Step Up Award Winner: Didon Maombi Heri

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

The Foundation for Portland Public Schools is thrilled to announce Didon Maombi Heri as the latest Portland High School student chosen to receive the Step Up Award, now in its 4th year. The Step Up Award at Portland High School 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. Didon, 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 May 19, 2021. 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 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.

Didon Maombi Heri was selected for her passion and engagement in a wide variety of activities, internships, and leadership positions, as well as her strong academic performance. Didon is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since she’s been in Portland, she has been involved with the Women’s Rights Club, the Inside Medical Club, the Telling Room, Portland Empowered’s Youth Engagement Partners, Upward Bound, Peer Leaders and more. Didon also enjoys photography, swimming, basketball, languages, and movies. She dreams of becoming a cardiovascular surgeon and remaining an activist.

“The Portland Public Schools is very grateful to the Weber family for providing our students with the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, giving them the chance to engage more fully in the educational experiences offered at our schools,” Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana said. “This family’s generosity is a prime example of how individuals and other community partners can truly make a difference in the lives of our students by supporting the Foundation for Portland Public Schools and its goal of improving the opportunities available to PPS students.”

Thank you Eastpoint Christian Church

We’d like to thank Eastpoint Christian Church in South Portland for their unbelievably generous donation to the Families in Crisis Fund. They donated $23,500 from their Easter offering to support PPS students and families who are in homeless situations or who are at risk of becoming homeless. We will use this money to help pay for rent, utilities, and/or medical or other emergency costs for families in these tough situations.

Video: National Award to Portland Public Schools’ Program “Make It Happen!”

The Portland Public Schools, with its Make It Happen! program, was announced as a Grand Prize winner in the National School Boards Association (NSBA) 2021 Magna Awards program. The below video was created to celebrate Make it Happen! and the accomplishments of all the multilingual students participating in the program.


FPPS Food Fund Grants Build Community Food Security

The Portland Public Schools (PPS) Food Fund gives community members the opportunity to invest in projects that build food security for PPS students and their families. Food Fuels Learning (FFL) just completed its fifth round of Food Fund grants which went to five inspiring projects.

  • “Food Brigade,” received $2,500 to assist in serving over 500 food insecure Portland families weekly with fresh, culturally relevant foods through Presente Maine.
  • “Take Home Harvest of the Month,” received $2,500 to provide take-home bags at East End and Rowe Elementary Schools. This effort promotes the Harvest of the Month program and local Maine products at the elementary level, and provides supplementary nutritious food, enrichment, and resources to as many students as possible for the months of April, May, and June 2021.
  • “Greater Portland Family Promise,” received $2,500 to continue providing New Mainer families with Portland schools students with culturally appropriate food boxes as part of their Housing Stabilization Program.
  • “Bring Local Food to Head Start.” received $2,500 to purchase locally grown food from farms that support New American Farmers. They look forward to partnering with Liberation Farms and Cultivating Community to nourish Portland’s youngest students and to teach them about the many benefits to eating Maine grown produce.
  •  “Window Garden,” received $350 to germinate and grow seedlings for the Breathe Program classroom. They will transplant those seedlings to buckets for students to bring home or garden spots around Deering. They will also incorporate science instruction and the importance of gardening and outdoor work as a coping skill for anxiety and depression.

In addition to those awarded funding, Food Fuels Learning provided direct support to all Food Fund applicants through connection to community resources and facilitating network building. This included facilitating introductions with vital service providers such as Cultivating Community for garden consultation. The result was that each requester for funding was able to access resources to address the needs expressed in their proposal.

The PPS Food fund is a collaboration by the Foundation for PPS and Food Fuels Learning (FFL) and is made possible through generous donations by the community. Each contribution will go to a grassroots, school-based project that directly meets the needs of students struggling with food insecurity.

How to Donate:

Checks should be made payable to:
Foundation for Portland Public Schools (or FPPS)
353 Cumberland Avenue Portland, ME 04101
Attn: Jeanine Bischoff
In the memo line, please write:
PPS Food Fund

A secure online contribution can be made at: (Please note – all contributions made online are assessed a fee from the payment processor (Stripe). This will decrease the amount of your gift by about 3 percent.)

For more information, please contact Jim Hanna, Cumberland County Food Security Council,

Rippleffect working to get kids outside this spring

The pandemic has meant Rippleffect’s Cow Island is off limits, forcing the Portland-based organization to shift its programming.

