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February 2016: Presentations to Maine State Board of Education and Joint Legislative Committee on Education

Answering Questions2

Midcoast students present to State Board of Education, Joint Legislative Committee on Education.

Posted:  Penobscot Bay Pilot
Monday, February 15, 2016 – 3:30pm

AUGUSTA — At the request of Governor LePage, on Wednesday, Feb. 10, a group of students from Camden Hills Regional High School, Oceanside High School in Rockland, Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro, and Lincoln Academy in Newcastle made separate presentations to the State Board of Education and the Joint Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs.

Following their presentations, the students and their teachers and parents were invited by the Governor to visit him in his office in the Capitol Building. “I have spent a lot of time studying education because it is so critical to our state’s future, and I can tell you that I learned as much from your presentations as I have from most of the presentations by professional educators and lobbyists I’ve listened to over the last five years. I want our educators and legislators to hear from the students, and some of your ideas are spot on.” (Coincidentally, the following day, the Governor appointed himself to be the new Commissioner of Education.)

The students had previously presented to Gov. LePage over lunch at the Blaine House on Jan. 10 and were asked by the Governor at that time if they would come back to speak to Legislators and State Board members.

Jacqueline Russell of Camden Hill Regional High School spoke about the vulnerability to the radicalization of young Muslim immigrants if they are not integrated into our school systems. She pointed to the success of the boys’ soccer program in Lewiston as an example of how welcoming new immigrants into our schools systems creates a win-win for the students and their newly adopted communities.

Emily Davis, from Oceanside High School, talked about the high costs of college education, the over-saturated market of college graduates and whether more students should pursue vocational training to get good paying jobs instead going to college.

Stephanie Hill of Medomak Valley High School pointed to Finland’s education system of starting school at age seven produces significantly better results than traditional systems that start elementary school at five years old. She also advocated for higher teachers’ salaries in order to make teaching a more attractive profession; and, she asked why spending per school system varied so widely in Maine, and why all school districts didn’t receive equal per student funding.

Anton Kalmysh and Hindley Wang of Lincoln Academy revealed that students who took art classes, especially music, often performed significantly better than students who had no arts education. They cited numerous empirical studies supporting their thesis and advocated passionately for arts to be included in all school curricula beginning at the earliest ages. They provided the Legislators and State Board members copies of one recent study.

McKenzie Wang of Medomak Valley High School and Noah Jordan of Lincoln Academy, who presented to the Governor on Jan. 10, were unable to participate in the presentations due to prior commitments.

Following the presentations the students engaged in intensive question-and-answer conversation with both the Board of Education members and the Legislators.

Answering Questions1

“This is obviously a very challenging format”, commented Rep. Paul Stearns (R-Guilford), referring to the PechaKucha format, consisting of 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide, that the students use. “How much time did you need to prepare these presentations, and what did you learn about presenting, and what did you learn?” he asked.

In response to Stephanie Hill’s call for equal spending per student throughout the state, Sen. Peter Edgecomb (R-Caribou) noted, “It’s not so much about equal spending per student as it is fair and feasible spending, based on student populations and other factors.”

Summing it up, Committee Co-chair, Rep. Victoria Kornfield (D-Bangor), said “You should be really proud of what you have accomplished. You have each taken very complex subjects and condensed the information into a very concise presentation. You’ve all done a great job.”

Commenting afterward about the Informed Young Leaders program in general, Rep. Richard Farnsworth (D-Portland) said, “This is a fascinating program, and it was our pleasure to experience it. This would be a valuable experience for more students as we move along.”

LePage w. Students1After the presentations, the students were met with the Governor in his office, where he thanked them for their commitment to changing the educational system.  “I am so grateful for your efforts to meet with the Legislative Committee and the State Board,” he said.  “We hear from the teachers, the lobbyists, the unions and it’s high time we listened to our students.  Thank you for coming back.”