Virtual Parent Town Hall with the US Department of Education

July 29th from 8pm-9pm EST the US Department of Education will be hosting a town hall for parents. After a year and a half of grappling with the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, students across the country are slated to return to school in-person this fall. However, for many, especially parents, the return to in-person instruction has brought with it a variety of worries, hesitations, and questions:

  • Will my child(ren) be safe at school?
  • What COVID precautions should I look for in my child’s school?
  • How will schools take my child’s social and emotional well-being into account?
  • Is the vaccine safe?
  • Should I get the vaccine?
  • Should my child(ren) get the vaccine?

While one of Biden Administration’s top priorities is to have all students back in-person this fall, they recognize that this goal will not be met if parents’ voices are not heard, and their concerns taken into account. This Parent Town Hall is a unique opportunity for parents to share their ideas and concerns, and to get their questions answered.

Panelists from the US Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will answer parents’ questions and address concerns around the return to in-person instruction.

Parents are invited to submit questions about the return to in-person instruction on the registration form. Pre-submitted questions will help plan the content of the session. Time will also be reserved for live questions and answers at the end of the event. Please register here.

The intended audience for this virtual town hall is parents. We encourage you to share this session widely to your parent networks. Thank you!

Down Syndrome Does Not Hold Back Portland Photographer Caleb Dunlap

Caleb Dunlap was born with down syndrome, but he did not let it get in the way of pursuing his passion for photography. Caleb was enrolled in the Maine Department of Education (DOE) led Child Development Services (CDS) when he was six days old. CDS along with the support of his family and friends enabled Caleb to follow his dreams. Caleb was gifted a camera after his high school graduation which began his passion for taking photos.

One day, a professional photographer looked at Caleb’s photos and remarked that he had a good eye- he could see things other people could not and turn it into a beautiful picture from then on, what began as a hobby turned into a business for Caleb.

Caleb now runs “Good Eye Photography” out of Portland where he hopes to inspire people with his photos. “When I take pictures of a cloud, I feel like a cloud,” Caleb stated in a presentation. He hopes other people can feel the transformative properties of art through his work. Caleb is inspired by the city of Portland and the nature surrounding the city. He aspires to have his work displayed in magazines and museums in the future.

Watch Caleb’s presentation below and view his photography on his website.

This article was written by Maine DOE Intern Clio Bersani as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea email it to Rachel at

Maine FFA Association Completes Project on Homelessness and Food Insecurity

Maine FFA Association, representing nearly 400 students grades 7-12 enrolled in courses related to agriculture and natural resources, recently completed a valuable statewide community project addressing issues of homelessness and food insecurity in Maine. Four target areas, associated with nearby FFA chapters, were identified: Bangor (partnering with the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter), Waterville (partnering with the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter), Cherryfield (partnering with Maine Seacoast Mission Food Pantry), and Presque Isle (partnering with the Aroostook County Action Program, the Sister Mary O’Donnell Homeless Shelter, Dahlgren Skidgel Farm of Hope in Caribou, Perham Food Cupboard and Washburn Food Pantry).

The goals of the project included purchasing materials to support the shelters and food pantry, sorting, packaging and distributing materials as well as learning more about the challenges and resources available to address homelessness and food insecurity. Highlights of the educational component of the project included FFA members at Narraguagus High School learning more about the services and volunteer needs of the food pantry in Cherryfield, the Aroostoock County Action Program (ACAP) preparing a YouTube video on homelessness and hosting a live Zoom panel on homelessness that included a question and answer session with FFA students.

The project was originally planned and funded in 2020, slated for implementation in March, which coincided with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, many priority items, including some food staples and cleaning products were no longer available. Once items returned to store shelves, completion of the project became possible this spring, with items purchased, donated, sorted, packed and delivered to appreciative recipients. Project work was overseen by local FFA chapter advisors and students. As a result of the project, FFA student members came to a better understanding of social issues in their communities and outreach organizations gained many much-needed food, paper products, cleaning supplies and other staples for their facilities as well as clothing, toiletries, linens and other essentials to distribute directly to their clients.

We would like to thank the primary sponsor of this project, the National FFA Organization’s “State Day of Service” with their $8,000 contribution. We would also like to thank Wal-Mart Community Grants for their $3,000 in support with $2,000 coming from Wal-Mart Supercenter in Presque Isle and $1,000 coming from Wal-Mart Supercenter in Waterville. We would like to thank Willie Sawyer Grenier of Maine Agriculture in the Classroom for handling all shelter purchases in the Waterville area and for delivering items with her son, Jared.  Maine FFA Chapters of Ashland, Bangor, Caribou, Harrington, Mars Hill, Presque Isle and Washburn were particularly involved in the project and are all to be commended. There were also several additional local businesses and individuals in each community that contributed to this very rewarding project: thank you to all of them as well!

