How Ashland District School has Adapted to Make Music Education a Priority

By Jonathan Simonoff, Visual and Performing Arts Chair for Ashland Community School

The Ashland District School (MSAD 32) music program tried really hard to keep a positive outlook during these difficult times. Instead of thinking “It’s too bad we can’t do this,” we tried to frame it as, “How great is it that we get to do this now?” We looked at our goals for each part of our Pre-K – 12 curriculum and tried to identify ways to still reach these goals in a safe but engaging environment. For some classes those changes were minimal but other parts of the program had a drastic overhaul.

For example, the youngest elementary grades have not changed much but some parts of instruction are being recorded so that vocal and instrumental songs can still be shown to the students. Those classes are also being taught in each grade’s homeroom now.

In the past, 4th grade students would use recorders as part of pre-band lessons. This year we are using ukuleles to try to hit upon these concepts. Each student has a ukulele they get to use in class that is sanitized after.

Our beginning band students have also seen a significant change. Since we are not starting any students on traditional band instruments, we have made use of keyboards and drum pads. The class has been put into groups and each student in 5th grade gets a weekly small group lesson on keyboards for note reading skills and drum pads for extra rhythm reinforcement. We are in week 3 of these lessons and so far, every kid is reading and playing very well. I do remind them that they will get a chance to try the band instrument they want but these skills will help them later.

Last year our middle school students usually would have the option of signing up for middle school guitar class or middle school band. This year the guitar class is still an option and the other class they can sign up for is middle school percussion, which focuses on reading and playing rhythms on a variety of traditional and non-traditional percussion instruments.

Perhaps the groups that have changed the most this year are my high school classes. Normally high school students would have the option of taking guitar class or high school band. The guitar class is still running as normal but high school band has changed significantly.

My ed. tech and I have developed an alternating multi-course option for my high school students. We rotate courses every other day and students were able to sign up for one course each day. The courses offered as follows – Piano Class, Percussion Class, Strings Class, Rock Band, Independent Study, or 1 study hall. For example, a student could take piano one day and strings the other day and they follow that schedule for at least a semester before potentially changing their courses.

The classes are pretty self-explanatory.  Piano class (a very popular choice) is like a group piano lab. Percussion class has students spending time practicing rhythms and working on drum set techniques. Strings class is teaching students violin. Rock band (another popular choice) has students working with guitar, bass guitar, piano, and drum set to play modern music and independent study allows students to set up and achieve their own musical goals with check-ins with me to track their progress and give advice. For example, I have a few students working on playing the ukulele and using online guides to help them. I also have some students working on creating their own compositions. Study hall is a chance for students catch up on their other academics.

This set up comes with the understanding that students need to be self-motivated and disciplined since some of the time in class they are expected to work independently while myself or my ed. tech are working with other students. It has been very rewarding both for students and teachers to see progress being made and finding new ways to connect with and learn about music.

It also has been a lot of work to set up in terms of making sure we have enough keyboards and violins. We also are writing some of the music out by ear for students (particularly the Rock Band) to perform. But now that we are a month into school, things seem to be moving along nicely and I am very happy with how this year is shaping up!

This story was submitted by Jonathan Simonoff, Visual and Performing Arts Chair for Ashland Community School in collaboration with Jason Anderson, Visual and Performing Arts Specialist for the Maine DOE as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea email it to Rachel at

Schooner Tile Project: Preserving Our Legacy

Camden-Rockport Middle School: Over the past 20 years, 7th grade students at the Camden-Rockport Middle School have designed hand-crafted tiles to decorate the front entry way of their school during art class. The new school year, however, will take place in a new school building, leaving these tiles, and big piece of the school history, behind.

When Maria Libby, superintendent of MSAD 28 (Appleton, Camden, Hope, Lincolnville and Rockport) and former student at, and principal of, the old middle school building heard that the school was scheduled to be demolished in June, she knew something had to be done to preserve the legacy of the tiles. She says that her “attachment to that place inspired me to document every student tile that had been installed over the past 19 years.” Maria could not let them be destroyed without saving a piece of the history.