After a summer and fall of programming pivots due to the pandemic, Rippleffect is planning to get creative again to get Portland middle school students outside this spring.

The nonprofit organization will get students outdoors and physically active at parks near their Portland schools, according to Executive Director Adam Shepherd.

He said he hopes to get the students back out to Cow Island, the organization’s private Casco Bay island, for day and overnight programming by fall.

“Our goal is to get the kids as far afield as possible while still feeling safe,” Shepherd said.

But until then, he said, finding outdoor opportunities is important to give students a chance to connect, and reconnect, with each other.

“Many students are spending the majority of their time on a screen and remote learning,” he said. “Individuals are on their own and not having that invaluable human to human connection.”

For two decades, Rippleffect has worked with between 4,500 and 5,000 students in third through 12th grade throughout the year. The group was founded on the belief that “outdoor experiences can build upon the strength of leadership in individual students, challenge them to become leaders in groups and improve their ability to be leaders in their communities,” Shepherd said.

“Our platform to do that is the outdoors,” he said.

For the last few years, funded partially through a $20,000 grant from L.L.Bean, Rippleffect has been providing four-season outdoor experiences for all of Portland’s 1,430 middle school students. Those experiences range from a day at a city park or at Bug Light Park in South Portland or Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth to sea kayaking and trips to Cow Island.

This past fall, because busing or getting on a boat to Cow Island was not practical during the pandemic, Rippleffect shifted to bringing the adventure to the students. Programming took place at Baxter Woods for Lincoln Middle School students and Deering Oaks for King Middle School students.

Andi Summers, executive director of the Foundation for Portland Public Schools, which raises money for school programming and initiatives not funded through the budget, said the partnership with Rippleffect provides experiences students wouldn’t have otherwise.

“These experiences not only inspire young people to get exercise and be outside, they also give students a chance to build trust and relationships with each other and their teachers that carry over into the classroom and create a foundation for collaboration, taking chances and working through challenges,” she said.

Rippleffect’s programming during the pandemic with King and Lincoln students has been different, but the goal is the same, Shepherd said.

“The focus is still outdoor facilitated experiences and using challenges or games to authentically connect kids,” he said.

The organization also introduced Adventure Academy, in which 35 students across greater Portland attend Rippleffect programming on remote learning days, spending the morning on academic work and the afternoons doing things like sea kayaking, hiking, rock climbing or, more recently, snowshoeing or ice climbing.

The program has helped Julie Lannon’s son, Colin, an eighth grader at King Middle School, stay focused on his academics while providing him opportunities not traditionally offered in school.

Colin, who has participated in Rippleffect programming in the past, was old enough to stay home alone, she said, but not three days a week. She was looking for some sort of structure and sense of normalcy for her son, and Rippleffect’s Adventure Academy seemed to be the right fit.

“I believe in the whole concept of the healing power of being outdoors,” she said

Lannon said she is glad Rippleffect was “able to think outside the box” and offer the program.

Portland Forecaster Article by Michael Kelley

Meet Eloise!

Eloise Colhoun is a twelve-year-old, sixth grade student at the Friends School of Portland. Over Thanksgiving break, she and her dad watched a video of huge lines of people lined up for Thanksgiving meals. Eloise was profoundly affected by the scene and decided to take action to address food insecurity in her own community.

She reached out to our friends and partners at the Good Shepherd Food Bank. They told her about programs to distribute culturally appropriate food to PPS students and families, the backpack programs, school-based food pantries and other work supported by the PPS Food Fund. Eloise decided that helping kids her own age was how she wanted to focus her efforts. So she started a food drive by making flyers and hanging them in her school. She put her food drive in her school’s e-bulletin and emailed a large list of extended families and friends asking for support. Over just a few weeks, Eloise collected over 80 pounds of food that she donated to a local food bank and raised over $1800 that she donated to the PPS Food Fund.

Using the money Eloise raised, The Foundation distributed $100 vouchers to PPS families to purchase the foods that they typically eat directly from local, immigrant owned ethnic markets. Not only did this empower families facing food insecurity by providing independence and the dignity of doing their own shopping, it also supports small, local businesses. And each of the ethnic markets in the program agreed to let PPS families shop with a 10% discount!

