United Way of Mid-Maine’s annual Stuff the Bus event a great success

The Mid-Maine community showed up in force to support local school children on Thursday, August 8, donating about $25,000 worth of school supplies and other classroom essentials at the United Way of Mid-Maine’s Annual Stuff the Bus event.

One supporter shared her story with us: “It wasn’t too long ago that a bag showed up on my doorstep… I was 11 years old… it was filled with school supplies. At the time I couldn’t understand how a garbage bag filled with papers and pencils would make my sweet Momma cry….”

Donations this year included traditional school supplies such as backpacks, notebooks, and folders, and also highly-requested items from local schools: socks, sneakers, tissues, sanitizing wipes, and classroom snacks.

Supplies will be delivered to Mid-Maine school districts over the next two weeks. Families seeking school supplies for their children can contact their school superintendent’s office for information on how the supplies will be distributed.

Kennebec Savings Bank sponsored this year’s Stuff the Bus event, and Maine Technology Group was the media sponsor.

Mid-Maine Chamber gift checks

Thanks to the generosity of Kennebec Savings Bank, Mid-Maine Chamber Gift Certificheck sponsor, it is able to now offer increased options when purchasing gift checks with the introduction of the $5 check. Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce Gift Checks now come in denominations of $5, $10, $25 and $50.

Mid-Maine Chamber Gift Checks are available for purchase at the Mid-Maine Chamber, M-F, 8A – 5P and can be used at approximately 180 area Mid-ME Chamber member businesses. Since its inception in 1997, Mid-ME Chamber has sold over $1.3 million in gift checks, thereby providing the sale to our member businesses, keeping the money in our local economy.

He shoots, he scores!

Central Maine Spartans player Chase Lawler, 7, scored a goal during the Central Maine LAX Jam on June 9. (photo by Sarah Fredette, Central Maine Photography staff)

 

(photo by Sarah Fredette, Central Maine Photography staff)

KBH announces college scholarship recipients

Kennebec Behavioral Health has announced its 2019 college scholarship recipients. This year, the following students will each receive a $1,000 scholarship upon successful completion of their first semester at their chosen college or university.

Local recipients include:

  • Leah Allee, Cony High School, Augusta.
  • Jenna Butler, Erskine Academy, South China.
  • Brenna Saucier, Lawrence High School, Fairfield.
  • Sydney Noonan, Skowhegan High School, Skowhegan.
  • Aubrey Fossett, Waterville High School, Waterville.
  • Dakota Estes, Winslow High School, Winslow.

Mid-Maine Chamber welcomes new marketing director

Courtney Squire (photo from Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce)

Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, located in Waterville, welcomes Courtney Squire as its new marketing and development coordinator. Courtney graduated from Kennebec Valley Community College, in Fairfield, with an associate in marketing management and administration this spring. She is a Fairfield native, born and raised with roots that branch from Northern Maine all the way to Northern California. Traveling to and from the West Coast her whole life, she’s always enjoyed seeing how marketing strategies differ from state to state.

Her previous experience includes management and service work. Courtney has a passion for the business environment, public relations, marketing, and leadership. She is excited to grow with the chamber and become a valued asset. She offers the team her strong interpersonal skills, and sharp eye for detail.

 

 

 

Area Scouts hold service to camp camporee

Camp Bomazeen (photo credit: Camp Bomazeen, BSA Maine)

On the weekend of May 17-19, 100 Scouts and leaders from across Kennebec Valley District, BSA, attended the Spring Camporee at Camp Bomazeen on the shore of Great Pond, in Belgrade. The theme of the camporee was Service to Camp. Friday evening a planning meeting was held where project assignments were handed out to each youth leader for Saturday morning. On Saturday morning, an additional 20 youth and leaders arrived. Together with the weekend campers, they put in over 400 hours of service preparing Camp Bomazeen for the summer season by cleaning up the campsites and clearing brush. Some leaders transported new tent platforms out to the campsites, while others cleared away trees felled by winter storms. Another group of adult volunteers started construction on a new staff cabin.

In the afternoon, several activities were held for the scouts as a thank you for their service. Some of the more popular events included: the Gaga Pit, a version of dodge ball; Catch the Snappah, where scouts lashed together a fishing pole to catch mouse traps, each one marked with what they caught such as an old boot, shark, or large fish; and Hula Hoop Circle, where the scouts joined hands in a circle and had to move one or more hula hoops around the circle without letting go of the hands of the others.

