD 60, St. George Municipal School Unit, and School Union #76 were all part of the first round of pilots.

“At St. George School, we dare to dream big. For over 5 years, our school community has been working to bring the trades, technology, and innovation back to the heart of public education and allow all students, grades K-8, to engage in hands-on/minds-on projects,” said St. George MSU Superintendent Mike Felton, part of the first round of RREV pilots. “The RREV Program believes in the power of local schools and communities to shape their future and isn’t afraid when a small school dreams big. RREV’s support, assistance, and encouragement will help make our dream of a St. George K-8 Career Technical Education/Makerspace Building a reality and, in the process, stretch people’s imaginations as to what’s possible in rural education and economic development.”

For more information on how to get involved in RREV and to learn more about the pilots, visit https://www.maine.gov/doe/rrev. 

New Pilots:


All RREV Pilots:

Partner with Other Schools to Create a Remote Plan as Part of RREV Responsive Pilot Accelerator

In an ongoing effort to meet the clear and present needs of the educators across our state, Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures (RREV) in partnership with several School Administrative Units (SAUs) across Maine have created the “Responsive Pilot Accelerator.”

The Responsive Pilot Accelerator is a hyper focused pilot design class that will enable participants to develop a pilot based on a prototype designed by RREV educators. The prototype serves the needs of remote students while maintaining a personal connection with in-school opportunities to participate in extra curriculars or unified arts courses. Its unique online-hybrid features support the individualized needs of students while increasing capacity by using a shared approach to staffing and resources.

Participant who successfully complete the eligibility requirements of the Responsive Pilot Accelerator will leave with:

  • A remote pilot blueprint and;
  • $100K in seed money for staffing, supplies, and administrative expenses.

Awards are available as earlier as January of 2022 for eligible teams.  Please contact Martin Mackey, RREV Director to begin your team’s course as early as Mid-October or Click here to book an appointment directly with the RREV team today.

For additional information, check out our Responsive Pilot Fact Sheet (here) or contact Martin Mackey, RREV Director.