Mr. H’s Math Show Helps Poland Community School Second Graders Show off their Math Skills

RSU 16 Second Grade Teacher Philip Hodgkins, or Mr. H. as his students call him, has been producing and starring in a weekly gameshow style math show to supplement math lessons for this 2nd grade students.

“During class I’m always hyping something up–birthdays, school assemblies, whatever the next big thing may be,” explains Mr. H. Extending that same level of enthusiasm into a new project, Mr. H uses his exciting game-show style voice, that his students love so much, in a new video series about math, providing an opportunity for his students to engage with math in fun and exciting ways.

“This is a really fun thing to do with the kids and it gives my 2nd graders a chance to show off their math skills,” said Mr. H. The shows are available as an option to his 2nd grade students in class after they have completed their regular math lesson. He explains that the show is a bonus for the students and supplements what they are working on.

With a little help from family members and friends, The Mr. H. Math Show has been uploading a new episode on YouTube every Friday at 7:00 p.m. successfully ever since February break and continues to evolve as the show’s audience expands.

“It’s awesome to see how excited students are to solve the new math questions every week,” said Mr. H. “It’s always great to hear their ideas for future episodes.”

The success of the show has spread to a few other classes at Poland Community School with the Functional Life Skills class and some of the 1st graders and 2nd graders now getting the chance to watch the Mr. H. Math Show too. Mr. H. hopes to expand his audience even further. “I’d love to have math fans watching around the world, tuning in with their families to show off their math skills,” says Mr. H.

In the meantime, he continues to look for ways to add cool new features. Recently he has been looking into adding a musical element to the show with math rap songs.

Check out The Mr. H. Math Show on his YouTube Channel:

For further questions about The Mr. H. Math Show, contact Philip Hodgkins at

Exploring the History of Maine Through Robotics

In the fall of 2022, Ann McClellan asked Maxx Pillsbury, a student of the Sphero Bolt coding program at Mt. View Middle School, how he might use the Bolt to tell a story. Both interested in Maine history, Ms. McClellan and Maxx began exploring using the Bolt to tell the story of ten historically significant places in Maine.

Maxx coded his Bolt to be Samuel de Champlain, an explorer who traveled the coast of Maine. Maxx and Ms. McClellan used a rope to model the nooks and crannies of Maine’s rugged coastline and painted designs on paper to represent characteristics of the area being explored.

Once they planned the layout, Maxx programmed the Bolt. While working, Maxx decided he also wanted the Bolt to narrate the history locations. He wrote a script, chose sounds to enhance the audience’s experience, and found music to play.

You can view a video of the robot moving through the project here:

The final product is impressive and took perseverance and critical thinking to problem solve through challenges that presented themselves throughout the process. For instance, placing the Bolt just right was imperative to its success.

“If the angle was just slightly different when it was set down, then it could mess the whole thing up,” Maxx said.

Ms. McClellan agreed, “Directionals and movement controls were challenging. These had to do with speed, angles, and time. We maintained humor, flexibility, and perseverance, so we got through the programming!”

Maxx is eager to apply what he learned from this project to his other classes. “In my history classes, I will already know some history about early explorers in Maine, and in math class, I can use what I learned about ratios with distance, speed, and time.”

For more information about the Sphero Bolt coding program or other ways to integrate computer science into your curriculum, reach out our computer science specialist, Emma Banks at or visit:


Portland Public Schools Developing Culturally Important School Lunch Menu

The Portland Public Schools Food Service Department, in partnership with local nonprofits and consultants, is working to introduce culturally important menu items to the school lunch options served at the district’s high schools.

This spring, students at Deering, Casco Bay, and Portland high schools are taste-testing food items adapted from traditional Central African cuisine and providing feedback that will help the district decide if the new food items will be incorporated onto the high school lunch menu for next school year. Another goal of the project is to encourage more student engagement and participation in school lunch.

This project is funded by Full Plates, Full Potential, and led by Food Service Director Jane McLucas and local food justice nonprofit Cultivating Community. It is being implemented by several community partners that include FoodCorps, Cumberland County Food Security Council (CCFSC), Good Shepherd Food Bank, and the University of Southern Maine (USM).

“We are Maine’s largest and most diverse school district, and this project is an important – and delicious – way to help us acknowledge and celebrate our diversity,” said Superintendent Xavier Botana. “All our students should have the opportunity to enjoy a wider variety of culturally diverse menu items, which could encourage more students to participate in our nutritious school lunch program. We are very grateful to the wide variety of community partners working with us on this and other projects to ensure food security for all our students.”

This initiative was born from Food Fuels Learning, a network of school and community partners working to build food security in the Portland Public Schools. It is made possible due to the recipe development work done by Khadija Ahmed and Chef Samantha Cowens-Gasbarro with Westbrook Public Schools’ Nutrition Director Mary Emerson.

