PPS unveils mobile makerspace to help kids explore STEM

Portland Public Schools unveiled its new “mobile makerspace” Wednesday. The ribbon cutting ceremony took place outside Rowe Elementary School.

WMTW Channel 13 covered the story. Watch the video here.

According to the district, the mobile lab will travel between schools, allowing students to explore, create and solve problems in the STEM fields. Every elementary school student will have at least one experience with the lab every year.

The district says that through the mobile lab, students can work together to make, learn, explore and share using high-tech to no-tech tools.

“We believe that these mobile makerspace experiences will be the spark that ignites a student’s further curiosity and engagement with all that science unlocked for them,” Portland Public Schools STEM Coordinator Brooke Teller said.

Andi Weisman Summers, director of FPPS, also spoke at the event. “The Mobile Makerspace offers a rigorous, high-interest way to engage young Portland students in the work of science and design. It will build a foundation of skills like problem-solving, innovation, persistence in working through challenges, collaboration, and many others that are critical for success in the adult world. The businesses and foundations who donated are not just providing opportunities for students, they are investing in their future employees and neighbors.”

Thank you to the partners and donors who have helped make this happen, including:

  • Unum
  • The Brick & Beam Society of the United Way of Southern Maine
  • Greenbacker Capital
  • The Lennox Foundation
  • The Les Paul Foundation
  • The Irving Foundation
  • ReVision Energy
  • University of Southern Maine
  • St. Joseph’s College
  • The Perloff Family Foundation
  • Maine Space Grant Consortium

Generac Provides Support to Introduce Portland’s Youngest Students to Coding

The Foundation for Portland Public Schools (FPPS) has just received a contribution from Generac Power Systems to help expand STEM programming in the Portland Public Schools. The funding will be used to purchase sets of Bee-Bots for each of the 10 elementary schools in the district. Bee-Bots are an interactive learning tool to introduce PreK-2nd grade students to some of the basic concepts of coding. It can help them learn about robotics, sequencing, programming, and overall problem solving skills.

“We are grateful to Generac for their support which will allow us to purchase Bee-Bots for our elementary schools. Young students love to engage with this push-button robot and at the same time they learn computational thinking skills in a playful way,” said Courtney Graffius, the technology integration coordinator for the Portland Public Schools.

Bee-Bots are one element of a range of new curriculum, programming, and supports that the Portland Public Schools are rolling out to increase rigorous and engagement STEM learning.

“STEM education is a primary focus area for us in Generac’s community giving,” said Emily Eschner of Generac Power Systems in South Portland. “We are proud to be able to invest in our public schools and help get new technology in the hands of the next generation of innovators.”

Generac Power Systems, headquartered in Waukesha, WI, has a South Portland office location that employs over 100 people in their Generac Clean Energy Solutions business group, primarily in engineering and technical disciplines. Generac designs and sells solar + storage battery solutions for homeowners and small businesses with the goal of  accelerating the transition to clean energy.

Fall Equity and Innovation Teacher Grant Cycle opens August 31

We are happy to announce that on August 31, Fall Teacher Grant applications become available! The FPPS Fall Equity and Innovation Grants Program is designed to support teacher-led classroom innovations which enhance learning experiences for students in Portland Public Schools in response to the Portland Promise. Grants are available up to $1,000.

The program recognizes, rewards, and supports teachers’ work to inspire students and improve learning outcomes. It responds directly to the Foundation’s goals to support educational enrichment, classroom innovation, and community engagement.  These grants empower teachers to invest in innovations that have meaningful impact and reach, and experiences that involve expert content including field trips, guest speakers, and professional resources to amplify educational engagement and attainment.

  • Applications available on August 31
  • Application deadline is October 12
  • Decisions posted on October 28

Click here to learn more, or email us at info@foundationforpps.org

Portland Superintendent Wins Outstanding Leadership Award

Portland Public Schools Superintendent Xavier Botana has won an Outstanding Leadership Award for 2021 and 2022 from the Maine School Superintendents Association (MSSA). The award recognizes superintendents for leadership, the implementation of exemplary educational programs; and service to the profession of education.

Botana was recognized June 27 at an awards ceremony at the 109th Annual Commissioner’s Conference for Superintendents, being held in Bar Harbor from June 26-28.

Eileen King, MSSA executive director, commended Botana on being selected. “Any recognition is important,” she said. “When it is initiated by your colleagues, it is of even great significance. Congratulations!”

“I am honored to receive this recognition,” Botana said. “It is especially meaningful to me because I was nominated by my peers – other superintendents in my region. I am grateful for their support and also for that of various champions of education in our community.”

Educational leaders who provided written or video testimonials in support of Botana’s nomination for the award were Brian Elowe, CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern Maine; Liz Cotter Schlax, President and CEO of United Way of Southern Maine; Westbrook School Superintendent Peter Lancia; Glenn Cummings, President of the University of Southern Maine; Pious Ali, founder of Portland Empowered and a Portland City Councilor; and Portland Board of Public Education Chair Emily Figdor.

