MEDIA RELEASE: Mills Administration Updates COVID-19 School Health Advisory System

For Immediate Release
Contact:  Kelli Deveaux, Director of Communications

All counties remain green; Androscoggin and Oxford counties closely monitored

AUGUSTA — The Mills Administration today released an update to its color-coded Health Advisory System that classifies counties’ relative risk of COVID-19 transmission to assist schools as they continue with their efforts to deliver instruction and support students safely.

ALL COUNTIES GREEN, although Androscoggin and Oxford counties will be closely monitored. Statewide, both new case rates and positivity rates have increased in the last two weeks, but for the purpose of in-person learning, all counties remain within the green categorization. Androscoggin County has experienced a significant increase in its two-week new case rate, now 51.4 per 10,000, due in part to the outbreak at Bates College. Oxford County’s positivity rate has risen to 6.1 percent and its new case rate to 40.5 per 10,000. As such, trends in these counties will be closely monitored.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) continue to review evidence that indicates lower transmission of COVID-19 in schools compared to the general population.

Over the last 30 days, the rate of new cases for school staff and students is 37 per 10,000, about 25 percent lower than a new case rate of 50 per 10,000 for the general population.  This continues to demonstrate that in-person learning in schools that follow public health precautions can be conducted safely, without increased transmission of COVID-19, and supports schools’ adherence to the six requirements for returning to in-person instruction and protocols for identifying close contacts that are found in the Standard Operating Procedure for a positive case in schools, regardless of their county color designation.

These designations are provided for the consideration of school administrative units in their decisions on how best to safely deliver instruction.

The county-level assessments are based on both quantitative and qualitative data, including but not limited to recent case rates, positivity rates, and syndromic data (e.g., symptoms of influenza or COVID-19). Those data are publicly posted every week on the Maine CDC website. DHHS and Maine CDC also consider qualitative factors, such as the presence of outbreaks that may potentially affect school-age children. The qualitative and quantitative considerations and data used by the CDC in determining community transmission risk levels for schools can be located here: How County Risk Levels for Maine Schools are Determined

The Health Advisory System categorizations are defined as follows:

  • GREEN: Categorization as “green” suggests that the county has a relatively low risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider in-person instruction, as long as they are able to implement the required health and safety measures.  Schools in a “green” county may need to use hybrid instruction models if there is insufficient capacity or other factors (facilities, staffing, geography/transportation, etc.) that may prevent full implementation of the health and safety requirements.
  • YELLOW: Categorization as “yellow” suggests that that the county has an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider additional precautions and/or hybrid instructional models to reduce the number of people in schools and classrooms at any one time.
  • RED: Categorization as “red” suggests that the county has a high risk of COVID-19 spread and that in-person instruction is not advisable.

The next update will be provided on April 23, 2021. Updating this advisory on a two-week basis aligns with the incubation period for COVID-19 and allows for greater stability in the trend data for small counties.

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The Portland Public Schools Is Grand Prize Winner for Equity Work

Portland Public Schools has been recognized for its commitment to equity as a Grand Prize winner in the National School Boards Association (NSBA) 2021 Magna Awards program. This is the first time in that program’s 27-year history that a Maine school district has been recognized with a Magna Award for its equity work.

The annual Magna Awards honor school districts across the country for programs that advance equity and break down barriers for underserved students. PPS, Maine’s largest and most diverse school district, won for one of our signature programs: Make It Happen! – a college readiness program that helps multilingual students build competitive academic profiles for college admission and financial aid.

An independent panel of school board members, administrators, and other educators selected the 15 winners – three Grand Prize winners and 12 first place winners. PPS is the Grand Prize winner in the category of districts with enrollment between 5,000 and 20,000 students. The other two Grand Prize winners were Massachusetts’s Mashpee Public Schools, which won in the under-5,000-enrollment category, and Michigan’s Detroit Public Schools, which was the winner for districts with more than 20,000 students.  This is the fourth year that the Magna Awards program has recognized school districts and their leaders for their efforts to bring educational equity to their students. It is believed that PPS is the first Maine school district ever to win a Magna Award.

“We are thrilled and honored to be chosen as a Grand Prize winner for our work to achieve equity for all our students, which is the central goal of our Portland Promise, the district’s strategic plan,” said PPS Superintendent Xavier Botana. “This recognition shines a national spotlight on the need to remove barriers to equity at a particularly important time, when the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the longstanding disparities that exist between different groups of students in our schools. Programs like Make It Happen! are vital to helping address these disparities, but there is much more we need to do. That is why my proposed FY22 school budget targets resources to the students to whom we owe the largest educational debt: those who are learning English, have disabilities or are alienated in our schools.”