Ahmed is the owner-operator of Food For All African Mobile Market and the Community Impact Manager for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) at Good Shepherd Food Bank. Cowens-Gasbarro is the executive chef for Healthy School Recipes and a school nutrition consultant. These two adapted traditional Central African cuisine into meals that meet federal nutrition guidelines. Replicating the recipes developed in Westbrook, Ahmed and Cowens-Gasbarro are now working with district high school cafeteria staff to test similar recipes in Portland, while also educating staff about the importance of cultural representation in school food.

Food service staff are learning how to cook these new dishes this spring. Every high school student in the district will also have the opportunity to try and provide feedback on potential menu items. This work aims for students to see more familiar dishes offered at school and encourage higher participation in school meals – a proven strategy for increasing food security and reducing stigma around accessing these nutritious foods.

FoodCorps Service Member and Deering High School graduate Mercia Ckaba-Thomas created posters to educate students about the event: “We share a bond through food that creates better connections between cultures, and celebrates the many differences that exist in the Portland community.”

The first taste test took place on March 24. A meal of smashed kidney beans, spiced beef, and cabbage slaw was offered to students, with great success. Taste test coordinators Mercia Ckaba-Thomas (FoodCorps), Zoe Grodsky (CCFSC), Lily Chaleff (Cultivating Community) and Cowens-Gasbarro offered samples and collected feedback from over 250 students with the support of students from USM Professor Jamie Picardy’s “Food, Power, and Social Justice” class and Food Fuels Learning (FFL) high school interns, Anna Behuniak (Portland) and Leaticia Hannah (Deering).

“I would absolutely be more interested in school lunch, especially if this dish was served.” reported one Casco Bay student. Other recipes expected to be tested are chickpeas and chicken over jollof rice and a chicken and spinach stew. A second student taste test is slated for May 19.

In addition to voting and short-form feedback on the day of the taste tests, students are able to sign up to participate in one-hour focus groups. These sessions aim to gather more in-depth insights on cultural representation in school meals and how to better create an inclusive cafeteria environment that is reflective of the diverse student body here in Portland. The three focus groups are coordinated by Kristina Kalolo (CCFSC) along with facilitation training and support for the FFL interns so they can lead their peers in these conversations.

Professor Picardy’s USM students will conduct data analysis of the feedback to help inform the next stages of the project. Youth leadership and youth voice are centered in each step as an important part of the long-term success of this work. Last year, FFL interns conducted a survey on school meals that received feedback from over 800 students. A main takeaway was that there is a strong desire for more culturally representative and culturally important foods in school meals. This project is an extension of the findings that emerged from this student-led research.

Project members Chaleff, Kalolo, and Cowens-Gasbarro recently presented at a Maine Farm to School Network meeting about this work, with the hope that other districts across the state will be inspired and take on similar work to build more equitable and representative school meals. To learn more about how this work unfolds, you can subscribe to the FFL newsletter at and follow Food Fuels Learning on Facebook.

If the project is successful at the high school level, the district would consider adding culturally important menu items in the middle and elementary school lunch program in the future.

Third Grade Students Send Hygiene Kits to Ukrainian Refugees in Poland

Third grade students from MSAD 72’s Molly Ockett School collected and assembled hygiene kits for Ukrainian refugees in Poland recently as part of a school project. Assisted by their teacher Brian Cushing, the students assembled the kits and sent them with friends who are traveling to volunteer at the World Food Kitchen and can deliver the kits to a nearby Ukrainian Refugee Center in Poland, which is ten miles from Ukrainian border.

“I am so proud of my students and their international outreach,” said Cushing.

Pictured is a collection of student artwork and messages, in Ukrainian that students included with the two suitcases of care kits.

Keeping Up with a Fast Growing Multilingual Learner Population: Merrymeeting’s Story

This article was written by Paul Elisha, Academic Counselor for Merrymeeting Adult Education.

When I first started working as the Academic Counselor at Merrymeeting Adult Education in 2010, our Multilingual Learner (formerly referred to as English Language Learner [ELL] or English Learner [EL]) program consisted of one English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class, one teacher, and about eight students. For the next nine years, our ESOL program fluctuated from 5 to 20 students, one to three teachers, and one to three classes. So in the fall of 2019, when I received a call from Carol Kalajainen of the Midcoast New Mainers Group saying they had about 30 asylum seekers coming to the Brunswick area who were in need of ESOL classes, I panicked inside.

Up until that phone call with Carol, I had never heard of the Midcoast New Mainers Group. I quickly discovered that they are a non-profit, faith-based group of volunteers committed to helping New Mainers get the resources and support they need to reach sustainability and establish a sense of belonging in the local community. They were eager to get the wave of asylum seekers coming to the Brunswick area connected with free English classes as soon as possible. Our first problem, however, was that none of the asylum seekers had reliable transportation to get to our classes in Topsham or Bath. When it became evident that a majority of them were moving into housing on the Brunswick Landing near the Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) Midcoast Campus, we reached out to our partners over there. They graciously provided free classroom space in the University of Maine at Augusta (UMA) Brunswick Center.