While the past 7 years of tiles have been saved for the new school, and will be displayed for the incoming classes of Middle Schoolers at CRMS, 13 years worth of tiles, of history, and of community, were scheduled to be demolished along with the old school building. Maria Libby took matters into her owns hands, and photographed all 1,400 tiles adorning the front entry of the old middle school.

All of the photographed tiles have been uploaded and indexed on the Schooner Tile Project website as a way to preserve the legacy of the school, students, and community. Approximately 1,400 tiles are available to view and download from this site. To find a tile, click on the letter of the artist’s last name in the banner above. View the archived tiles here!

Read Maria Libby’s personal account of the experience here.

This article was written by Maine DOE Intern Aidan Sachs in collaboration with staff at Five Town CSD MSAD #28 as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea email Rachel at

Sanford Students Respond to COVID-19 Community Outbreaks with a Plea to their Community

Recent COVID-19 community outbreaks in the York County area have inspired Sanford High School Students to create a Public Service Announcement (PSA) this week encouraging their community to, “wear a mask and keep your six”. The creative and well put together video features many students from the high school whose plea is to encourage their community members to adhere to state requirements in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 so that they can get back to doing what they love. Check it out!

Maine Schools Champion Re-opening Amid COVID-19

Heading into the 2020/2021 school year with cautious optimism, Maine’s amazing educators have rolled up their sleeves and worked together to ensure students have access to high quality learning even during a pandemic – and it the outcome is astounding.

Most schools welcomed students back for in-person and remote learning over the past couple weeks. Despite the collective breath holding (across the world), here in Maine it has gone quite well. Administrators, board members, educators, and staff alike have spent the summer working tirelessly to arrange and re-arrange their back-to-school plans this fall to comply with COVID-19 safety requirements and ensure the safety of everyone at school, while at the same time going about the important business of educating their students.

Superintendent and mascot pictured wearing masks outside Lewiston High School
Jake Langlais, Interim Superintendent of Lewiston Public Schools and the Blue Devil, LPS Mascot (Lewiston High School Guidance Department on Twitter)

Some schools even went the extra mile to put together safety videos to help families and students understand what school will look in and around their buildings this fall: Brewer School Department Reopening Video (Brewer School Department), How to Go to School in a Pandemic (Lincoln Academy), and Day in the Life of an RSU 23 Student (RSU 23).

Numerous news outlets all over the state reported smooth sailing for the first week of school: a goal that was not an easy feat this year. Check out what re-opening looked like in these news articles from around Maine:

Despite pandemic, Midcoast districts report strong start to school year (Times Record)

Carolyn Nichols, a biology teacher at Morse High School in Bath, was surprised, but happily so, by how well the first day of school went. 

 “The kids were respectful and took the coronavirus precautions seriously,” she said. “I haven’t slept in a week, but I’m impressed with how well it went. 

Portland students go back to school with lots to learn (Portland Press Herald)

“It’s a good challenge,” said Sam Regios, the [Presumpscot Elementary School] fifth-grade English language arts teacher, reflecting on the start of the school year as her students worked quietly from behind their masks. “I think it challenges the creativity of teachers and school districts. (I’m) accepting it with open arms.”

RSU 24 schools reopen under hybrid model (Ellsworth American)

“I am not nervous about starting,” the longtime educator [Roxanne Renwick of Peninsula School] said late last week. “I have been blessed with a strong administration and team of colleagues working together to be prepared the best we can.

“We may not have all the solutions for every situation, but we are ready to be flexible and team-oriented to do the best for our students and our community.”

After delayed start, school year gets underway for Augusta’s elementary students (Central Maine)

“Long-term substitute teacher Amie Frake was among the educators greeting students — and making sure they were walking in the correct direction, wearing their masks properly and staying 6 feet apart.

“The kids are doing really, really well,” she said. “It’s exciting for them to be here again. It’s been six months since most of them have been here, so it’s good to see them.”

