Successes Shared by Districts at Closing Event of 4-Year Preschool Expansion Grant

(Pictured: Kindergarten teacher Heidi Sturgeon, pre-k teacher Olesia Pazdro, and Curriculum Director Suzanne Day from MSAD 55- Sacopee Valley, talk to the audience about their goals for their Birth – Third Grade Action Plan.)

The Maine Department of Education hosted a closing event of the 4-year Preschool Expansion Grant (PEG) that was awarded to Maine DOE in December 2014 by the US Department of Education.  Eighteen states were awarded grants to support local school districts in the development of new preschool classrooms, and to expand access to high-quality, full-day pre-k programs for children whose families were at or below 200%  Federal Poverty Level.

Maine used the grant to launch and expand pre-k programs for 13 districts in Maine, 8 of which used the opportunity to partner with local Head Start programs. The districts included RSU 12, RSU 13, MSAD 17, RSU 23, SAD 37, SAD 44, RSU 55, RSU 74, Cornville Regional Charter School, Cherryfield, Lewiston (Longley Elementary), Millinocket, Vassalboro. The 13 districts were chosen for their percentage of students with an economic disadvantage and willingness and availability to embark on the effort.

The grant allowed these districts to add or expand their pre-k classroom spaces and resources, hire and train needed teachers in using evidence based curricula and instructional practices, align appropriate assessment of pre-k students with kindergarten assessments, develop a plan for kindergarten transition, and form a community literacy team, all as part of a long-term “Birth to Third Grade plan” that aligns with the districts’ strategic goals. The grant implementation was supported by grant coordinators at each of the participating districts, and trained coaches, all of whom were former Maine educators.

A cross-section of state employees from Maine DOE, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Child Development Services (CDS) worked collaboratively on this project,  with facilitation provided by the Education Development Center (EDC).

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(Left to right) Sarah Adkins, Kathryn Zwicker, Nena Cunningham, Karen Bergeron, Nicole Madore, Lee Anne Larsen, Dee Saucier, Sue Reed, Crystal Arbour, Jessica Nixon, Rich Meserve, David Jacobson.

Three years into the 4-year grant, tremendous improvements in child outcomes were celebrated, including:

  • 76%-86% of children moved out of the high-risk identification in all developmental domains
  • 76%-96% of children moved out of high-risk identification in literacy skills (predictive of kindergarten success)
  • 53% of children moved out of high-risk identification in the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, which assesses receptive language and is a predictor of later reading success

The end of the year event was an opportunity for each of the participating districts to present their Birth to Third plans to their peers and to reflect on their successes, lessons learned, and plans moving forward.

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RSU 12 Curriculum Coordinator, Deb Taylor (right) and Southern Kennebec Child Development Center Head Start Director Cristina Salois (left) shared details of their  action plan with the full audience which included a “ghost walk” to each pre-k classroom across the district’s 4 elementary schools. This was an opportunity for pre-k teachers to share and collaborate on environmental design and instructional practices and learn from one another.

The gathering included presentations by each participating district, who all began by sharing varied and often-times unique community challenges. For example, while some experienced a lack of licensed child care providers to connect with and engage families early on, another had migrant families with students in and out of school frequently. There were many other unique community characteristics shared, yet all of the districts had the common challenge of a high percentage of families facing economic disadvantage.

The common areas of focus for each Birth to Third Grade action plan included a focus on quality, shared teaching and learning practices, family engagement starting before children enter pre-k, a focus on positive transitions from pre-k to kindergarten, social emotional learning and trauma informed teaching.

The closing event was a successful day of presenting, idea sharing, and collaboration by early childhood educators from across the state who will now be able to continue their research based, and collaborative birth to third grade plans for district-wide success and beyond.

 

Maine DOE Announces 4th Annual Read to Ride Summer Reading Challenge

Summer vacation is a welcome break from the daily school routine for children and parents alike, but the summer months can be detrimental to students’ learning if young minds do not remain active. Summer learning loss is a well-documented phenomenon, particularly with respect to reading achievement.  Students can lose up to three months of reading progress during the summer if they don’t keep reading.  When combined across a child’s PK-8 school career, this can result in 1-2 years of lost reading progress.

Fortunately, the summer slide can be prevented or greatly reduced when students continue to read on a regular basis. By encouraging children to read for enjoyment from a variety of resources and to explore topics of interest, they continue to practice applying the skills they have learned, build their vocabulary, and widen their knowledge of the world.  For students who are not yet reading independently, or just beginning to read, reading to and with parents is equally beneficial.

