MEDIA RELEASE: Maine Honors 11 Inspirational School Employees Through RISE Award

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) today announced the state finalists for the Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE) Award.

In two special outdoor gatherings held today at East End Community School (Portland Public Schools) and Marcia Buker Elementary School (RSU 2), Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin presented Maine’s two State-level Honorees each with certificates and flowers and thanked them for their service. Award nominators and members of their school community were also present to show their gratitude and share inspirational messages about how these individuals have impacted their community.

Created by Congress in 2019 and overseen by the U.S. Department of Education, the RISE Award honors classified employees in the education workforce who provide exemplary service.  The Maine DOE in coordination with the Office of Governor Janet T. Mills has selected 11 finalists from a pool of over eighty exceptional nominees submitted from across Maine by local educational agencies, school administrators, professional associations, nonprofits, parents/caregivers, students, and community members.

“As the daughter of a longtime public school teacher, I know how hard our teachers work every day to provide a quality education. These last few years have brought even greater challenges, and I am grateful to teachers across Maine who have risen to the occasion to educate our children and keep them safe,” said Governor Mills. “On behalf of all Maine people, I sincerely congratulate our RISE award winners on this well-deserved honor, and I thank them for all they do for our state.”

“Today I have been privileged to honor and recognize two of the thousands of heroes who are ensuring that Maine children have access to safe and successful schools,” said Commissioner of Education Pender Makin.  “These dedicated staff members support teachers and families, and ensure that the health, safety, nutritional and academic needs of students are met day after day. Without their dedication and hard work, our schools, our communities, would falter. I urge all Maine people to join me in recognizing these two individuals, and in thanking our entire education workforce, who continues to rise above and deliver on behalf of their students.”

RISE nominees demonstrate excellence in the following areas: (A) Work performance; (B) School and community involvement; (C) Leadership and commitment; (D) Local support (from co-workers, school administrators, community members, etc., who speak to the nominee’s exemplary work); (E) Enhancement of classified school employees’ image in the community and schools.

Of the 11 finalists, two state-level honorees have been selected and submitted to the U.S. Department of Education to represent Maine for consideration in the national RISE Award. The U.S. Department of Education will announce one national honoree and present the individual with an award in the spring. Each of Maine’s finalists will be honored with a letter from the Commissioner of Education and receive spotlights on the Maine Department of Education website.

Maine’s RISE State-Level Honorees:

Deb Bodge
Administrative Assistant/Secretary
Marcia Buker Elementary School, RSU 2

“Mrs. Bodge has been a foundation for Marcia Buker School for many years. Not only has she been resilient during the COVID crisis, but she continues, each day to know about each child and how their worlds work. She also does it all with a smile. She is a rock for our little school and is completely deserving of such an honor,” said one of her nominators, Julie York.

Betsy Paz-Gyimesi
Spanish Family and Community Engagement Specialist
Multilingual and Multicultural Center, Portland Public Schools (PPS)

“Betsy bridges the home/school divide for our families, is a fierce advocate in ensuring that students access programs and services that would nurture and advance their academic performance and social/emotional well-being,” said nominator Maureen Clancy, PPS Language Access Coordinator.

Maine’s RISE Finalists:

Kelly Brown
School Nurse
Kennebunk Elementary School, RSU 21

Vicki Dill
Head Cook, Food Services
Whitefield Elementary School, RSU 12

Jessie Eastman
School Nurse
Lincoln Elementary School, Augusta School District

Leland Gamache
Bus Driver/Custodial Staff
Libson Community School, Lisbon School Department

Ellen Kimball
Food Service Staff
T.W. Kelly Dirigo Middle School, RSU 56

Brittany Layman
Health and Wellness Coordinator/School Nurse
Earl C. McGraw Elementary School, RSU 22

Martha Thompson
Education Technician- Carpentry
Portland Arts and Technology High School
Melinda Williams
Special Education-Education Technician
Sanford School Department

Paula Quirk
Main Office Clerk
Waldo T. Skillin Elementary School, South Portland Public Schools

For a full description and picture of each of the nominees and finalists, visit the Maine Department of Education’s RISE webpages.

For more information about the RISE award including a description of a classified employee, visit the U.S. Department of Education Website. To learn more about Maine’s process including criteria and frequently asked questions, visit the Maine Department of Education Website.

