Student Mental Health Support Modules

The Maine Department of Education’s SEL4ME platform is now hosting over 100 free, PK-12th grade modules focused specifically on supporting student mental health and wellness. While schools and districts are faced with significant educational and developmental priorities for many children and students associated with the pandemic, there is a need for balanced programming that supports learning, while also supporting their social, emotional, and behavioral adjustment.

The following resources can be incorporated into existing Social Emotional Learning, School Counseling and Health programs as well as part of an overall MTSS approach, and are accessed through a free registration of the SEL4ME platform.

Mental Health Modules: https://www.maine.gov/doe/mentalhealthmodules

More information on SEL4ME and login: https://www.maine.gov/doe/sel/sel4me

For more information, reach out to Bear Shea, Maine DOE Mental Health / School Counselor Specialist at w.bear.shea@maine.gov.

Orono Middle School Teachers use Federal Funding for Summer Program Focused on Social Emotional Student Needs

A new summer program was created at Orono Middle School that focuses more on the social emotional needs of our students while integrating academics into fun and engaging opportunities for learning. The program was open free of charge to any student that wished to participate. The program had a profound impact on students and teachers alike modeling, establishing, and strengthening relationships, and setting foundations for the critical learning that awaits as we start a new school year. 

The program began during the summer of 2021. Orono Middle School teachers and staff developed and coordinated a unique summer program at Orono Middle School. That year, COVID funding definitely played a key role in launching the program which included the purchase of materials for a wide variety of activities, as well as the creation of a new school-community garden. The program allowed students to select from a variety of activities offered each day in a heterogeneous group format and each day, students were given a healthy bagged lunch free of charge.

Due to the success of the program and remaining funds, we were fortunate to keep the same program this summer. Though we had minimal funding for supplies, we were able to use supplies from last summer and/or supplies from our classroom. With one year under our belts, this summer proved to be even more successful with nearly 30 participants each week! We know that funding for summer programs is typically allocated to students with identified needs in their IEP, however, this program was developed to have an impact on ALL–and that impact was significant! The program met the social, emotional, mental, and physical needs of the students as well as applying academic skills and helped to support many students to become more confident and prepared for the academic school year.

The Program was flexible allowing students to attend when it best fit their schedule. Many students attended every day; some made it for 2 weeks and, for others, just a few days. Regardless of when they attended, joining was seamless and students were able to be with different peers in activities they chose to explore. Organizers also made the program Intentional with Purposeful Learning Experiences. The activities were organized and well planned to provide a positive learning experience for each student. The daily choices (3-5 per 3 separate sessions) were organized to include a wide array of activities and skill level entry points to make the experience equitable for all students.

Activities offered during the 5-week program included:  fishing, nature walks and hikes, cooperative games, cooking, gardening, 3-D printing, tabletop games, weight lifting, design + make buttons, hike in Bangor City Forest, coding, art projects, engineering challenges, construct + paint bird houses, dissect owl pellet, theater games/activities/performances. pressed flower projects, design + make comics, reading + discussing comics, intramurals, volunteering at The Bangor Humane Society, and design + paint stepping stone for school garden.

Parents were very grateful for the program’s flexibility, structure and daily activity options. Here are some of their comments:

He seems to look forward to going to school in summer, which is not his usual attitude about it! Thank you for your planning and working with these kids, I think this enrichment is excellent.” 

Student” had a really good time.  So good, in fact, that we’re talking about shifting our plans around this summer to try to get her more time there, although we haven’t figured out how possible that is yet.  But regardless, I hope it speaks highly of what an excellent experience you all crafted there this past week!” (She was able to make it back for the last 1.5 weeks). 

The main benefit for my child was to meet some of the teachers and students in the Orono school system. She is transferring from Old Town this fall. I think she enjoyed the art and cooking activities the most. The biggest benefit was to build her confidence going into the upcoming school year.”

“As a result of strengthening her friendships with her peers at the summer program, she gained the self-confidence to walk around town by herself and with her friends.”

“She got to do lots of fun activities  while getting her reading instruction” 

“I can’t say enough good things about this experience for my daughter.  She is excited and confident about attending middle school now.  She found a new activity that she is excited about (weightlifting!) . . .This is probably the most positive and important experience that we’ve ever participated in at RSU 26.  I can’t stress enough how much we loved this program.  She actually skipped a week at a basketball camp that we had already paid for to attend this, and I decided that was okay because she was having such a great experience!”