Back to school: Hallowell-area students resume in-person learning (Central Maine)

Among those in cohort A are Millie Rauch’s three elementary-age children, who will be starting prekindergarten, first grade and third grade. Her older daughter, Hannah, is in sixth grade at the middle school.

Rauch walked with her three elementary schoolers Tuesday morning.

“We are looking forward to it,” she said. “I think they have taken all the right precautions. The classes are smaller, and they have the right hygiene techniques in place. We were a little nervous, but mostly excited to return.”

Maine students return for first day of in-person learning since pandemic shut down schools (Portland Press Herald)

During a walk-through at Bonny Eagle High School Tuesday morning, Buxton-based School Administrative District 6 Superintendent Paul Penna said no major issues had come up at the start of the first day for students.

“It’s pretty organized,” Penna said. “We’ve done a lot of ground work. We’ve been doing Zoom meetings with families all summer. We’ve had ongoing … meetings about what our plan is, what it’s going to look like, what you need to tell your kids when you come to school. None of it is really that new, it’s just a matter of doing it.”

Principals: First day of classes for RSU 9 deemed a success (Sun Journal)

“In a meeting earlier this evening with other administrators, I think that I can speak for all of the elementary school principals in saying that it actually went really well,” Mallett Elementary School Principal Tracy Williams said. “Our kids came to school with masks on, they were happy, there was a lot of laughter seeing their friends, teachers were positive and upbeat. We did all of the things that we usually do everyday except with a lot of cleansing and wearing masks and keeping distances apart.”

Smooth start to the school year in Scarborough, South Portland (Portland Press Herald)

Nearby, Jenny McGillicuddy was seeing her son, Leopold, 8, off as well. She said she was “feeling really calm” about the coronavirus threat, citing information the school shared with parents on how it would be encouraging social distancing, wearing of masks, and other precautions.

“From what I’ve heard, I feel confident in the Brown School’s ability to keep kids safe,” she said.

Sometimes it takes a global pandemic to break down the barriers that hold us back from jumping into any situation just to get the job done. From PPE (personal protective equipment) to physical distancing, there is always something to think about to make sure everyone is safe. One solution that many schools have been dabbling with is outside learning: a creative solution that provides students with an environment that is rich with learning opportunities, comfortable, and helps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Many schools have set up everything from outdoor learning experiences to complete outdoor classrooms.

social media post about outdoor classrooms at Gorham Middle School
(Heather Whitaker, 2020 Maine Teacher of the Year/Gorham Middle School Teacher on Twitter)

The articles below detail what this looks like in just a few schools, but many more have worked quickly and efficiently to set up outdoor learning spaces prior to opening. Thank you to the countless community partners all over Maine who’ve stepped up to help make this possible.

Fireplaces and log forts are part of this Washington County school’s outdoor classroom (Bangor Daily News)

A different type of learning is taking place at East Grand School in Danforth, one that doesn’t happen within the confines of a traditional classroom.

In a wooded area behind the school, children run around freely and build forts out of logs and planks. Kids in pre-kindergarten enjoy the fresh air while working on coloring projects. Older students sit around an outdoor fireplace and learn about social studies.

Outdoor classrooms taking shape (Times Record)

The [Brunswick] school district is partnering with local organizations like Teens to Trails and the New England Mountain Bike Association to help plan, clear, construct and implement open-air classrooms and gathering spaces in an attempt to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. 

School opens with a new look (Castine Patriot)

Opening Adams School to face-to-face learning involved much preparation and innovative thinking by faculty and staff. Students were met upon arrival and instructed as to which door to enter to go directly to their classroom. Tented classrooms scattered on campus utilize five Easy-Up tents supplied by the Hatch Fund, which also supplied COVID-responsible physical education games and activities.

We tell our children to look for the helpers in times of crisis, it’s for their physical and mental safety but as adults, we forget that it’s good for us too. Take RSU 14 Superintendent Chris Howell for example. Due to some unforeseen transportation snags during the first week of school, one of his students couldn’t get there one day, so what did Superintendent Howell do? He picked up that student himself. In a world before COVID-19 this may not have been a viable solution, but right now that doesn’t matter. What matters is that everyone is a team player in the effort to get kids to school and learning and this is just one example of the pure heroism happening by school staff around the state.