We immediately utilized the space at UMA Brunswick to do intakes, advising, CASAS testing, and classes with students. The location was ideal, but within a couple of weeks we found ourselves on the brink of being removed from campus due to one big issue: noise control. The asylum seeking families had no childcare set up, so they were bringing their young toddlers and babies to class. While UMA and SMCC were conducting college classes in the building, little kids were running around playing and yelling to each other in the lobby and moms were consoling screaming babies in the hallways.

Carol and I brainstormed the situation and the Midcoast New Mainers Group stepped in to help these families access childcare at the local Head Start and other daycares in the area. Carol and I remained in constant communication to ensure, to the best of our abilities, that classes were held during times that families had access to childcare.

As an additional resource, we were able to utilize Midcoast Literacy, a non-profit organization in Bath that provides free literacy education. Midcoast Literacy connected all of our new Multilingual Learner students with an English tutor. Arrangements were made for tutors and students to meet on the SMCC Midcoast Campus or at Curtis Memorial Library to ensure that tutoring sessions were within walking distance from where most of the asylum seekers lived.

Just as it seemed we were starting to get our feet under us in being able to serve a Multilingual Learner population three times bigger than what we were used to, COVID-19 hit. With an amazing display of flexibility, patience, and creativity, our ESOL teachers dove into conducting their classes over Zoom. The Midcoast New Mainers Group worked with both Midcoast Literacy and Bowdoin College to provide refurbished computers, laptops or tablets/iPADS to asylum seekers for them to connect with our classes and their Midcoast Literacy tutors online.

Over time, as things gradually opened back up from the pandemic, Kelli Park, one of our ESOL teachers, helped get our Multilingual Learner families outside and connected to the community. She partnered with the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust to hold outdoor potlucks and community gatherings on the Brunswick Landing (conveniently located near where a lot of our Multilingual Learner families live). This has encouraged a lot of our Multilingual Learner students to dive into learning English by immersion as they share conversation, food, music and games with each other.

As more asylum seeking families and refugees from Afghanistan move into the Brunswick area, Merrymeeting Adult Education continues to seek ways that we can grow our ESOL programming. We currently offer 10 different ESOL classes from the Beginner to Advanced levels (three of them are in-person at the UMA Brunswick Center and seven are on Zoom). We hold two in-person Accent classes at our Topsham center for Intermediate and Advanced Multilingual Learner students. Plus, we are running for the first time this April a Multilingual Learner Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Preparation Course and Northstar Digital Literacy Course for Intermediate and Advanced Multilingual Learner students interested in becoming a CNA and/or enhancing their computer skills for the workforce.

Now, in addition to having seven ESOL teachers on staff, we have also hired an interpreter, Benedita Kakhuba, who is fluent in English, Portuguese, French, Lingala and Spanish. Benedita and her family are asylum seekers from Angola. Back in the 20-21 school year, she went through our Maine College & Career Access Program to gain acceptance into Southern Maine Community College, where she currently attends part-time. As Benedita takes classes toward a degree in Business Administration, she works for us and for the Immigration Resource Center of Maine as their Housing Assistance Specialist to provide language assistance and cultural brokering services for New Mainers applying for the emergency rental assistance program. Her linguistic skills and passion for helping New Mainers gain opportunities to increase their English language skills has greatly enhanced our ESOL programming.

The Midcoast New Mainers Group continues to support our Multilingual Learner students by coordinating volunteer transportation to and from our Topsham and Bath locations for intakes, academic advising, and CASAS testing appointments. In addition, the Midcoast New Mainers Group has provided funds for our Multilingual Learner students to have their high school diplomas officially translated into English, which is often the first step toward accessing college or specific job opportunities. Plus, they have partnered with a dozen or so businesses in the Brunswick area who are committed to hiring New Mainers as soon as they receive their work permits.

When I received that initial call from Carol Kalajainen back in 2019, I had no idea how we were going to meet the academic needs of a Multilingual Learner population which was three times the size of what we were used to. I did not feel ready. Looking back, I realize that if it wasn’t for the Midcoast New Mainers Group, Midcoast Literacy, UMA Brunswick, SMCC, Curtis Memorial Library, Bowdoin College, Brunswick Topsham Land Trust, the many businesses in our area committed to providing jobs for our Multilingual Learner students, and the flexibility, ingenuity, hard work and passion of the teachers and staff at Merrymeeting Adult Education, we would not be where we are today. I have learned that it is important to tap into every resource our community has to offer when serving our students. I’m incredibly grateful for all of our local partners and community members who have stepped up to help our New Mainers feel welcome and at home here in Brunswick, Maine.