Middle school students are striving for independence and they want to have a say in what they do. They thrive in a place where they feel they belong and have a purpose. The grade-level lines are blurred in the summer program. They are just kids who have similar interests and/or who are eager to try new things. Groups are almost always multi-grade. The sessions were designed to foster independence with students completing their own weekly schedule and becoming strong self-advocates when they needed help. Students gained confidence by taking risks and trying new activities. They broke away from their typical peers having the confidence and feeling safe to try new things on their own. Students applied problem-solving skills in each session whether it was adjusting a recipe or figuring out an engineering challenge. Students worked with each other to build structures, complete physical tasks, prepare original productions, and collaborative problem-solving. One thing’s for sure, “summer school” at Orono Middle School definitely doesn’t mean what it used to!

Special thanks to Jessica Archer (science teacher) who was the program coordinator and to the teachers leading the various activities including Deb White (social studies teacher) Julie Anthony (art) Chris Gray (science and social studies) Tracy Deschaine (math) and education technicians Rob Saintard and Teena Thibodeau. Thank you for all you do!

SpiritSeries Maine ARP Grant Opportunity to Support Academic and Social Emotional Learning Loss

We are excited to kick off the Maine Department of Education – SPIRIT SERIES partnership with SpiritCorps, their three week, project-based, writing and self-discovery program designed for students from 7th to 10th grade.

“I’ve been having wonderful conversations with teachers and administrators around the state about SpiritCorps and its power to support, engage and inspire students while bringing joy back to teaching. It is a great vehicle to help address both academic and social-emotional learning loss and build 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, creativity and collaboration.” – Christina O’Neal, Director of Program Partnerships for SPIRIT SERIES

The personal stories of Courage, Conscience and Compassion that students craft, record on video and share with their classmates can be a profound experience, building confidence, strengthening connection and fostering community. Our 2022-23 calendar is filling up fast, but plenty of slots remain available. Participating schools are given a 100% scholarship in the first year, thanks to DOE partnership and a federally funded DOE grant. SPIRIT SERIES has successfully delivered programming in Maine since 2014, serving over 6,000 students in more than 20 partner schools. We now look forward to bringing our interdisciplinary storytelling program to schools across the state. “I would absolutely recommend Spiritcorps to any educator. It was easy to use. It was fun for the students. It was great! I think that the process is so well organized…It was so easy from an educator’s perspective to integrate this curriculum into my classroom and have it feel organic.” – Scott Arritt, Gr. 7/8, Durham Community School

To learn more about the program, take a look at this short video Introduction to SpiritCorps. For further information and/or to schedule an engagement at your school, make an appointment with us on our calendar (scroll below video) or email Christina directly at coneal@spiritseries.org.

A Year of Success and Innovation: Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures at MSAD 60

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 MSAD 60 has used their RREV funding this past year.

After being forced online at the start of the pandemic, MSAD 60 has chosen to embrace remote learning as a pathway for some students rather than await its end. Last year, they created Noble Virtual Middle School (NVMS) as an option for students looking to continue remote education as the district moved back to in person learning. Since receiving their RREV funding in August 2021, they have been able to transform the learning experience for students in NVMS through their pilot project “Be Well Connected,” which is helping to create mentally and physically healthier students with stronger connections and relationships with their peers. The program focuses on building social emotional learning and a whole person wellness outlook through field trips, enrichment, and teambuilding.

Over the last year, educators have seen amazing progress and growth in their students. Brigette Dumont, NVMS Director, says this year has been “phenomenal.” One student who historically has been academically capable, but quiet, has come out of his shell. In NVMS, he laughs and makes comments in class, feeling connected to his classmates, whereas before, he always kept to himself. This student is just one example, but the growth can be seen in every student. “Students came together as a community. The intentional investment of time paired with risk taking really helped break down walls and helped them all have a voice,” Dumont says.