Bath Middle School Takes Hands-on Approach to Learning About Ocean Sustainability

Inspired by the Expeditionary Learning model, Bath Middle School has taken a hands-on approach to examining the issue of ocean sustainability.  As part of this project, as citizen scientists, the 7th-grade students took to the local waterfront to collect data on the invasive green crab species and graphed their results.

Students also visited the Maine Maritime Museum in downtown Bath to learn about the history of Maine’s fishing and shipping industry.  Working with Museum educators, they generated timelines through the examination of the museum’s artifacts.

The culminating activity was for students to design and build a product that would address an issue that threatens the sustainability of our oceans such as pollution, climate change, or invasive species.  On Thursday, December 16th, parents, and the community were invited to attend an event that displayed the students’ work.

parents at event

In a “Shark Tank” format, the top five projects were pitched to a panel of judges to determine a winning product.  Students created videos, websites, and prototypes to convince the judges of their product’s ability to impact and help solve an issue that puts the sustainability of our oceans at risk.

After much deliberation, the judges determined that the winning product was Compostable Condiments designed by Sadie C. and Laura K.  This product proposed using an invasive seaweed to make a biodegradable substitute for the plastic used in takeout packets like ketchup.

Congratulations to all the 7th graders for their innovative ideas that could help to preserve one of Maine’s most essential natural resources.

This story was written and coordinated by MLTI Ambassador Holly Graffam as part of the Maine Schools Sharing the Success Campaign. To learn more, or to submit a story or an idea for a story, email 

Riverside Adult Education Recognized for its Innovative Day Reporting Program

Riverside Adult Education serves the communities of Regional School Units (RSUs) 26, 22, and 34 in Penobscot County. Like all of Maine’s high-quality adult education programs, Riverside works with adults in their region looking for personal, professional, and academic growth.

Riverside was recognized recently by the Maine Sheriff’s Association and the Penobscot County Jail for their unique PACE Day Reporting Program. PACE stands for Purpose, Awareness, Connection, and Education, and invites a niche audience of participants to go at their own pace, or to simply enjoy a change of pace when it comes to personal and professional betterment.

Intended for individuals in Penobscot County who have been sentenced to two days in jail for a minor offense, the PACE Day Reporting program gives folks the opportunity to spend that time doing something a bit different.

PACE program coordinator Rebecca Cross, who helped get the program up and running, recalls her initial conversations about the creation of PACE with Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton: “He wanted me to create something where the people would leave enriched in some way, instead of sitting in the cellblock for two days.”  Their shared vision helped create PACE – a program that provides the opportunity for participants to get involved in educational programs they never knew how to access.

“The Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office is blessed to have a tremendous partnership with Rebecca Cross and Riverside Adult Education,” said Sheriff Morton. “This community-based correctional program focuses on a therapeutic approach to incarceration through an educational experience.” 

People who opt to participate in PACE spend each day of their jail sentence embarking on a tailored educational experience. While some may choose to practice for the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) or take the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System (CASAS) math and reading assessment for adults, others choose to get help in filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form and learning about possible higher education options available to them. 

Another option of PACE presents a whole other set of professional learning opportunities. These learning options are one of the things about PACE that really sets it apart – by the way it draws participants, who may be feeling turned out by their own community, back into society through investing in them valuable time, knowledge, and training. The program offers classes like, “How to Stretch Your Food Dollar,” and “Trauma Informed Yoga,” as well as, “How to Breathe Your Way Through Mental Health Struggles,” among other topics. 

“It’s a balance between profoundly sobering conversations around addiction and light hearted remembering of the joys of life,” said Cross.

In addition, a new option in the PACE program called, “Life Ready” includes reflective workshops using podcasts. These workshops are linked to mic-credentialing, a system developed by Eastern Maine Community College. The micro-credentialing curriculum through Life Ready encourages students to consider their own story and how it affects their life choices. The podcasts include useful topics like, business startup, home buying, credit scores, budgeting with very little income, and financial literacy, which according to Cross, is a very popular one.

“People who do not have very much, or no money at all, often think that financial literacy doesn’t apply to them,” she explained. By making budgeting and financial literacy accessible and easy to use for anyone, it has become one of the most well utilized options in the program.

