Class in a Canoe: Early College at Bryant Pond

A student shows the class how to locate their position on the map
A student shows the class how to locate their position on the map

This article was written by Maine DOE Intern Emmeline Willey in collaboration with instructors from the 4H program at Bryant Pond and the UMaine Early College program.

It’s the type of overcast morning that settles in a dewy film over lakeside Maine, where the air hangs thick and heavy and silent canoes prickle with fishing rods. At the end of a dirt road sprawls the University of Maine 4-H Center at Bryant Pond. The rustic campus was built in 1956 and became part of UMaine Cooperative Extension in 2008. Today, it is home to the Outdoor Leadership Early College Program and the students who are pioneering it. 

Students retrieve compasses to be used in orienteering.
Students retrieve compasses to be used in orienteering.

Upon my arrival, I catch a man as he’s sprinting out of the woods. He invites me to follow him back to the rest of the group after he retrieves a black case from a barn. I’m led up a steep hill on a rough draft of a path that opens on a dozen teenagers crouching over contour maps. Statewide Director Ryder Scott greets me in this clearing and explains that the students are finding their exact location using points of reference and geographic landmarks. Their knees are rooted in the ground and their sneakers are dirty; they tolerate the bugs with the nonchalance of camp kids on their second week of wilderness. 

 Scott in discussion with a student.
Scott in discussion with a student.

Minutes later, the group breaks, and the contents of the mysterious black case are revealed: compasses. The students retrieve them in pairs and trail off into the woods. 

This is the sport of orienteering, one of many activities offered through the Outdoor Leadership Early College Program. In this competitive game, players are armed with a map and compass and sent into the wilderness to navigate their ways to checkpoints. Like many races, the goal is to finish in the shortest amount of time. 

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Tara Pocock, UMaine staff member with a background in outdoor education.

“Ryder! I have a question about trees!” yells a student, sprinting back out of the woods with a leaf in hand. They circle around the Ash leaf to take photos like scientists in an outdoor, worldwide laboratory. Shortly after, the rest of the class comes bounding out to regroup before they head to the lake. 

“They’re learning to appreciate the natural world, to be a part of nature and recognize their impact on the environment,” says Tara Pocock, a UMaine staff member and instructor at the 4-H Center, explaining that this understanding of the outdoors is important to help teenagers grow into responsible world citizens. 

Ryder Scott, UMaine staff member with backgrounds in outdoor education.
Ryder Scott, UMaine staff member with backgrounds in outdoor education.

The three-week college course is offered to Maine high school students through the UMaine Early College Program. By the end of the course, students will earn three credits in Outdoor and Adventure Activities (KPE 265). Scott expressed UMaine’s goal to grow this program into a 12 credit outdoor leadership pathway that could lead to a four-year degree from the University of Maine, and support workforce development throughout the state of Maine. 

“It’s experience with real-world consequences,” Ryder Scott tells me, describing the three-day canoe trip the students will be taking next week. “If they misread the compass, if they burn the oatmeal, it’s going to be a bad time.” 

As the students make their way down to the water, discussion can be heard over the importance of wearing synthetic materials during aquatic activities. At the lakeside, the class gathers and student Laura Howe volunteers to give a lesson on proper paddling technique. 

Laura Howe demonstrates proper paddle technique to the class
Laura Howe demonstrates proper paddle technique to the class
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The class reviews the three points of contact necessary to canoe.

Halfway through the lesson, Scott interrupts to point out that the students are all holding their paddles correctly by balancing them on the tops of their shoes. Outdoor environments are conducive to this kind of rapid habit-building and learning via osmosis, as failure to remember instructions will have direct consequences on either expeditions or, in this case, expensive equipment. 

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Liz Dunn (right) says she met Ryder Scott through Oxford Hills’ science program, and became interested in outdoor career paths after participating in a Junior Maine Guide program. She hopes that Bryant Pond and similar programs will help her narrow down her career choices in the future.

The class piles into canoes two at a time. They joke around with one another and hover nearby, waiting for their classmates. Students at experiential outdoors learning centers like this benefit from being a part of Maine and immersed in its enchanting wilderness. High school students can learn and adapt to the environment of the natural world, without missing out on the curriculum of the classroom. The UMaine Early College Program allows students to enjoy an outdoor summer, while still making critical progress toward their future careers and education. 

This fall, UMaine Bryant Pond will be offering another course (KPE 209-Wilderness First Responder) as part of the Early College Outdoor Leadership program. For more information, contact Ryder Scott, Statewide Director of UMaine 4-H Centers at ryder.scott@maine.edu or 207-665-2935. 