Make It Happen!, founded 14 years ago, is a program of the district’s Multilingual & Multicultural Center. It’s a college-readiness and academic success program for language minority students in grades 9 through 12, and is designed to help students raise and realize their academic aspirations. The program provides students with personalized and structured academic support to ensure their success in school and help prepare them for college. Many graduates of the program are the first in their families to attend an institute of higher education.

Steve Bailey, Executive Director of the Maine School Management Association, said that Make It Happen! “is designed to meet students where they are and assist them in achieving their goal through personalized support.” Make It Happen! site coordinators and volunteer academic coaches, recruited from the community, help students take challenging classes, develop strong college applications, and engage in civic and leadership activities.

Diora Ndagano, a senior at Deering High School, said, “I joined Make It Happen! right after I arrived at Deering. I was an immigrant and I didn’t know anything about the education system in America, but with the help of the Make It Happen! program, I was able to adapt to school and apply to college. That’s how amazing that program was to me.”

In addition to bringing national attention to the district’s ongoing equity work, the Grand Prize includes a $5,000 grant that the district will use as a foundational investment to establish a college scholarship fund for students who participate in the Make It Happen! Program. The district plans to leverage this money to grow the fund. More details around the “Make it Happen Scholarship Fund” will be announced later this spring.

“2020 was a year like no other,” said NSBA Executive Director and CEO Anna Maria Chávez. “The 2021 Magna Award-winning districts represent the enormous efforts of school leaders during the pandemic to continue removing barriers to achievement for their underserved and vulnerable students.”

“The Portland Public Schools is very grateful to have our equity work recognized nationally,” said Portland Board of Public Education Chair Emily Figdor. “Achieving equity,  the centerpiece of our Portland Promise goals, is essential for us to fully realize our other strategic plan goals – achievement, whole student and people.”

The 27th annual Magna Awards program is sponsored by the National School Boards Association’s flagship magazine, American School Board Journal (ASBJ). PPS’ Grand Prize win is highlighted in the April issue of ASBJ. Read about the award-winning Make It Happen! program and the two other Grand Prize-winning districts at nsba.org/ASBJ/2021/april/grand-prize-magna-awards programs.

Information for this article was provided by Portland Public Schools as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. The Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign is an avenue for Maine schools to celebrate successes and share innovative ideas, practices, and models that can be adapted and easily implemented by other Maine schools. Stories are not an endorsement of specific materials, services, or practices and are not intended to promote learning programs that are of cost to students, families, or schools. To submit a story or an idea, email it to Rachel at rachel.paling@maine.gov. 

Deering High School Senior Is Top Winner at Maine State Science Fair

Linh Nguyen, a senior at Deering High School, is the First Place Grand Award winner in the 2021 Maine State Science Fair. Nguyen came out on top among the nearly 160 students competing for prestigious state titles and more than $1 million in scholarships and awards. She won for her research on how carbon nanotubes could be used as an inexpensive remover of arsenic in drinking water systems.

In other news, Nguyen also was named on April 8 as a Cooke College Scholar, one of just 61 students nationwide to receive that prestigious honor – and the only one from Maine. The Cooke College Scholars receive up to $40,000 annually for up to four years to attend the college or university of their choice, in addition to comprehensive advising and other program support.

Celebrating its 75th year, the Maine State Science Fair (MSSF) is organized by The Jackson Laboratory and Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance (MMSA). This year’s event took place virtually on April 3, and 157 students representing 23 Maine schools tuned in to present virtual research or engineering projects to a panel of judges and attend events.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, was the keynote speaker. Dr. Shah encouraged the students to communicate their science clearly to non-scientific audiences. “Just as important as learning the tools of science are learning the tools of science communication,” Shah said. “The principle that I always keep in my mind [when answering a scientific question] is you shouldn’t tell them how to build a clock, you should tell them what time it is, because that’s what they are really interested in.”

Nguyen’s research project has a very practical application. She won for her work titled “Applications of Carbon Nanotube Based Sorbents for Removal of Arsenic from Polluted Water.” She studied how carbon nanotubes could be used as an inexpensive remover of arsenic in drinking water systems, including private wells where arsenic contamination is prevalent. A nanotube is a microscopic tube whose diameter is measured in nanometers.