PACE classes and workshops are offered on a Friday and a Saturday to make them more convenient and accessible for people who are working or already taking classes during the week. This means that the community organizations who partner with PACE are willing to send instructors to volunteer on a Saturday, which sends a very positive message to participants, says Cross.

“They [PACE program participants] are astounded at the fact that people from the community want to come in and spend time with them, even on the weekend,” said Cross. “The fact that people are willing to do that means a lot.”

Cross also explains that their community partnerships are one of the most impactful aspects of the program. These partnering organizations, such as Health Equity Alliance and the BARN (Bangor Area Recovery Network), send people to conduct the classes or workshops. One recent workshop was hosted by Eastern Maine Development Corporation (EMDC) on “How to Develop an Elevator Speech,” and “How to Interview for a Job.” They have also hosted faculty from University of Maine at Orono who have provided reflective writing workshops. In addition, they have hosted local artists who offer their time teaching classes on how to paint.

“It’s so profound for people,” said Cross. “It can be healing, to just sit down and tap into your creativity and just laugh with people, and at themselves.”

So far, PACE has served 139 people in Penobscot County since its creation in January of 2020. Cross says that although it does cost participants money to enter into PACE, they have worked hard to keep that cost as low as possible, which ends up being a small fraction of what other, similar programs charge in other states. 

Encouraged at the fact that all 139 of the people who have participated in PACE have not been charged with another sentence, they are eager to keep working on making the program accessible to even more people and bring in more community partnerships to match the need.

“Rebecca’s passion for education and wonderful ability to bring in supporting resources makes this program a success” said Sheriff Morton. “This educational approach allows individuals the opportunity to connect with resources available throughout our state.” 

“It’s a great community effort and I just get to put the pieces together,” said Cross, adding that they are always so happy to see people who have participated in the program go on to continue their education, opening up a world of possibilities for what their next step might be.

For more information about PACE, contact Rebecca Cross at

School Civil Rights Teams Across Maine Celebrate Inclusion and Belonging on Annual ‘Day of Welcome’

Civil rights teams across Maine were invited to participate in the Civil Rights Team Project’s annual “Day of Welcome” held on November 5, 2021. The event was a chance for students to celebrate and promote the idea that their school community is for everyone.

The Day of Welcome is coordinated by the Civil Rights Team Project in the Maine Office of the Attorney General. The Project, now in its 26th year, is a school-based preventative program that aims to increase the safety of students by reducing bias-motivated behaviors and harassment in schools. There are currently 207 participating schools with student-led civil rights teams.

The Day of Welcome has been celebrated for the past three years and invites civil rights teams to create an inclusively welcoming sign, banner, or display stating: We welcome everyone. All races and skin colors, all national origins and ancestries, all religions, all disabilities, all genders (identity and expression), and all sexual orientations. Students were challenged to create the display using imagination, innovation, creativity, and teamwork.

“For 25 years, the Civil Rights Team Project has been working with school communities to foster an environment of inclusion and respect based on their or their loved ones’ identities,” said Attorney General Aaron M. Frey. “I celebrate their work and congratulate them and every Civil Rights Team in the state for making their school communities a better place, and I applaud their work on this year’s Day of Welcome.”

Participating teams also organized welcoming activities for the event, displaying and promoting their signs and inviting others to connect, participate, and celebrate their school community’s commitment to inclusivity and belonging.

Here are a few things students from the MSAD 60 Civil Rights Team had to say about the Day of Welcome and the work of school Civil Rights Teams:

“For some people, small gestures can make them feel more comfortable.” — Ella

“It’s important to show that we care, so that those who don’t usually feel welcome feel welcome.” — Griffin

“A Civil Rights Team is important to shed light on what is happening in school.” — Caelum

“People know that other people support them. We’re bringing together people who have gone through the same things.” — Ariana

Check out the creativity and passion in these Day of Welcome signs created by Maine students:

“All of us, working together, can make a powerful statement and enlist school and statewide support for our work,” said Brandon Baldwin, Director of the Civil Rights Team Project in a message to civil rights teams about the Day of Welcome.