While the service and activities took place, about 12 new volunteer leaders completed Introduction to Outdoor Leader Skills training to help them safely take youth out on future camping trips. At the Saturday evening campfire, there were songs and skits. Near the end of the program, 31 youth and leaders were recognized for being elected into the Order of the Arrow, the BSA’s national honor society.

The following units participated in the camporee for the weekend: Troops 142, 200, 207, 446, 454, 586, & 622. Crew 254. Packs 603 and 622. Troop #199 attended during the day on Saturday. Kennebec Valley District provides support to young boys and girls ages 6 to 20 in various Boy Scout programs in five Maine counties: Kennebec, Somerset, Franklin, Lincoln, & Knox. If you would like to learn more about our organization, please search for Kennebec Valley District, BSA on Facebook or go to the Pine Tree Council website: http://www.pinetreebsa.org/

Allowing community voice to define school success

 

The front entrance at Messalonskee High School (photo source: jmg.org)

by Mandi Favreau

How we measure the success of a school can have a profound impact on a community. Potential residents and businesses alike tend to use online school information to make decisions about which communities they choose. But are current measures giving the public the full picture of what a school can offer students, families, and communities?

Many state and national school assessment systems rely heavily on standardized test scores to make their determinations about the success of schools.  The federal government also attaches millions of dollars in funding to the process by using state assessments to identify schools that need support. This reliance on limited data points does a disservice to schools and students.

“Standardized tests can help us design interventions for individual students and help us examine our overall programming, but one test does not paint the entire picture of our schools or our students,” said Superintendent Carl Gartley.

“Our students learn differently, and they demonstrate success differently.  Any teacher you ask could name several students for whom a standardized test is not going to show their strengths. These students deserve to be represented when we talk about our schools.”

Current measures of success do not highlight a school’s strong arts or media program. They give no acknowledgment to the special education and intervention programs that the school provides beyond the performance of students with disabilities on assessments.

The Maine Department of Education is currently working to develop a more well-rounded system. “The first step is to get the conversation going statewide with students, teachers, parents – all of the stakeholders,” said Mary Paine, Director of the Commissioner of Education’s Office of School Success. “We need to develop a more complete set of indicators of success by identifying common values, asking the public what matters beyond the indicators that are being used currently.”

To that end, a team from the DOE, lead by Paine, came to RSU #18 in mid-May to meet with small groups of students and educators across several grade levels. They spoke with about 10 students per grade level and a group of educators from across the district and from a variety of content areas. The conversation was focused on what is working in the district – what makes our schools successful.

Even given the small number of participants in this first round of conversations, common values emerged in RSU #18, such as the importance of relationships. Students spoke of strong connections with their teachers, and teachers spoke of good working relationships with their administration. Safety was also mentioned, particularly by the students. They said they felt safe both within our buildings and walking to school. Teachers mentioned the importance of collaborative time. Healthy social settings were also valued.

These conversations, along with a community dialogue in RSU #38, will be used to inform the development of a flexible framework that can be used locally and by the state to portray authentic, relevant indicators of success based on the statewide and local conversations.

“It needs to be authentic and we want it to ensure that the indicators are backed by evidence,” said Paine. She believes that it does not necessarily need to come down to numbers, or at least not the usual numbers. “One goal of the statewide conversation is to gather ideas about what the framework might look like. How do we capture and provide evidence for qualitative measures such as strong relationships, community involvement, unique programs and opportunities that are provided to students, or strong career and technical skills programs?” Paine says that even in the early stages of the conversation, these are the kinds of things that matter and that we need to find a way to communicate.

“The questions really focus on what people look for in a successful school and whether those features exist in their district,” said Paine. The resulting data would not only provide a more complete picture of a school for state and national reports but would also provide school districts with valuable information about what is working and what they might work to improve.

School rating websites are already making an effort to change their assessment models. Paine hopes that if the state can supply them with more accurate and complete information, it gives them something relevant that they can use. GreatSchools.org, considered to be one of the better school ranking sites, lists Maine as one of the states that does not “have sufficient information to generate a Summary Rating.” In those cases, the site defaults to test scores as their overall rating. This makes this project doubly important for Maine schools to be able to provide an accurate reflection of what our schools’ offer. But Paine cautions, “We in no way wish to generate another system of rating and ranking. That is the antithesis of public school.” The added benefit to the new approach is that it also moves the dialogue away from ranking and comparison which can create false impressions.