Nguyen was one of three Grand Award winners – students whose MSSF projects were judged to be at the top overall.

The Second Place Grand Award winner was Vetri Vel, a Bangor High School senior, who won for improving his fall-detection software that uses a thermal-imaging detector of his own creation. His system could help elderly people living alone detect falls and send a call for help. Mateus Nascimento, a junior at Brunswick High School, won the Third Place Grand Award for his project titled: “Animals Talk: Understanding Silk Moth Communication through Detection of Pheromones with an Electronic Nose.”

The three MSSF Grand Award winners are invited to form the Maine delegation to the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. This is a significant honor and speaks to the quality and significance of the student’s research or engineering project. This year, the Regeneron ISEF is virtual and will be held in May. Regeneron ISEF is a competition with significant financial and scholarship awards.

In addition to winning the MSSF First Place Grand Award, Nguyen placed first in the Environmental Engineering category award. Nguyen also was the recipient of the first Cary James Water Ride Scholarship, a $5,000 scholarship that she can apply to the college of her choice.

Also, Nguyen was notified April 8 by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation that she is one of their  2021 Cooke College Scholars. This year’s 61 recipients were chosen from a pool of more than 5,800 applicants nationwide. The Cooke College Scholarship Program seeks to close the gaps in higher education access for driven students with financial need. Along with financial support, Cooke College Scholars will receive ongoing educational advising and opportunities for internships, study abroad, and access to graduate school funding.

“Linh is the kind of student who inspires everyone around her. She is driven by her curiosity and she is not afraid of putting in the hard work needed to accomplish any task,” said Deering science teacher Cyle Davenport. “As someone fortunate enough to have her in two of my classes, I can say that her success at the MSSF is completely deserved. Linh does not give up. All of her teachers are overwhelmed with pride for this young woman; and we are all eager to see what she does next.”

Deering school counselor Libby Heselton said, “Linh is highly conscientious and determined, with an outstanding work ethic. She seeks to understand concepts rather than just complete assignments, and adds to her classmates’ learning with probing questions that tie back to ‘why this matters.’ She is all about collaborative problem solving. Linh’s character outshines even her academics.  Accordingly, she has the very difficult decision of choosing among Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale.”

“The Portland Public Schools is extremely proud of this talented, hardworking student,” said Superintendent Xavier Botana. “One of the primary goals of our Portland Promise, the district’s strategic plan, is to empower and prepare our students for 21st century careers, and STEM learning is key to achieving that goal. Linh’s work stands out. Her STEM knowledge is impressive and she used it to solve an important problem. She is an all-around student  leader and excels in everything she does. The credit goes to her and also to her teachers and others who have supported her along the way. We look forward to seeing all the ways in which Linh will continue to achieve in the future.”

Learn more about other Maine State  Science Fair awards and scholarship winners.

“This year’s Maine State Science Fair was an inspiring showcase of the STEM talent being fostered in Maine high schools,” said Michael McKernan, Program Director for STEM and Undergraduate Education at The Jackson Laboratory and a co-director of the Science Fair. “Students presented projects that were both highly creative and also relevant to pervasive issues in Maine.”

“It has been awe-inspiring to see the achievements of Maine’s students as the Science Fair has grown to involve more schools and educators from across the state,” said Dr. Ruth Kermish-Allen, executive director of the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance (MMSA). “Our young people are creating outstanding scientific research that truly can make a difference in the world, and we are able to recognize those efforts through increased scholarships to diverse higher education options available to MSSF students. The creativity and innovation we see in these complex scientific studies highlights the amazing talents of Maine’s next generation of leaders.”

Information for this article was provided by Portland Public Schools as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. The Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign is an avenue for Maine schools to celebrate successes and share innovative ideas, practices, and models that can be adapted and easily implemented by other Maine schools. Stories are not an endorsement of specific materials, services, or practices and are not intended to promote learning programs that are of cost to students, families, or schools. To submit a story or an idea, email it to Rachel at rachel.paling@maine.gov. 

How “Time Flies” at Bangor High School’s Visual and Performing Arts Academy

As part of Bangor educator Eric Hutchins’ Graphic Design class, the students learn how art is used in everyday life, especially how it plays an such a big role in the commercial world today.

Serving as the second class for students focusing on a graphic art pathway that is frequently taken by students in the Visual and Performing Arts Academy (VPA) program at Bangor High School, the students focus on how to use computer software to create interesting works of art. As a start they learn about the importance of text in graphic art, how it can be used, and why just choosing any font is not the right thing to do.