Once again this year, the Maine Department of Education is collaborating with the Freemasons of Maine to sponsor the Read to Ride Summer Reading Challenge for students in grades PK-8.  The Maine Freemasons have generously donated 48 bikes with helmets as prizes for the Read to Ride Summer Reading Challenge.  During the first three years of this initiative, thousands of Maine children completed the challenge of reading 500 minutes during the summer vacation.  Maine DOE hopes to see this number grow even higher during the summer of 2019.

Any school with students in the PK-8 grade span may register to participate. Participating schools will collect documentation from students who have completed the challenge. They will hold school level drawings to select two students (one boy and one girl) whose names will be entered into the state level drawing to be held on September 25, 2019.   Schools are encouraged to participate in this challenge, to coordinate it with any other summer reading challenges/programs they offer, and to consider soliciting their own local level prizes for students who complete the challenge.  Find details and the link to register your school at the Read to Ride Challenge website.

Questions may be directed to Maine DOE’s Elementary Literacy Specialist, Danielle Saucier at danielle.m.saucier@maine.gov.

 

 

 

Tips for Supporting Muslim Students During Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr

Maine is home to many Muslim families, and the Maine Department of Education would like to provide some general information about Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr to schools, so they can support their schools’ Muslim community members as they enjoy this very special time of year.

Ramadan is a month-long fast observed by Muslims around the world. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. To wish someone a happy Ramadan, you can say “Ramadan Kareem” or “Ramadan Mubarak.”

This year, in the United States Ramadan will start around May 5th and end around June 4th. The official beginning and end of the month of Ramadan will not be announced until the sighting of the new moon. Since the Islamic lunar calendar year is about 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, Ramadan happens about 11 days earlier each year.

During Ramadan, most Muslims fast (i.e., consume no food or water) from dawn to dusk. Many Muslims also pray more frequently and make special efforts to be kind, generous, and compassionate. This is a joyous time of year, and each Iftar (post-sunset meal to break the fast) is a celebrated opportunity to gather with friends and family. Muslims may also wake before dawn to eat Suhoor (a pre-dawn meal), which helps give them energy to endure the day’s fast. (Iftar and Suhoor timings can be found here.) For some Muslims, the typical patterns of sleep are shifted so that more waking hours occur during the night, which can make it difficult to wake up early and stay alert during the day.

Typically, very young children do not fast or may fast only part of the day. Some Muslims may not fast when they are travelling, ill, pregnant, breastfeeding, or menstruating. In these cases, fasting days can be made up for at a later time. Elderly and chronically ill people who are not well enough to fast may give charitably instead.

After Ramadan, Eid-al-Fitr (the festival of breaking the fast) is a three-day celebration with feasts and gatherings of families. This is an extremely important and cheerful time of year for Muslims, and students will likely be absent for all or part of the three days. Children often receive a new outfit or a small amount of money as a gift from their family for the holiday. To wish someone a happy Eid, you can say, “Eid Saeed” or “Eid Mubarak.”

Here are a few tips for supporting students during Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr.

  1. Learn about Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr.

There are many resources available online that can help you understand how and why Ramadan is observed. Keep in mind that practices may vary depending on culture, so your students and their families are the best sources of information about their Ramadan traditions. Here are a couple of articles that give a general overview.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/religion/what-ramadan-six-things-know-about-muslim-holy-month-n586426

https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/ramadan

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Eid-al-Fitr

  1. Encourage cultural sensitivity for all school community members.

Fasting can have many physical and mental effects, such as fatigue, lack of concentration, and irritability. For your students, your understanding and support can help ensure that they continue to learn and make the most out of their time at school while fasting. Teachers, school nurses, sports coaches, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, and all other staff who interact with students will need to know how fasting can affect students.

Talking with staff and students about Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr helps encourage an atmosphere of cultural awareness and sensitivity for the whole school community. Sensitivity towards fasting students includes avoiding consuming food and beverages in front of them whenever possible. Consider holding any celebrations that include food, such as awards banquets, after Iftar (sunset).

  1. Ask students and their families how you can best support them.

Some schools may choose to offer a place for students to go during lunchtime, alternative options for physical education, or dedicated prayer spaces. Schools may also avoid scheduling assessments or other required activities during Eid-al-Fitr, when students are likely to be absent. The best way to ensure that your school is a supportive, culturally-aware learning environment is to involve students, families, and other community members in planning and policy creation. Check out these two articles for some practical ideas that may benefit fasting students.