“When it comes to bringing people to our state, cities, and towns and encouraging them to stay, we couldn’t do anything more important than to make sure that the real value to be found in our schools is seen and heard,” said Paine in recent material focusing on the project.

The DOE plans to come back to RSU #18 in the fall and to open the conversation up to community members. “We also want to talk with more students,” said Paine, “their voices are incredibly important.”

Unity College 2019 graduates: Be prepared for change

by Jeanne Marquis

The theme heard at the Unity College graduation ceremony, on May 11, 2019, was the importance of being prepared for the changing world ahead. New graduates will need to do more than survive change but lead the way for others. Those who will thrive, in the decades to come, will fearlessly embrace challenges by having a deep understanding of the world and possessing the unique skills to solve 21st Century problems.

Unity College President Melik Peter Khoury announced to the 130 graduates of Unity college and their families: “Class of 2019, you have the foundation and the pedigree needed to take the next steps into this challenging green economy on a global scale. And I speak for all of us here at Unity College when I say that we cannot wait to see what those next steps are. Please, share your stories, share your successes and share your adventures.”

Retired United States Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills delivered the 2019 Commencement address and was bestowed with an honorary doctorate in sustainability sciences. While on patrol in April 2012, SSG Mills was critically injured by an IED on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan. He is one of only five quadruple amputees who survived from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His inspiring spirit turned his overwhelming challenges into success. After his hard road to recovery, he established the Travis Mills foundation to help other wounded veterans and wrote a New York Times best seller, Tough as They Come. Travis Mills, with a sense of humor, encouraged the graduates to embrace their own challenges – “I had one really bad at work. Then, I went on to have seven fabulous years since that day.”

The philosophy of embracing change has been deeply ingrained in Unity College since its establishment in 1967. The college founder Bert Clifford envisioned that building a college would secure their town’s future in an era when rural towns were declining nationwide. Clifford’s vision came to fruition with a college that serves the local region and attracts students nationwide.

Raymond Hall, a 2019 recipient of a master’s degree, selected Unity College Online after his own intensive search He found the academic rigor to be competitive, and the online format worked with the demands of his position as a safety specialist of environment protection at University of Texas — MD Andersen Cancer Center, in Houston, Texas. (photos by Jeannie Marquis)

In recent years, Unity College also demonstrated resilience and embraced change. The college leaders’ keen ability to forecast future global needs transformed Unity college into America’s first environmental college.

All areas of study at Unity College blend academic rigor with hands-on field work and a goal of teaching students to translate their knowledge into sustainable solutions. Among their majors are Sustainable Agriculture, Biology, Marine Biology, Captive Wildlife Care and Education, Parks and forest Resources, Environmental Writing and Media studies, Wildlife and Fisheries Management, Sustainable Energy Management and Conservation Law Enforcement.

Nolan Allen, a 2019 graduate with a degree in Conservation Law Enforcement, has accepted a position as an officer on the Fairfield Police Department. Allen chose Unity College because of the flexible law enforcement major that provides him with a variety of career options. He appreciated the low student to faculty ratio, 15 to one, which gave him the chance to get to know his professors.

Recognizing a growing need for distance education, college administrators once again embraced this change and developed Unity College Online offering bachelor’s, master’s and non-degree credits. Distance education provides the flexibility, while maintaining the same high standards to reach out to professions who seek to advance their careers. Unity College Online is fully accredited and most of the online faculty are fulltime faculty or are leading experts in their fields. The online capability provides Unity College to reach students globally and provide students with more diverse field experiences.

Raymond Hall, a 2019 recipient of a master’s degree, selected Unity College Online after his own intensive search. He found the academic rigor to be competitive, and the online format worked with the demands of his position as a safety specialist of environment protection at University of Texas—MD Andersen Cancer Center, in Houston, Texas. Hall says the emphasis on problem-solving throughout the the college course work has prepared him well for challenges that lie ahead.

 

 

 

Pfeiffer: School budget no impact on local taxes

by Mary Grow

The good news about Vassalboro’s 2019-2020 school budget, which totals more than $7.7 million, is that it is more than $26,000 lower than the current year’s budget. It will have no impact on the local tax rate, and no adverse effect on local education.

Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer said the major reason for the lower budget is the tuition account, which is lower because more Vassalboro students are graduating from high school than are entering.

Within the budget is a request for state approval for two new school buses, instead of the usual one a year, justified by the age and condition of Vassalboro’s fleet. Pfeiffer said bus repair costs are rising steadily.

Many other budget lines are flat or nearly so, Pfeiffer said. The only planned staff increase is a change from a half-time contracted social worker to a full-time employee.

The 2019-2020 school budget is in Articles 49 through 63 of the warrant for the June 3 town meeting. On June 11, voters will accept or reject the June 3 decision. The June 3 meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at Vassalboro Community School (VCS); June 11 written-ballot voting will be from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the town office.

The good news about Vassalboro students is that they are welcome in the high schools they choose to attend after finishing eighth grade at VCS.

At the request of The Town Line, Pfeiffer queried officials at Winslow and Waterville high schools and Erskine Academy, in South China, about former VCS students. He got positive information from all three schools. Among Winslow High School’s graduating seniors from Vassalboro, several will be going on to college and will receive scholarships, to be announced on Class Night, according to Guidance Counselor Tom McNeil. Another senior earned her Emergency Medical Technician license through Mid-Maine Technical Center and the state; and another has a long-term internship at Vassalboro’s Duratherm Window Corporation.

“We truly value our relationship with VCS and relish the involvement of all 40 plus Vassalboro residents who attend WHS,” McNeil added.

From Waterville Senior High School, Principal Brian Laramee reported that two of the top ten students in the graduating class, including the valedictorian, attended VCS. They and five other Vassalboro students are heading for college in the fall.

Erskine Academy Headmaster Mike McQuarrie reported that four of the 32 Erskine students in a graduating class of 144 are in the top ten academically. Vassalboro students have a 100 percent graduation rate, with 30 of the 32 going on to some type of higher education and the other two enlisted in the military.

“A great contingent of young people from Vassalboro!” McQuarrie commented.

The school has received other commendations from outside its walls. In April, the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce honored Jobs for Maine Graduates head Victor Esposito as Outstanding Professional at its annual awards ceremony recognizing businesses and individuals for community service.

The good news about the Vassalboro School Board is that members are not resting on these successes, but continue looking for ways to help students even more. At their May 21 board meeting, they discussed tentative plans for a strategic planning workshop to look at goals for the next five years.

Possible topics include programs, textbooks, keeping up with technology and physical plant needs – Pfeiffer often praises building maintenance, but points out that VCS is now 27 years old.

Poverty and trauma make demands on every school, Pfeiffer observed, and “Money will always be a problem.”

Following the path of foster care youth program

Sergei Bing, left, and Jillian Cadman. (photo: JMG)

by Jessica Roderick

As the JMG College Success Specialist at Kennebec Valley Community College, it has been an honor to witness, firsthand, the incredible academic journey of Jillian Cadman and Sergei Bing. Over the past three years, I have had the privilege of watching these two grow, mature and overcome many obstacles on their path to success. Jillian and Sergei are both foster care youth who have faced some serious challenges. In fact, statistics show that only 2-3 percent of foster youth actually graduate from college. These two students ignored and beat those odds, and have proceeded to write their own stories.

Jillian graduated from KVCC this past December with an associate’s degree in early childhood education and is currently interviewing for a position within her field of study. Sergei is receiving his associate’s degree in applied electronics and computer technology from KVCC next month and has already been accepted to the University of Southern Maine where he will pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer science this fall.

Both students credit some very important support systems in place at KVCC. They were enrolled in JMG’s College Success Program, a unique college prep, bridging and attainment program that focuses on ensuring students don’t just enroll in college, but receive the support they need to attain a degree. They also received critical help from the Good Will-Hinckley College Step Up (CSU) Program, which focuses on education, life skills and network development for youth who need a supportive environment.

During a recent conversation with Sergei and Jill, they both agreed this journey has been anything but easy. They discussed their battles with anxiety, issues with self-confidence, as well as learning how to prioritize and tune out distractions. There were difficult days where they could have chosen to quit. Instead, they pushed on, proved their resilience, and were able to achieve their goals. And, I am confident that this is only the beginning. The sky is the limit for Jill and Sergei, and I cannot wait to see where the future takes them.