Social media post
(Submitted by Kate Leveille, RSU #14 School Board Member)

Along with school staff and educators, community and state partners are also jumping in to help schools, families, and youth complete hybrid assignments remotely, stay connected even when at home, and provide childcare when needed. These selfless acts also help to solidify the relationships that lead to the strong community and state bonds that we take pride in here in Maine, and that we hope to sustain for generations to come.

Boys & Girls Clubs adapt programs to help local schools during pandemic

The clubs, which have been closed for nearly six months, will operate during school hours this fall as remote learning hubs, paid for with federal coronavirus relief funding. They will offer academic support, technology resources, nutritious meals and safe spaces where members can do schoolwork.


School officials in Portland and South Portland sought the remote learning partnerships with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine. Similar agreements are being discussed with the Auburn and Lewiston school systems.

social media post thanking community partner for donation
(Portland Public Schools on Twitter)

The Maine Department of Education has also focused efforts toward providing not only guidance on safety protocols, in addition to the latest COVID-19 resources for schools, and a responsive, working Framework for returning to school this year, but there has also been an intensive summer-long effort to launch a library of asynchronous learning modules that are aligned to Maine’s Learning Results through a project called MOOSE (Maine Online Opportunities for Sustained Education) and coming soon will be an additional library of social emotional learning (SEL) modules to supplement SEL curriculums statewide.

A lot of time, dedication, and planning went into ensuring students could go back to school in person and learn remotely this fall. We owe these heroes an enormous dept of gratitude for this important work. While this is only the start of an extraordinary year, we trust our school leaders, our educators, our fearless school staff members to keep students and staff safe while providing quality education to Maine students. Thank them today and every day.

social media post by OOB superintendent thanking staff and students for a great week
(Superintendent of Schools in RSU 23 on Twitter)


Are you thinking of someone in particular that has gone above and beyond in your school district? Nominate them for an award!  

Information for this article was gathered through recent news articles, social media posts, and communications with Maine schools. To be featured in future articles of this nature, email stories, pictures, and ideas to Rachel at


Five Portland Public Schools Students Named National Merit Semifinalists

Five high school seniors in the Portland Public Schools have been named Semifinalists in the 2021 National Merit Scholarship Program. These academically talented students now have the opportunity to compete for about 7,600 National Merit Scholarships worth more than $30 million that will be offered next spring.

The five Semifinalists are Portland High School seniors Liam Foley and Andrew Leonard; Deering High School students Aidan Blum Levine and Matthew Keast; and Casco Bay High School student Oscar McNally.

“Congratulations to these exemplary students!” said Superintendent Xavier Botana. “This is the highest number of National Merit Semifinalists from the Portland Public Schools in more than five years. The credit goes to not only these hardworking students but to their teachers and other supporters, including their parents. I wish them the best as they continue on in this competition.”

These students are among 68 Maine seniors named as Semifinalists in the 2021 contest. There are approximately 16,000 Semifinalists nationwide. Semifinalists were selected from a pool of more than 1.5 million high school juniors that entered the 2021 competition by taking the 2019 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

Of the 16,000 Semifinalists, about 15,000 are expected to advance to the Finalist level of the competition. To become Finalists, Semifinalists must have an outstanding academic record throughout high school, be involved in school and community activities, show leadership abilities, be endorsed by a high school official, write an essay, and earn SAT or ACT scores that confirm their  earlier performance on the qualifying test. Of those Finalists, about half will win a National Merit Scholarship and become National Merit Scholars.

Three types of National Merit Scholarships will be offered in the spring of 2021. The National Merit Scholarship winners will be announced in four nationwide news releases beginning in April and ending in July. These scholarship recipients will join approximately 353,000 other distinguished young people who have earned the Merit Scholar title.

This story was submitted by Tess Nacelewicz Communications Coordinator for Portland Public Schools as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea, email Rachel at