“The images you see are examples of their first text project in the class where students chose statements that are considered ‘cliche’ and then they recreate them visually only using text,” explains Hutchins.

Over the course of the semester students recreate a package for a product. They measure the packaging, create a template, and then create the imagery and designs for the product. They also create business cards, book jackets, album covers, board game designs and movie posters over the course of the class.

“This is a unique class because it teaches students the importance of art in our society, and that a graphic designer’s artwork is everywhere,” added Hutchins.

Students that take the graphic arts pathway at Bangor High School’s VPA Academy traditionally take photography, digital art, graphic design and then their senior year take Advanced Placement 2D Design and submit a portfolio to be graded for college credit.

Information for this article was provided by the Bangor School Department as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. The Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign is an avenue for Maine schools to celebrate successes and share innovative ideas, practices, and models that can be adapted and easily implemented by other Maine schools. Stories are not an endorsement of specific materials, services, or practices and are not intended to promote learning programs that are of cost to students, families, or schools. To submit a story or an idea, email it to Rachel at rachel.paling@maine.gov. 

Bangor Student Wins Sixth in the Nation in Science Talent Search

The Bangor School Department is proud to congratulate Vetri Vel ’21 for winning sixth place in the 2021 Regeneron Science Talent Search, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. Vetri received an $80,000 award for his project engineering a deep learning system that combines a small computer and thermal camera to detect heat signatures of a fallen person. Upon recognition of a fall, the system will immediately text for help. 

Historically held in person in Washington, D.C., this is the second year in its 80-year history that the competition took place virtually to keep the finalists and their families safe during the ongoing pandemic. Forty finalists were honored during a virtual ceremony March 17, and more than $1.8 million was awarded to the finalists, who were evaluated based on their projects’ scientific rigor, their exceptional problem-solving abilities, and their potential to become scientific leaders. 

Barbara Stewart, Chair of the BHS Science Department, has also been named a Teacher of Merit by Regeneron Science Talent Search 2021. Bangor High School will receive $2,000 to promote student research in STEM fields. 

“Congratulations to the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2021 winners,” said Maya Ajmera, President and CEO of Society for Science, Publisher of Science News and 1985 Science Talent Search alumna. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, students have shown incredible resilience and perseverance in the face of new obstacles, conducting rigorous research, while navigating an uncertain world. These young people are the stewards of our future and I could not be more inspired by their hard work and pure grit.” 

The Regeneron Science Talent Search provides a national stage for future leaders in STEM – bringing together the best and brightest young minds to present their original research ideas to leading scientists. The competition celebrates the hard work, innovative thinking, leadership qualities and creativity of students who are bringing a fresh perspective to solving significant global challenges through rigorous research and cutting-edge discoveries. The judging panel also considers how these research efforts, innovative thinking and leadership qualities demonstrate the students’ potential to become future leaders in critical STEM fields. 

At BHS, Vetri is a varsity runner, a member of the science bowl team, and captain and top-ranked scorer on the varsity math team. He also volunteers as a virtual math tutor for his peers. He has also been accepted to MIT in the Fall of 2021. Vetri’s winning project is described below:

Project Title: Real-Time Fall Detection System for the Elderly Using Thermal Imaging and Deep Learning 

Vetri developed a wall mounted, real-time fall detection system for his Regeneron Science Talent Search engineering project. Distressed that an elderly neighbor had lain unassisted after a fall for nearly a day, Vetri engineered a hands-free solution that could immediately text for help after detecting a fall. He interfaced an inexpensive microcomputer with a thermal camera, collected room images that did or did not include a fallen person, and used them to train a neural network. At an average accuracy above 98 percent, his deep learning system distinguished between a fallen person and those sitting, standing, or sleeping, as well as nonhuman heat sources, such as pets. His approach also preserves privacy by relying solely on heat signatures for recognition. Vetri’s detection system may decrease future hospitalizations and deaths after a fall, which is a leading cause of fatalities among seniors.

Information for this article was provided by the Bangor School Department as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. The Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign is an avenue for Maine schools to celebrate successes and share innovative ideas, practices, and models that can be adapted and easily implemented by other Maine schools. Stories are not an endorsement of specific materials, services, or practices and are not intended to promote learning programs that are of cost to students, families, or schools. To submit a story or an idea, email it to Rachel at rachel.paling@maine.gov.