“Xavier is such an exemplary leader that I feel humbled and honored to work with him every day,” Figdor said. “I can think of no one who is more deserving of this award. Xavier leads with integrity, rigor, focus, grace, courage, and compassion. He has a deep moral commitment to our students and particularly students who are marginalized by our society. And he is a visionary and powerful force for equity – which is the key defining challenge of our district.”

The award honors superintendents whose efforts and initiatives have resulted in programs that provide solutions to the specific needs of students in their school system and who have been involved in exemplary education programs.

$30,000 Action Award from NoVo Foundation for Social-Emotional Learning

The Foundation for Portland Public Schools (FPPS) has just received a $30,000 Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in Action Award from the NoVo Foundation. This grant will support professional development and collaborative work between Portland Public Schools social studies teachers and clinical and behavior support staff to incorporate SEL practices into curriculum.

Social and emotional learning is the process of developing fundamental skills for life success within supportive, participatory learning environments. SEL skills include recognizing and managing emotions, developing caring and concern for others, establishing positive relationships and making responsible decisions. These crucial capacities will be taught as part of Facing History and Ourselves social studies units in Portland middle schools and high schools. Topics include Global Migration, the Reconstruction Era, and the Holocaust.

“All across the country, school districts are recognizing that a well-rounded education must be about more than higher test scores or rigid academic assessments,” said Jennifer Buffett, co-president of the NoVo Foundation. “These educators are showing us how to put this belief into action. They are a model for truly inspiring social and emotional learning initiatives that will strengthen the lives of students far into the future.”

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has named Facing History and Ourselves as a program with proven positive effects on students, such as improved academics, increased empathy, and increased prosocial behavior. The Novo SEL in Action Award will provide professional development to staff so that they can implement this new curriculum with integrity.

Luzia Vumpa is the PHS Step Up Award Scholarship Winner!

The Step Up Award Provides Financial Assistance to Portland High School Multilingual Student in the Make It Happen! Program

Luzia Vumpa is the 2022 recipient of the Portland High School Step Up Award, now in its 5th year. The Step Up Award provides funding for students in the Make It Happen! program who would otherwise have to forego school-year extracurricular opportunities in order to work after school and/or on weekends. Luzia, a rising junior at Portland High School, will receive $1,250 per semester until graduation for her last two years of high school.

A small awards ceremony took place at Portland High School on Thursday, May 19. Award creators Bill and Ann Weber; Portland High School Principal Sheila Jepson; and Make It Happen! staff members Danielle Wong and Tim Cronin spoke at the event.

The Step Up Award is the creation of Ann and Bill Weber, parents of two PHS graduates, who state: “We know kids are more motivated to come to school because of extracurricular activities. The opportunity to work as a team or lead a group effort is invaluable to growth and developing leadership skills which can often lead to better grades. Many kids aren’t able to take full advantage of extracurricular activities because of family responsibilities or the need to supplement the family income. The Step Up Award allows deserving kids a chance to grow and mature and become more productive citizens through involvement with athletic or co-curricular activities.”

Make It Happen! is a nationally recognized college readiness program designed for multilingual high school students. Students who attend Portland’s three high schools work closely with site coordinators, volunteers, and community partners to build competitive academic, civic, professional, and personal profiles for college admission and learn how to navigate and access financial aid. In addition, Make it Happen! students are encouraged to take challenging classes, improve their standardized test scores, engage in leadership activities, community service, and career readiness opportunities.

“The Portland community is very fortunate to have such a wonderful program as Make It Happen! In keeping with the last four years, we had three other fantastic applicants, and they all are deserving of praise. Their life stories are remarkable and their optimism in the future is inspirational,” added Bill Weber.

Luzia Vumpa was selected for the award for her strong academic performance, passion for working with children, and wide range of interests and activities. Luzia was born in Angola and spent her childhood there, as well as in South Africa and Namibia. In 2017, she moved with her family to the United States. During her time at Portland High School, she has played tennis, started a book club, participated in art club, and had an internship at the Boys & Girls club. This summer, she’ll be a camp counselor at Center Day Camp in Windham. Her ambitions include admission to the National Honor Society while at Portland High School, going to college, and finding a career path that will benefit children around the world.

The Portland Public Schools is Creating a Mobile Makerspace with Local and National Support

The Foundation for Portland Public Schools (FPPS) is thrilled to announce that the Les Paul Foundation is the latest group to support the creation of a Portland Public Schools Mobile Makerspace. The makerspace will provide hands-on science, technology, arts, engineering, and mathematics (STEAM) programming to Portland elementary school students, starting this summer. A makerspace is a collaborative setting for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high-tech to no-tech tools. The Portland Public Schools Mobile Makerspace will ensure that every elementary school student in Portland will have access to STEAM designing, engineering, problem-solving, and building experiences.