In addition to Eloise, we’d like to thank everyone else who made this voucher program possible: Good Shepherd Food Bank; the Hudson Foundation; PPS social workers and parent community specialists (led by Melissa McStay, Maureen Clancy, Sarah Beam, and Susan Wiggin); Claude Rwaganje of Prosperity Maine; Mufalo Chitam of the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition; Jim Hanna and the team at Food Fuels Learning; and the owners and staff of the Moriah Store, Tesoro Market, the African Mobile Market, Portland Halal Market, Serey Pheap Market, and Sindbad Market. This is truly a community effort.

Edward H Daveis Benevolent Fund Grant Received

The Foundation for Portland Public Schools received a grant from the Edward H. Daveis Benevolent Fund of the Maine Community Foundation. With these funds, the Portland Public Schools PreK program will create an interactive, multilingual video resource for families to learn strategies of how to support their children at home around the Maine Early Learning and Development Standards. A creative approach to the equity, achievement, and whole student goals of the Portland Promise. Thank you Maine Community Foundation!

EnviroLogix Donates to Further STEM initiatives and Teacher Innovations

EnviroLogix, a Portland-based diagnostic company, gave two grants totaling $16,000 in late 2020 to the Foundation for Portland Public Schools (FPPS) through the EBI Foundation, their parent organization’s (Ensign-Bickford Industries) charitable fund. With a focus on fostering innovation in the classroom, these grants will enhance learning experiences and support the goals of the district’s strategic plan, the Portland Promise. 

Half of these funds are intended to support FPPS Equity and Innovation Teacher Grants, a program that distributes $50,000 in small grants to Portland Public Schools staff each fall. The other half is designated for the district’s STEM initiatives, including the annual STEM Expo, which is a chance for PPS students to showcase their STEM projects and to see and hear about the STEM work happening at businesses and organizations in Greater Portland. This fall, the 7th annual STEM expo was a virtual event, but still drew hundreds of students and community members in a range of live and pre-recorded sessions online. 

Brooke Teller, the STEM coordinator for the Portland Public Schools, said, “Support from community partners like EnviroLogix helps PPS to inspire students and teachers in STEM education.  Their sponsorship of the PPS STEM EXPO and STEM Teacher grants are examples of how these partnerships translate into concrete experiences for our whole student body.”

EnviroLogix President and CEO Bill Welch said, “EnviroLogix has a long history as a pioneer in our field of diagnostic technology, and we are excited each year to help bring that spirit of applied innovation to the students of Portland Public Schools. An investment in the education and inspiration of future generations is critical both to the growth of our community and to our success as a company.”

EnviroLogix has been a strong supporter of the Portland Public Schools for years. In addition to support for the Teacher Grants program and the STEM Expo, EnviroLogix and the EBI Foundation partnered with the Portland Arts and Technology High School (PATHS) in 2018-19 to co-design and fund the creation of a biotechnology/biomedical laboratory at the school that is used by both students in PATHS’ Health Science Occupations Program as well as students from Casco Bay High School, housed in the same building.

Portland schools get money to diversify staff

Article from The Forecaster, by Micheal Kelly

Portland school officials hope a $10,000 grant from UNUM that the Foundation for Portland Public Schools received last month will help to diversify the district’s staff and complement work underway in the Portland Promise, the district’s goal of rooting out systemic inequalities and attracting and retaining a diverse and talented staff.

“We see this as an effort to accelerate and deepen equity work that is already happening,” said Andi Summers, executive director of The Foundation for Portland Public Schools.

As Portland’s student body has become more diverse, the diversity of those who teach them has lagged behind, something Portland Public Schools Human Resources Director Barbara Stoddard hopes this new funding will help with.

Stoddard said there is not a target in terms of how many educators of color the district is looking to hire through its diversification efforts. The goal, however, is to diversify the workforce at all grade levels.

“We need a diverse staff at every school and every grade level,” Stoddard said.

In 1989, fewer than 10% of Portland students identified as Black, Indigenous or people of color (BIPOC), but by 2010, that percentage had grown to 35%. Currently, 48% of students identify as BIPOC. Since the district began tracking racial demographic data on staff in 2016, the number of employees of color has risen from 6.6% to 10%.

“When I talk to students they often tell me how important it is to them to have a faculty that more closely reflects their experiences and backgrounds,” Superintendent Xavier Botana said. “This has been a priority for us as a district for the past four years and while we’ve made gains, we have a great deal more work to do.”

Over the last few years, Summers said “there has been increasing research that show when children, particularly Black children, see just even one person who is a reflection of what they look like, it makes them feel more comfortable,” which can have “an achievement and graduation rate impact.”