A big part of this growth came from the enrichment activities the students had, which greatly increased student engagement and involvement. For one hour each Friday, students would meet in enrichment clusters that were geared toward their interests. The theater enrichment cluster worked on creating a play, while the computer science cluster spent time coding. One student-favorite group was a student created and led Dungeons and Dragons cluster. These students spent their time creating characters and playing through campaigns led by a student Dungeon Master using tools from the D&D Beyond website. As a final project, students created their own campaign including maps, characters, a plot, and more, which they then presented to the class and posted to D&D Beyond for others to use. They enjoyed the freedom they had to explore their creativity and were able to have fun while learning. While many people may just think they were just kids having fun playing a game, the enrichment cluster was much more than that. The communication skills these students developed, Dumont says, were beyond the skills that are typically developed in the classroom, and they gained more self-confidence because they were so engaged in their collaborative work.

In the coming year, the school plans to build on this work. They have hired a wellness counselor who will start at the beginning of the new school year in September to provide much needed mental health support to help students manage trauma and anxiety. Dumont says they are “looking forward to having someone help in acute moments with students.” The district looks forward to providing students with strategies to manage mental wellness and developing a more solid approach to bring mental health resources to their students.

students at desksThe school also hopes to offer the students of NVMS two in-person days a week. This will allow the school to increase field trips and enrichment opportunities as well as encourage growth throughout the community. By building stronger connections with community partners and local businesses, the district plans to provide students with more real-world applications for their learning and better utilize nearby resources.

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.

Bucksport Students Design Their Own Outdoor Classroom

On Wednesday, June 1, the students and teachers at Bucksport Middle School (BMS) celebrated a big achievement. Since August 2021, students have been prototyping, designing, and constructing elements of an outdoor experiential learning environment through team building and design thinking challenges. And now, after almost a year, their new outdoor classroom, which was made possible by a three-year $130,000 federal innovation grant, has been brought to life.

Art and STARS Teacher Hannah Bailey, Science and STARS Teacher Kent Burnham, and Special Education and STARS Teacher Katie True have been working to serve alternative education 6-8th grade students by facilitating as they built this new outdoor classroom. STARS (Students Taking Alternate Routes to Success) is an experiential advisory program that started in the summer of 2021. STARS aims to support students through hands-on learning, including designing and building a home base, while focusing on connecting student interests with community resources and providing extra opportunities to reconnect with each other, with their teachers, and with school.

To start this project, students took a trip to Troy Howard Middle School to check out their outdoor classroom, outdoor kitchen, and garden to gain some inspiration. While the students were there, they drew pictures of Troy Howard’s facilities, to take back as blueprints for the models they were about to make. Next, Hammond Lumber supplied a model of the outdoor classroom, which students used in conjunction with their drawings to create prototypes out of cardboards. Once the prototypes were finished and refined, students met with Orcutt Builders, Hammond Lumber, and the RSU 25 maintenance crew to review and finalize their plans.

As Orcutt Builders got to work on constructing the exterior of the classroom, BMS STARS students got to work designing the interior of their classroom. Their first task was to create chairs that could hold their weight out of cardboard. Next, they started doing skill building to learn how to use their new tools by constructing birdhouses. Once the birdhouses were completed, students learned how to construct tables and chairs from a furniture maker and, using feedback from teachers, began to prototype their own. As Orcutt Builders began to put the exterior of the building up in early October, students learned how to wood burn, creating signage for their soon-to-be hub.

As the classroom began to take shape, students began to assist in its construction, helping to build the knee walls and even painting it the light blue color they had voted on. Then, as Orcutt Builders finished up the construction of the exterior of the classroom, students turned the prototypes of their tables into reality – constructing, sanding, and painting them themselves. In addition to an outdoor classroom aimed to engage increased school attendance and hands-on learning, the students have also built 12 benches and 6 tables for the classroom and are currently in the process of building 12 garden boxes to have outside of the classroom to grow their own flowers and vegetables.

The STARS students say they enjoyed the entire process and are excited for next year. One student shared that she had fun this school year. While she loved getting to put her hands in the wet cement of the classroom and growing closer to her classmates, her favorite part of the classroom is the garden boxes. Another student said his favorite part was getting to meet and interact with different teachers, students, and experts.

The school also plans to construct an applied learning laboratory next to the outdoor classroom, set to open in June 2023. The space will include a 4-season greenhouse, kitchen, makerspace, and aquaponics system, among other features, and is being funded through a $250,000 federal grant through the Maine Department of Education’s Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures program.