Thank you to Maine News Media Outlets who reported on the Day of Welcome activities:

A HUGE thank you to all the Maine schools who are currently participating in the Civil Rights Team Project:

Alton Elementary School Madison Elementary School
Amanda C. Rowe Elementary School Madison Junior High School
Ames Elementary School Manchester School
Auburn Middle School Maranacook Community High School
Bangor High School Maranacook Middle School
Bath Middle School Margaret Chase Smith School
Belfast Area High School Marshwood Great Works School
Biddeford High School Marshwood High School
Biddeford Intermediate School Marshwood Middle School
Biddeford Middle School Mast Landing School
Bloomfield Elementary School Mattanawcook Academy
Bonny Eagle High School Memorial Middle School
Bonny Eagle Middle School Messalonskee Middle School
Bowdoinham Community School Middle School of the Kennebunks
Brewer High School Minot Consolidated School
Bristol Consolidated School Molly Ockett Middle School
Brooklin School Morse High School
Brooksville Elementary School Mount Desert Island High School
Brownville Elementary School Mount View Elementary School
Bruce M. Whittier Middle School Mount View High School
Brunswick High School Mountain Valley High School
Brunswick Jr. High School Mountain Valley Middle School
Buckfield Jr.-Sr. High School Mt. Ararat High School
Bucksport Middle School Mt. Ararat Middle School
Buxton Center Elementary School Mt. Blue High School
Camden Hills Regional High School Mt. Blue Middle School
Cape Elizabeth Middle School Narragansett Elementary School
Captain Albert W. Stevens School Narraguagus Jr/Sr High School
Caravel Middle School Noble High School
Central High School Noble Middle School
Central School Nokomis Regional High School
Cheverus High School Oak Hill High School
China Middle School Oak Hill Middle School
Coastal Ridge Elementary School Oceanside High School
Congin Elementary School Old Orchard Beach High School
Conners Emerson School Old Town Elementary School
Cony Middle/High School Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School
Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School Palermo Consolidated School
Deer Isle-Stonington High School Park Avenue School
Deering High School Penquis Valley Middle School
Dirigo High School Philip W. Sugg Middle School
Dora L. Small Elementary School Piscataquis Community Secondary School
Durham Community School Poland Regional High School
East Auburn Community School Pond Cove Elementary
East End Community School Portland High School
Eastport Elementary School Pownal Elementary School
Eliot Elementary School Presque Isle High School
Elm Street Elementary School Presumpscot Elementary School
Etna Dixmont School (ES) Raymond A. Geiger Elementary School
Falmouth Elementary School Reeds Brook Middle School
Falmouth High School Richmond High School
Falmouth Middle School Richmond Middle School
Farwell Elementary School Robert V. Connors Elementary School
Foxcroft Academy Robert W. Traip Academy
Frank H. Harrison Middle School Sacopee Valley High School
Frank I. Brown Elementary School Sacopee Valley Middle School
Freeport High School Samuel L. Wagner Middle School
Freeport Middle School Sanford High School
Gardiner Area High School Sanford Middle School
Gardiner Regional Middle School Scarborough Middle School
George B. Weatherbee School Searsport District High School
Gerald E. Talbot School Searsport District Middle School
Glenburn School Searsport Elementary School
Gorham High School Sedgwick Elementary School
Gorham Middle School SeDoMoCha Middle School
Gray-New Gloucester High School Shapleigh School
Gray-New Gloucester Middle School Shead High School
Great Falls Elementary School Sherwood Heights Elementary School
Greely High School Skowhegan Area High School
Greely Middle School (4-5) Skowhegan Area Middle School
Greely Middle School (6-8) South Bristol Elementary School
Hall-Dale High School Spruce Mountain High School
Hall-Dale Middle School St. George School
Hampden Academy Stevens Brook Elementary School
Harpswell Coastal Academy, Division 1 Sumner Memorial High School
Harrison Lyseth Elementary School T.W. Kelly Dirigo Middle School
Helena Dyer Elementary School Telstar High School
Hermon High School Thomas J. McMahon Elementary School
Hodgdon Middle/High School Thornton Academy
Holbrook Middle School Thornton Academy Middle School
Holden Elementary School Troy Howard Middle School
Hope Elementary School Valley Rivers Middle School/FKCHS
Horace Mitchell Primary School Veazie Community School
Houlton Middle/High School Village Elementary School
Howard C. Reiche Community School Walton School
James F. Doughty School Warsaw Middle School
John Bapst Memorial High School Washburn District High School
Jordan-Small Middle School Washburn Elementary School
Kennebunk High School Washington Academy
Kennebunkport Consolidated School Wells High School
Kermit S. Nickerson School Westbrook High School
Kingfield Elementary School Westbrook Middle School
Lake Region High School William S. Cohen School
Lake Region Middle School Windham High School
Lawrence High School Windham Middle School
Lebanon Elementary School Winslow High School
Lee Academy Winslow Junior High School
Leonard Middle School Winthrop High School
Leroy H. Smith School Winthrop Middle School
Lewiston Middle School Wiscasset Middle School
Lisbon Community School Woodland Jr.-Sr. High School
Loranger Memorial School Yarmouth High School
Madawaska Elementary School York High School
Madison Area Memorial High School