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/education/column-teachers-can-support-students-ramadan

http://www.isre.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Schools-Guide-to-Ramadan-2.pdf

  1. Have a clear, well-communicated policy on tardies and absences.

Maine’s statute on excused absences is Title 20-A, Section §3272. It states that an absence is excused when it is for “observance of a recognized religious holiday when the observance is required during the regular school day and the absence has prior approval.” Fasting during Ramadan is a required religious observance, and the physical and mental demands of fasting may cause students’ tardies and absences to increase. Eid-al-Fitr celebrations are also religious observances. Districts will need to share clear expectations for attendance with students and families. It is highly recommended to develop these expectations in collaboration with your community members, recognizing that interpretation and translation may be necessary to ensure meaningful communication.

 

Teams advance to Farm to School Cook-off Finals Competition

 

The Maine Department of Education Child Nutrition office kicked off their 4th annual Farm to School Cook-off last month. Cook-off teams representing nine school districts from across Maine participated in the event. The teams, consisting of a student and school nutrition staff member, served up tasty and nutritious breakfast and lunch meals within a specific time frame that showcased Maine grown ingredients. Apples donated from Ricker Hill Orchards and dried black beans donated from Fairwinds Farm were used as “challenge” ingredients in the competition. The regional cook-off’s were hosted by the culinary arts programs at the Lake Region Vocational Center, Bath Regional Career and Technical Center and Eastern Maine Community College.

South Portland, RSU 12, and Cherryfield will be advancing to the Farm to School Cook-off finals competition on April 23rd from 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Kennebec Valley Community College- Alfond Campus in Clinton. A panel of judges including a student, chef and school nutrition director, will score the dishes based on presentation, taste, creativity, and feasibility to be used in a school breakfast or lunch program. Other criteria will include food safety and time management.

The winning team will be awarded a plaque and have the opportunity to be spokespeople and participate on the judging panel for the cook off in School Year 2020.  Recipes used in the cook-off will later be shared with all schools in a Maine farm to school cook-book.

Members of the media are welcome to attend the final cook-off but need to confirm prior to the day of the event.

For more information about the event, please contact Stephanie Stambach at stephanie.stambach@maine.gov, or to confirm media coverage, contact: Kelli Deveaux at kelli.deveaux@maine.gov or 207-624-6747.

New Homeschool Portal and SAU Superintendent Office Online Entry Underway

The Department is pleased to announce the opening of the new Online NEO Homeschool Portal for school year 2019-2020, and the more efficient Notice of Intent to Homeschool form. The new portal brings some changes to the Homeschool Notice process, including an enhanced role for superintendents and/or SAU homeschool administrative designees who will now share responsibility for entering information into the new portal.

Summary of changes:

  • Parents submitting a Notice for 2019-2020 no longer need to submit the information in two places or use certified mail to ensure the delivery of the form. They may use one of the three methods described below.
  • The portal will be the point of entry for parents. Superintendents or SAU and DOE homeschool administrative designees who enter information on behalf of resident parents who choose option 2 or 3 below will also utilize the portal for data entry.
  • The new Notice of Intent to Homeschool combines and replaces the previous Notice of Intent and Subsequent Year forms.

The new portal will allow parents to submit the Notice of Intent and Subsequent Year Letter and assessments once in one of three ways:

  1. Enter information directly on the new NEO online homeschool portal, and upload prior year required assessment information;
  2. Complete the form by hand and take it, with prior year required assessments, to the resident Superintendent’s Office for upload and entry into the system; OR
  3. Complete the new paper form and mail it with prior year required assessments to the Department of Education or to the Superintendent’s Office, where it will be entered into the new system.

Submission using one of the below methods will result in the automatic generation of an acknowledgement to the parent/guardian via email; please ensure that a valid and correct email address has been provided.

Superintendents and/or designees will utilize the new online homeschool portal in NEO in 2019-2020 to:

  • Enter paper forms received from parents. The Department will also be entering paper forms, so a duplicate check must be performed prior to entry.
  • Assist resident parents in completing the online homeschool process.
  • View a list of all the resident homeschool students in the Superintendent’s SAU.
  • Comply with homeschool roster requirements in Maine DOE Rule Chapter 125, sec.12.02 Roster of Resident, Tuition, and Transfer Students
  1. A) The superintendent of each school administrative unit shall maintain a roster of all resident and tuition students attending schools operated by the unit.
  2. B) The superintendent of each school administrative unit shall maintain a roster of all students eligible to attend school within the unit who are receiving equivalent instruction in an approved or non-approved private school, or in an approved equivalent instruction program.

Parents may read Maine’s statute related to homeschooling, including information about required assessments using this link: Title 20-A, Section 5001-A, Sub-section 3(A)(4).

Please note that online Homeschool Portal functionality works for the 2019-2020 school year forward; it may not be used for 2018-2019 school year homeschool students.

Please direct any questions or concerns to our Pamela Ford-Taylor at pamela.ford-taylor@maine.gov or 207-624-6617.