How exactly the money will be spent has not been finalized yet, but Stoddard said it will be used to boost the city’s internal and external human resource. Internally the money may be used to support employee’s course work to obtain certification or licensure testing or for mentoring individuals looking to transition into a new role within the district. The money could also be used for district leaders to travel to out-of-state recruitment events and invite existing staff of color to join to advocate for the Portland School System.

“We feel our existing staff is the best ambassadors for Portland Public Schools,” Stoddard said. “In the past we have not had money for recruitment efforts beyond state borders.”

Summers said some of that out-of-state effort could include recruiting in areas where there are a lot of teachers of color or at historically Black colleges, as well as work to get foreign-trained teachers and educators certified and employed in Maine.

Stoddard said recruiting a more diverse workforce to the state of Maine and Portland will be challenging.

“If we want to attract candidates outside of Maine, we need to share information of who we are, what are our values and about the city,” she said.

Increasing the diversity of staff in the state’s schools is also something the Maine Department of Education is working on. Tamara Ranger, an educator excellence coordinator for the Maine Department of Education, said through the department’s Teach Maine campaign, the Educator Talent Committee is in the early stages of a strategic plan to, in part, recruit, hire and retain educators of color, create more interest among students of colors to become teachers and decrease barriers to becoming educators in this state, and support the current educators of color in the state. The Maine Department of Education does not have a breakdown on the racial demographics of educators in Maine.

“If we can create a supportive system for educators of color in this state, it can be a big selling point for educators of color coming from other states,” Ranger said.

Emily Doughty, the department’s educator effectiveness coordinator, said additionally she and other representatives from the Maine Department of Education joined 40 educators from other New England states on New England Secondary Schools Consortium’s Task Force on Diversifying the Educator Workforce on a report of regional recommendations to increase the racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity of the educator workforce in New England.

Furthermore, in its efforts to combat racism and inequalities in education across the state, the department is conducting an equity audit of its policies and hiring practices, investing in racial equity training for department staff and working to reduce the barriers of state certification for internationally trained teachers, among other things. To that end, as part of the emergency order from Gov. Janet Mills, the department may issue an emergency certification through Sept. 1 to individuals who have a four-year degree, are in a teacher preparation program or who have been similar credentials in other countries. The order also states the department can issue teacher certifications to individuals who are certified to teach in other states or countries, but who are not certified in Maine.

Unum Donates $10,000 to Diversify Teaching Staff in Portland Schools

Unum has donated $10,000 to the Foundation for Portland Public Schools (FPPS) to strengthen efforts to recruit, hire, and retain a more diverse staff within the Portland Public Schools. This grant is part of the Foundation’s Addressing the Opportunity Gap Campaign, a community campaign to accelerate and deepen the school district’s equity work.

The Portland Public Schools has experienced profound demographic shifts in the last 30 years. In 1989, fewer than 10% of PPS students identified as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC). By 2010, that percentage had grown to 35%. This school year, 48% of students identify as BIPOC. Like many districts in the US, the demographics of teachers employed by PPS has not kept pace with its student population.

Barbara Stoddard, Executive Director of Human Resources for the district, explained,
“Research shows that teachers of color have a substantial positive impact for all students. Studies have linked diverse teaching staff to increased academic achievement, improved graduation rates, and increased preparation for students to live and work in a diverse, collaborative world. I appreciate Unum’s support which will allow us to advance the Portland Promise People and Equity goals through targeted, external recruiting efforts and intentional, internal pathways to expand the number of BIPOC educators in the district.”

The Portland Public Schools plans to use these funds to broaden recruitment efforts, but also to explicitly work on the culture and systems that exist within the district to support BIPOC teachers, ensure opportunities for advancement, and strive to retain teachers once they are hired.

“When I talk to students they often tell me how important it is to them to have a faculty that more closely reflects their experiences and backgrounds,” said Superintendent Xavier Botana. “This has been a priority for us as a district for the past four years and while we’ve made gains, we have a great deal more work to do. I am grateful to Unum for their support and partnership in our efforts.”

Unum has been a strong supporter of the Portland Public Schools for many years. In July 2020, The Unum Social Justice Fund was launched to create stronger, more equitable communities by supporting organizations working to end racism, discrimination and bias. This is the first grant that FPPS has received from the Social Justice Fund, on behalf of the Portland Public Schools.