The University of Maine will be offering over 40 online courses in a wide range of academic disciplines to high school students this fall. Students across the state will benefit from the flexibility and variety of Academe online college courses. Through a partnership between the Maine Department of Education and the University of Maine, tuition is waived for students of Maine public and home schools for up to six college credits per semester and 12 college credits per year. Fall classes start Sept. 3. Registration is open at umaine.edu/earlycollege. 

Interested students and parents are encouraged to contact Allison Small, Early College Programs Coordinator, 581.8004; um.earlycollege@maine.edu. 

 

Maine Teachers Learn About the Benefits of Technology in Elementary School Classrooms

This article was written by Simon Handelman, a Maine DOE Intern from the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Institute.

Imagine how surprising it was seeing my own mother sitting in a classroom at Casco Bay High School, on a Friday morning in August. Allow me to clarify, I was not surprised to see her attending the professional learning class there; she is an extremely dedicated teacher. All I mean is it was serendipitous to see her on a day I might have otherwise stayed in Augusta at the Department of Education. My mother, Ellen Handelman, is the art teacher at Harrison Lyseth Elementary School in Portland. She, like so many other enthusiastic Maine teachers, is spending her last weeks of  summer vacation attending professional learning classes, one after another. I do not believe she has had so much homework since college. 

We were at Casco Bay High School that day for the same reasons. A session was being taught by former Cushing Community School teacher Beth Heidemann, and philanthropist David Perloff. They were underscoring the benefits of technology in elementary school classrooms. For my mother, the highlight of that day was a winning a 3D printer for her very own classroom. When I asked her to express her excitement about the printer, she said “my students can witness (in real time) how science, technology, engineering, and math combine with art to create usable objects which pair form and function.” 

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Teachers at Casco Bay PL Session use downtime to network and catch up with friends.

My mother is constantly developing methods to display for her students the foundational importance of art education. She firmly believes “everyone is an artist,” and I agree. In fact, that same mantra of was repeated again and again at Casco Bay that day. Heidemann’s company Go2Science, which she founded with scientist Curtis Bentley, allows kindergarten through second grade students to travel virtually around the world, investigating hypotheses for a representative group of scientists. Heidemann’s message: “everyone is a scientist.”  

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Teachers at Casco Bay PL Session Listening to a Presenter

Perloff’s Perloff Family Foundation, which donated the printer my mother won, believes all young students are equipped to learn about complicated technology, if given the chance. His foundation provided three hundred fifty 3D printers to Maine public schools, and the Maine Medical Center Children’s Hospital. Perloff believes “everyone is an engineer.” 

Other elementary school teachers in attendance raved about occasions in their own classrooms when young students expressed high level critical thinking. In one case a teacher told the group that her kindergarten class was able to fix the internet for a substitute teacher, using only verbal directions (for safety reasons).  

As the summer months come to a close, teachers across the state are eager to return to their students. There are many fantastic professional learning opportunities available in Maine, and many more dedicated teachers prepared to become the best they can possibly be.   

Brunswick Community Support Group is Working Hard to Welcome Refugee Families

This article was written by Maine DOE Intern Simon Handelman in collaboration with community members from the Emergency Action Network (TEAN) in Brunswick.

When Sarah Singer, Teresa Gillis, and other community leaders founded The Emergency Action Network (TEAN), they were responding to the rising poverty and homelessness afflicting students at Brunswick Schools. TEAN worked with teachers and administrators in Brunswick schools to identify the needs of struggling students and families. Once a specific need was clear to TEAN, they utilized the Yard Sale feature on Facebook to collect donations or, members of TEAN purchased the necessary item outright and delivered it to the Superintendent’s office.

Each fall TEAN members visit faculty in all four Brunswick schools. They connect with educators and identify needs the taskforce is equipped to address. When a child needed running shoes to participate in gym class, TEAN got those shoes to the student. Singer expressed how happy the recipient was once he was able to participate in activities with the rest of his class. When mobile home park Bay Bridge Estates experienced well failures, TEAN delivered a U-Hall filled with Poland Springs bottled water to the residents. These examples of TEAN’s excellent work explain Singer’s classification of the organization as a “catch-all safety net” and a “crisis response group.”