Any school in Maine with students in grades 3-12 can start a civil rights team with free resources, structure, and support through the Maine Office of the Attorney General. For more information visit their website or contact Brandon Baldwin, Director of the
Civil Rights Team Project at

Maine FIRST Lego League Championship Event Highlights Maine Students’ STEM Skills

The 22nd annual Maine FIRST Lego League Championship on December 18th was a hybrid event that offered teams from across the state an opportunity to compete in-person or remotely.  Messalonskee High School in Oakland hosted the in-person part of the event with a half dozen teams in attendance.  The virtual part of the event included another seven teams that connected over Zoom.  This also allowed judges to connect from as far away as California and Israel.  The streamlined day ended with a fifteen minute Awards Ceremony over Zoom.

The Champion’s Award went to the “Smart Fun Engineers” for the fourth consecutive year with a high score of 335 points, of the possible 670, for their robot’s performance.  The team from Farmington was certainly ecstatic to learn about their win this year.

The Champion’s Finalist Award went to the Lego Legends from the Brewer Community School.  This diverse team with members ranging from eight to thirteen even includes a member from nearby Orrington (who does not have a Lego Robotics team) who showed up with personalized team t-shirts and matching hats.  Their coach, Joarly Arnold, received the Mentor Award.  Joarly, who works for General Electric and is part of their corporate team of GE Girls, said she is passionate about getting children engaged with STEM, including robotics.  She has been working with the team for four years, and due to her background in information engineering, she believes kids “should have an early introduction to STEM, as it teaches them not only science and mathematics, but increases their critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making skills; skills that they will use regardless of their future career path.”

FIRST LEGO League Team 32423 from Brewer Community School.
FIRST LEGO League Team 32423 from Brewer Community School.

The Robot Design Award went to the Fort Fairfield RoboTigers, which had to overcome many challenges around team members quarantining throughout the season.  They were among the teams connecting virtually, and found the experience of interacting with the judges to be highly beneficial.

The Innovation Project Award went to the Veazie Viking Robotics team who proposed carbon fiber shipping containers.  The team researched the material and its potential for making shipping of goods more fuel efficient due to the lighter weight, and more cost effective due to improving manufacturing processes.  Other teams designed ways of transporting goods and medication to rural parts of the state.  The team from Fort Fairfield focused on a way to prevent the region’s favorite product, the potato, from bouncing out of trucks as they travel down the road.

The Core Values Award went to the Lego Coop Kids from the Berwick area.  This group of seven included five sixth graders and two fourth graders who were competing in the FIRST Lego League for the first time, after recently forming.  The judges were highly impressed by their ability to work together and have fun, which are key aspects of the Core Values.

RSU #52 teacher Geoff Cyr, who has been involved in the FIRST Lego League for eight years in numerous capacities, received an Outstanding Volunteer Award.  Geoff, who serves as the Volunteer Coordinator, is always looking for individuals to get involved in the FIRST Lego League in Maine.  While experienced referees and judges are always needed, there is always a need for more.

Members of the Leeds Central School team present their projects to judges Jon Graham (Maine Department of Education) and Dr. Laura Gurney (Husson University).
Members of the Leeds Central School team present their projects to judges Jon Graham (Maine Department of Education) and Dr. Laura Gurney (Husson University).

The Maine FIRST Lego League did have a different look and feel than previous events held at the Augusta Civic Center, but dedicated volunteers, judges, coaches and teams have been able to keep the spirit alive through a difficult and unpredictable period.  The opportunities for students to come together as a team, work through multiple challenges and present their projects is vitally important to their success in school and beyond.  Hopefully the success of this season will encourage others to form or revive robotics teams at their school.