UMaine-led Grant Helps Maine Schools Implement Behavioral Support Framework

More than 4,000 students across Maine are now receiving Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) thanks to intensive professional development provided by University of Maine College of Education and Human Development experts supported by a grant from the Maine Department of Education.

PBIS is a nationally recognized, multi-tiered framework providing a continuum of supports to all students, promoting positive academic and socio-behavioral outcomes. In 2018, educators from 15 Maine schools formed the PBIS Regional Professional Development Cohort, receiving instruction on how to implement the framework, and meeting regularly with UMaine experts to share their experiences and address ongoing challenges during the three-year grant period.

“When we first started this project, nobody knew we’d have to complete it during a global pandemic,” says Courtney Angelosante, UMaine lecturer in special education and one of the experts who provided professional development to teachers and school leaders.

“It really has been a wonderful experience that will have enduring benefits for years to come,” she says.

The grant included schools from several parts of Maine, including RSU 3/MSAD 3 (Brooks, Freedom, Jackson, Knox, Liberty, Monroe, Montville, Thorndike, Troy, Unity and Waldo); Brewer Community School; Indian Island School; Dr. Lewis S. Libby School (Milford); Appleton Village School; Vassalboro Community School; East End Community School (Portland); RSU 20 (Searsport and Stockton Springs); and Wiscasset Elementary School.

“We’re really proud of the work these schools have done,” says Karen Robbie, PBIS trainer and doctoral candidate in the College of Education and Human Development. “Thanks to their efforts, more children in Maine are now experiencing positive, predictable, effective and equitable school environments.”

Other members of the UMaine team included Jim Artesani, associate dean for graduate education, research and outreach, and Kristin Grant, a retired principal from RSU 14.

“It has impacted me tremendously and made me become a better and more effective teacher and person,” says Vincent Vannah, a teacher at Morse Elementary School.

He adds that the PBIS framework made school staff rethink their mindset around teaching about behavior, creating a more positive atmosphere.

“I am able to lead and support fellow teachers in my school with implementation and support of strategies to best help teachers that are experiencing difficult and hard behavior,” says Vannah, who served as a PBIS coach for Morse Elementary throughout the project.

Members of the PBIS Regional Professional Development Cohort will gather on Monday, June 21 at the Hutchinson Center in Belfast to celebrate their accomplishments. Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin and other MDOE officials will deliver remarks at the event. Jen Freeman of the National Center on PBIS is also scheduled to share a message with the cohort.

 

Saco Sixth Graders Re-Design School Entrance Through Art, Science, and Self Reflection

Saco Middle School art teacher Alison Crofton-Macdonald wanted to do something completely different with her students this year. After the pandemic completely changed the way she was able to engage students with art, she was looking for something beyond getting creative with digital art, or other simple materials like paper and pencil that can be found in most homes and are commonly used during remote learning.

Once students were back to school for the year in a hybrid situation, Mrs. Crofton-Macdonald also wanted to get them up, out of their chairs, and outside for her art classes.

“We are all sick of being inside,” said Crofton-Macdonald. “If I’m sick of being inside, then they are really sick of being inside.”

This year with a rearrangement for hybrid scheduling, Unified Arts teachers were linked with teams to prevent cohorts of students mixing. This made it so that Crofton-Macdonald and her colleague, Lindsay Wirsing were on the same team teaching the same students, which allowed them to collaborate on a project.

Crofton-Macdonald and Wirsing decided to create a project that brought together art, science, and social emotional learning for their 6th grade students by redesigning the entrance to the school with a mosaic garden.

Seeing that there was no evidence of students when visitors first enter the building at Saco Middle School, they decided that giving the students an opportunity to change that would be a win all around for the school, the students, and the goals of the educators.

Tying in her own knowledge of the mosaic process, Crofton-Macdonald had each student make a mosaic stepping stone for the entry way. They were all challenged to create an “I am statement” having to do with something they learned about themselves this past year. They each then turned that statement into a design for a mosaic tile that would eventually be placed with the other mosaic tiles of the other students to make a walkway.

The project also had an accompanying science unit, taught by Ms. Wirsing, that aimed to reconstruct the entrance to have a better impact on the environment.

“Students examined the increases in human population per-capita, consumption of natural resources and the impact on Earth’s systems,” said Wirsing. “They study how their usage of water and land impacts the earth. Typically, as human populations and consumption of natural resources increase, so do the negative impacts on the earth unless the activities and technologies are engineered otherwise.”

“So, our project’s goal was to use the land in front of our school to have a better human impact than grass by planting more diverse flowering perennial plants.”

Each project challenged the students (and educators) to work together, and to be constantly thinking about how each of them can have a positive impact on the world around them.

To embark on the project the teachers were able to obtain some grant funding from SACO Steam, in addition to getting plants donated by the PTO, and borrowing tools from Saco school staff. They also had to find a piece of land at the school that needed a re-design. After pitching their idea to local school leaders, they received full support of the plan that would both provide valuable intradisciplinary learning for the students and improved school property for the community.