In recent weeks, the organization has committed itself to assisting families of asylum seekers in Brunswick. Erin Mangalam and Singer, both on the board of directors for TEAN, use their own multi-lingual skills to connect families to the resources they need. Maggy Jansson, another director, is using her background as a home visiting pediatric nurse to help families access healthcare services. However, TEAN understands they do not have the necessary background to provide optimal assistance, for this reason the taskforce pushed the town of Brunswick to hire a Cultural Broker. Nsiona Nguizani has been working in the Maine immigrant community for several years. His job is to break down linguistic and cultural barriers so support groups like TEAN or Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program (MCHPP) can more efficiently meet the needs of these new Brunswick community members.

Support groups in Brunswick learned from Musalo Chitam at the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition that newcomer families often travel thousands of miles over the course of several months. These families know how to be independent–they just need to become oriented in their new home. In response to this message, Mangalam and Dana Bateman (another TEAN volunteer) collected bikes for the families. TEAN does not have the resources to buy every family a car, but they can mobilize the community to get a significant number of bikes for families. Once the bikes were collected, Bruno Inacio translated Kris Haralson’s bike safety training from English to Portuguese so as many people as possible could understand the information.

TEAN is working on many projects, and more information can be found on their website and Facebook page. Moreover, TEAN is just one of many support groups working hard to help their neighbors, new and old. Similar efforts are being undertaken in Topsham by Mt. Ararat TEAN, and in Freeport by Freeport Friends. Singer says the goal was to build a “totally replicable model.” She says that it is necessary to understand that needs are different in each community. In some towns like Brunswick, the role of support groups is changing rapidly. However, dedicated people with open minds can alleviate some of the burdens for families, students, and teachers by building networks like TEAN in their own communities.

RSU 57 Prek Teachers Train Fellow Educators on Research-based Prek Practice

Prek teachers Melissa Brown, Jessie Carlson, Morgan Gallagher and Sarah Smith from RSU 57 provided training recently for new teachers ready to implement the PreK for ME program in the coming school year.

Prek for ME is a curriculum program based on the Boston Public School’s open source curriculum. Last year, 14 prek classroom teachers, including the 4 from RSU 57, were part of the pilot program that was successfully conducted last year assisting participants in improving their prek classroom instruction. RSU 57 saw great results in this research-based, whole child/multi-domain program.

Excited and eager to help bring their experience and expertise to others, the four RSU 57 teachers co-trained with some assistance from Sue Reed, Early Childhood Specialist from Maine DOE who is leading the efforts to adapt the Prek for ME curriculum for Maine.

The evaluations from the program help to illustrate its success:

“This was a super training!  I appreciated the balance between presentation and hands on with the teachers.” 

“Teachers who have used the program are very helpful!” 

The prek teachers from RSU 57 invited participants to visit their classrooms and to contact them with any questions.  The Prek for ME program will be available on the Maine DOE website by the end of August.

Lincoln Elementary School Goes Above and Beyond to Keep Students Engaged in Reading During the Summer

This spring, Augusta School Department’s Lincoln Elementary School recorded videos of each of their teachers and staff members reading a book out loud and then posted it to their school Facebook page for students, parents, and families to enjoy. This effort was part of a read-a-thon initiative to keep kids engaged with reading and literacy activities over their week-long vacation in April.

With 25 videos posted over April break and hundreds of views by students and their families, they decided to expand the effort into the summer months and include community members as guest readers. “We have made an effort to post at least one video every day this summer,” said Lincoln Elementary School Principal Heather Gauthier. “Between June 14th and August 28th when school is back in session, we will have done over 75 videos, many of them with 200+ views on Facebook and YouTube, and positive engagement from parents and community members.”

Their guest readers include everyone from teachers, school administrators, staff, and education technicians to police officers, school board members, local authors, former students, local government officials, and even Maine DOE’s very own Lee Anne Larson, Early Learning Team Coordinator.

“We have received a lot of great feedback from community members who have been engaged and parents who have benefited from the videos,” said Heather. “One parent told us that she puts the videos on while she cooks dinner so that the kids can watch and listen to books while she is busy cooking.”

What started as an effort to keep students reading over the summer months has turned into a summer reading activity that has been successful in engaging students, parents, and community members alike.

Heather says that they plan to keep the guest reading videos going for as long as they can and hopes that people keep enjoying and watching them. Check out the Lincoln Elementary School Department’s videos on YouTube. Find Lincoln Elementary School Department on Facebook.

This article was written by Rachel Paling, Maine DOE Communications and Outreach Manager in collaboration with Lincoln Elementary School Principal, Heather Gauthier. If you have story ideas for the Maine DOE’s Maine Schools Sharing Success campaign, contact Rachel at rachel.paling@maine.gov.