“Our goal with the Makerspace is to provide every PreK-5 student in Portland access to this mobile lab,” explains Brooke Teller, the Portland Public Schools STEM Coordinator. “With ten elementary schools, the ability to outfit ten makerspaces is financially unattainable. A mobile trailer that carries equipment such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and more will eliminate the need for any one school to outfit a full, high-tech lab. All of the planned curriculum will be aligned to the Science and Engineering Practices of the Next Generation Science Standards.”

Andrea Weisman Summers, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Portland Public Schools, said, “Today, STEM education is more important than ever. Jobs in STEM fields are growing much faster than the rate of all jobs and pay better as well. I believe that engaging experiences like the engineering and design challenges that will happen in the makerspace can be the hook that helps students enjoy school and see themselves as builders, designers, and capable users of technology. I am hopeful that this can also be a step to addressing disproportionate representation of women and people of color in STEM careers.”

The Foundation for Portland Public Schools is raising the funds needed to create and staff the Mobile Makerspace in its pilot year. In addition to the Les Paul Foundation, the initiative is funded to date by the Brick & Beam Society of the United Way, the Irving Foundation, Unum, Greenbacker Group LLC, the Lennox Foundation, the Maine Space Grant Consortium, and the Perloff Family Foundations.

The plan is to have the mobile makerspace operating by July to be able to be used by students in summer school.

Join us for Spring for Teachers!

You’re Invited!

What: A benefit for our Teacher Grants Program
When: Wednesday, May 11 at 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm
Where: Bunker Brewing Co, indoors and outdoors
17 Westfield St Unit D, Portland
 Tickets: Available on Eventbrite

Buy raffle tickets for a L.L.Bean camping gear package through Eventbrite or at the door.

Please join us and spread the word!

Thank you to our Sponsors!

Gold Sponsor: J.B. Brown & Sons Gold Sponsor: Nellie Mae Education Foundation
Silver Sponsor: Bangor Saving Bank Silver Sponsor: Coffee by Design
Silver Sponsor: Northeast Bank Silver Sponsor: Town & Country Federal Credit Union
Copper Sponsor: Camp Alsing Copper Sponsor: Capozza Floor Covering Center
Copper Sponsor: Clark Insurance Copper Sponsor: Machais Savings Bank

PPS Creating Wabanaki Studies Film Series

As part of its work to develop the first comprehensive Wabanaki Studies curriculum in the state of Maine, the Portland Public Schools (PPS) is creating a documentary film series to serve as a central text for each grade level. The district is exploring ways to share this resource with schools around the state.  

When PPS established equity as a central goal, the district decided to start by helping students deepen their understanding of their own community and place.  The Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, and Abenaki tribes have stewarded the land we now call Maine for thousands of years. A team of PPS teachers has been working with tribal advisors, students, parents, and community partners to build a preK-12 Wabanaki studies curriculum since 2017. This team decided a film would be the best way to bring the voices of Indigenous people in Maine directly into classrooms and center their experiences.

Bridgid Seqoniw Neptune, a citizen of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, former PPS parent, and consultant to the Wabanaki studies curriculum development, described the collaboration as follows, “PPS is leading the state in this [Wabanaki curriculum development] work. They have, and continue to, center Indigenous voices and perspectives, which has earned them confidence and buy-in from community leaders, Elders, and young people.”

The PPS curriculum team is planning  one or more short videos for each grade-level unit of study. This documentary series will unfold over the years of a child’s education. Each segment will  include a combination of interviews and other footage such as clips of seasonal activities that demonstrate contemporary land use and stewardship practices occurring within Wabanaki communities today. Examples will include maple sugaring, elvering, sweet grass collecting, blueberry harvesting, hunting, and basketmaking.  These examples will connect with interviews and will also be accompanied by a short instructional video for teachers to view before launching the units.


“The film will amplify Wabanaki voices, perspectives, and knowledge for our students,” said Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Melea Nalli. “While we are proud of the curriculum work we are doing, we also recognize that it has taken us far too long to meet the requirements outlined in the 2001 law obligating all schools in Maine to teach Wabanaki Studies. Because this type of resource development and long-term partnership is not replicable in smaller districts, we are excited to explore ways to share what we are creating.”

The Foundation for Portland Public Schools (FPPS) is raising the funds needed to create the film. The project is funded to date by a $100,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, along with many smaller grants and donations. Other key supporters include the Maine Audubon, Hudson Foundation, Portside Real Estate Group, Martin’s Point Health Care, Maine Community Foundation, the Portland Public Schools, and several individual donors.

May 11: Spring for Teachers 2022

Save the date for Spring for Teachers!


What: A benefit for our Teacher Grants Program
When: Wednesday, May 11 at 5:30 pm
Where: Bunker Brewing Coindoors and outdoors


Tickets and additional information coming soon!