In addition to the Mosaic Garden designed by the Saco Middle School 6th graders, Mrs. Crofton-Macdonald also worked with her Gifted and Talented students on an additional section of the entry way that features a pebble mosaic of the Saco Middle School paw prints, to compliment the school mascot.

The project proved to be hard work, but well worth it with many weeks of planning, digging, planting, placing and a whole lot of teamwork. Saco Middle School STEM teacher Sam Blunda even stepped in in the final stages of the project to help cut all the curved stone pieces, finishing the edges to perfection.

In the final stretch of the last days of school, the project was finally finished, providing the building with a beautifully sustainable school entrance that has the most wonderful evidence of students who have and will have a lasting positive human impact on the land and school for many years to come.

Information for this article was provided by Saco Middle School as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea, email it to Rachel at rachel.paling@maine.gov.

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, doug.robertson@maine.gov, 207-62406744.

School Nutrition Staff Go Above and Beyond at Whitefield Elementary

Vicki Dill pictured with student Kiara Luce- 2021 Farm to School Cook-off Champions
Vicki Dill pictured with student Kiara Luce- 2021 Farm to School Cook-off Champions

What are the Whitefield Wildcats, 2021 Farm to School Cook-off Champions, up to right now? They are making an impact on students in their school. This school year has presented many challenges for all school staff and students. With challenges there are also opportunities. At Whitefield Elementary, the school nutrition staff Vicki Dill and Ashley Burdick went above and beyond to work with grades K-2 to make the end of school year experience a memorable one. The K-2 classrooms have been doing an “ABC Countdown to Summer”, and over the last 26 days of school used a theme based on the letter of the day.

On B day (Bubbles and Balls) their breakfast was served in bags with bubbles. On F day (Forest Day) students were provided lunches in bindles to eat in the forest. On S day (Scavenger Hunt Day) they took the time to create a scavenger hunt for students to find their lunches. According to Sarah Brewer, grade 2 teacher, “the kids absolutely loved everything they did. It’s been a very hard and stressful year for both teachers and students and these two lovely ladies went above and beyond what was expected of them to make the kid’s year a memorable one”.

Kudos to Vicki and Ashley for their partnership with the classrooms at Whitefield Elementary! This is one example of how school nutrition staff have made a positive impact in student’s lives during a challenging and ever-changing year. We thank all nutrition staff for their dedication and efforts over the past year and wish everyone a safe and healthy summer!

‘Aspire Golden Bucks’ Partnership Highlights the Many Pathways to Lifelong Learning

“Aspire Golden Bucks” (AGB) was formed as a partnership between RSU 25, Jobs for Maine Graduates (JMG), and Maine Educational Loan Marketing Corporation (MELMAC) to encourage students of all ages to create a plan for their future and empower students to continue their education.  The Aspire team puts a focus on local needs-they make sure to interview teachers and students about what they specifically want more or less of in their schools. AGB provides books for elementary schools, supports career opportunities and school visits for higher grade levels, and seeks to partner with, and promote the work of, both Hancock County Technical Center and adult education. In order to show fellow students returning to education that not everyone takes a traditional path through education, RSU 25 Adult Education is sharing AGB timelines of people who may have tried several different jobs or schools to get where they are. 

Jessica Gerrish stopped attending the University of Maine at Augusta (UMA) after two semesters. She was a strong student but her decision to withdraw caused her GPA to drop. Jessica worked as a nursing assistant and did not know whether she wanted to continue on the nursing path. After dropping out and exploring other positions, Jessica realized her heart was in nursing. She applied back to UMA and completed three semesters of school with high honors before withdrawing again. Withdrawing twice affected the school’s willingness to accept Jessica back again. Jessica was able to find advocates and work together to create a plan to ensure she would be able to complete her schooling. Jessica submitted her plan to UMA and was reaccepted. Jessica completed the RSU 25 Adult Education Certified Clinical Medical Assistant program in March of 2020 and is now enrolled in the University of Maine’s Bachelors Nursing program. She has maintained honors since 2019. Her anticipated graduation date is in May of 2023. “I had an extremely rocky road, making plenty of mistakes along the way, but the support I have now has paved the way for it to all be possible. Life happens, and sometimes things get in the way, but there is always help out there for people who truly want it,” said Jessica Gerrish.

Jessica’s story is one of many aspirational timelines that will be used through the AGB initiative. More examples of aspirational journeys are in the works to help showcase the many pathways that can lead to life-long learning and success for students of all ages 

For more information on the initiative, please look at their website: RSU25.org/aspire. To learn more about adult education options in Maine visit: Adult Education | Department of Education (maine.gov)

This article was written by Maine DOE Intern Clio Bersani in collaboration with RSU 25 as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea, email it to Rachel at rachel.paling@maine.gov.