For more information on starting an FFA chapter in your community, please contact: Doug Robertson, State FFA Advisor, Maine Department of Education,, 207-62406744.

Brighter Days Story: Lillian from LearningWorks Afterschool

When the pandemic hit, a lot changed for 7 year old Lillian and her family. School, which she loved more than anything, all of the sudden meant learning on a screen at home. It also meant that her mom, a single parent, would be away at work each day, while Lillian and her older sister stayed at home to study. Lillian struggled to get used to this. One of her teachers could tell she needed some extra support and connection and recommended her family to the LearningWorks Afterschool program.

When she first signed in to Zoom, she kept her video turned off. “Mommy, I’m nervous! I don’t want them to see me!” she’d say over the phone when her Mom called to check on her. The program started with lots of fun games, and soon Lillian was laughing, had turned on her camera, and changed her Zoom name to “Lillian Rocks!” A few weeks into the program, her Mom said she noticed a new maturity in Lillian. She’d call home from work to make sure she was ready, and Lillian would be sitting at the table, eager to sign into Zoom early.

Her LearningWorks teachers, Ms. Molly and Mr. Matt, have become household names. Each week, Ms. Molly delivers a STEAM kit to Lillian’s doorstep. Oftentimes Lillian is waiting. The kit has art supplies as well as materials she’ll need for activities such as Wacky Science Wednesdays. Lillian features her favorite items from these kits on her desk in her room. She loves reading the instructions and knowing the plan for the week ahead of time. She has a special lab coat for her LW science experiments (such as making homemade slime) and her Mom says Lillian often wears the lab coat around the house, while teasing her older sister who is studying to become a doctor. She tells her, “You’re just studying with your books all the time, but I’m already a doctor, look at my coat!”

Her interest in science and math has skyrocketed this year through her lessons with LearningWorks. She’s begun to develop a critical and process-oriented mind — often very focused on the steps it takes to solve a math problem or discover a truth. “Some people just believe things right away — I want to understand how it actually works,” she says. Lillian’s mom has noticed how this way of thinking has translated to her experience of the pandemic and the rules around mask wearing and social distancing. Because Lillian genuinely understands the thinking behind these health & safety measures, she wholeheartedly follows them. LearningWorks has become a fun place for her to experiment, to connect with others, and to nurture her inquisitiveness. She’s begun to find the language and confidence to express her clear and discerning mind. “This program is special to me,” she says. She thinks it could be for other kids too. Her message to them: “Take a deep breath and tell yourself that you can do it. Then…do it!”

Information for this article was provided by LearningWorks Afterschool, a 21st Century Community Learning Center Program. Photos and story by Molly Haley.

MEDIA RELEASE: Seven Maine Seniors Named U.S. Presidential Scholar Semifinalists

U.S. Department of Education has named seven Maine students as semifinalists in the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. The national program recognizes seniors across the country as being among our nation’s most distinguished graduating seniors.

“I am incredibly proud of the continued academic accomplishments of Maine students through the inevitable disruptions over the past year,” said Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin. “I applaud these talented students on their well-deserved recognition and wish them the very best as they transition into the next exciting chapter of their lives.”

The semifinalist scholars are chosen on the basis of their accomplishments in many areas including academic and artistic success, career and technical fields, leadership, and involvement in school and the community.  They represent excellence in education and are among the most accomplished youth in our country.

From nearly 3.6 million graduating high school seniors from across the country, over 6,500 students were identified as candidates in this program. 625 semifinalists were selected, 7 of whom are from Maine.

Maine U.S. Presidential Scholar Semifinalists:

Harshini K. Chaganti
Scarborough High School

Devon Michael Hunter
John Bapst Memorial High School

Pedro Santiago Little-Siebold
Ellsworth High School

**Culiandra Rose Nero
Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School

Swetha Palaniappan
Cape Elizabeth High School

Wade F. Wahlig
Falmouth High School

Aislynn K Worden
Sanford High School

** Semifinalist for U.S. Presidential Scholar in Career and Technical Education

The semifinalists form the pool from which the 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholars will be chosen in May. Visit for the complete list of semifinalists across the country.