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.

School Board Chair Highlights the Work of FPPS in State of the Schools Address

In his State of the Schools Address, Portland Public School board chair Roberto Rodriguez outlined the difficulties the district has faced since the start of the pandemic.

“If you had told me last November that in 2020, masks, social distancing, and hybrid learning would become words that we used every day, and I would be speaking to you via Zoom in my living room wearing sweatpants, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Rodriguez said.

Over the summer, Rodriguez said the board made a difficult decision to adopt a hybrid plan. He said a challenging part was getting technology devices to nearly 900 students who chose to learn completely remotely.

“It suddenly became our newest and largest school. We initially had problems with technology acquisition and distribution, optimal scheduling of classes, and lapses with communication with families. We have worked to address all of these issues and the remote academy program is running much smoother now,” Rodriguez said.

The district was able to take advantage of outdoor learning and through community partners, was able to secure new supplies to keep students safe.

“All of which joined together to provide 2,000 thermometers and 500 child- size reusable masks.”

Rodriguez said the pandemic is not the only crisis the district is fighting. He said the district is continuing to confront systemic racism.

“Our discipline data shows our non-white students are disciplined more frequently and harshly than their white counterparts. The Portland Public Schools has a great deal of work to do to address these injustices.”

Rodriguez said they are working to hire diverse staff, working on the curriculum to reflect all students, and are working to provide more equity training for staff.

“The Foundation for Portland Public Schools stepped up this year with a new community campaign to raise at least $100,000 to accelerate and expand our school districts equity work,” Rodriguez said.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez said he is grateful to families for being flexible during these difficult times and said he looks forward to working with city partners to make sure students get a quality education.

You can watch the entire address here on YouTube:


FPPS Awards over $48,000 to Portland Teachers

The Foundation for Portland Public Schools (FPPS) has completed its twelfth annual fall teacher grants program cycle. Sixty-one teachers have been awarded grants totaling $48,595, impacting over 8,000 students at all grade levels in 16 schools across the district.

The Equity and Innovation Teachers Grants Program supports PPS teachers in their efforts to enrich education, innovate in the classroom, and engage the community.  FPPS grant programming recognizes and supports teachers’ work to inspire students and improve learning outcomes. This fall, with students in hybrid and remote learning in the Portland School District, 2020’s funded projects were especially innovative in the ways teachers addressed adapting to educating students during a pandemic. The funding will cover such items and initiatives as kits of materials for students to use at home during remote learning; remote visits from artists, authors, and community activists; community partnerships to start affinity groups for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) middle school students; resources for a mental health bookclub and more.

Mike Bove, the FPPS board member who chairs the Teacher Grants committee, said, “It’s crucial to support our teachers in addressing the challenges of education in such difficult times. We’re moved by their dedication to enhancing and enriching the student experience, both in-person and remotely. This year’s awards represent heartfelt gratitude from FPPS to Portland’s educators.”

Matt Bernstein, a teacher at Casco Bay High School and grant recipient both last year and this year, shared his gratitude. “The FPPS Grants Program is instrumental to my practice. I am extremely grateful for the support and the opportunity to bring in experts and engage students in varied ways of learning. The application process is also user friendly and I appreciate how responsive FPPS is to questions about applications and projects. Thank you for everything!

Support for the 2020 Equity and Innovation Teacher Grants Program came from the Lennox Foundation, Portland Pottery, J.B. Brown & Sons, Clark Insurance, Duckfat, Capozza Tile and Floor Covering Center, Maine Yacht Center, Maine Orthodontics, Green Clean Maine, Benchmark Real Estate, Town and Country Credit Union and many individual contributors.

Spectrum Donation Helps Portland Public Schools Technology Needs

Spectrum donated 25 new laptop computers to Portland Adult Education (PAE) and $2,500 to the Foundation for Portland Public Schools to kick off the academic year while addressing coronavirus related needs of the school district. Spectrum, a key Internet service provider in the state, has been working with the Maine Department of Education and others over the last several months to create solutions allowing students across Maine to access remote learning opportunities.

Students without computers or Internet service at home struggled to remain connected when schools switched to remote learning in the spring. The Portland Public Schools committed nearly half of its coronavirus relief funding from the state to ensure all Pre-K-12 students have a device and Internet access at home for the 2020-21 school year. This is not the case for adult learners in the district, who are not generally full-time students.

Portland’s elementary, middle and high schools opened with a hybrid remote model with Portland Adult Education continuing to teach classes remotely this fall. Many PAE students are economically disadvantaged and do not have computer access at home. These students were challenged during the spring to connect to learning English and necessary job skills through phones or mail. 

The laptops donated by Spectrum will allow the recipients full access to their on-line classes and teachers.

“We are using the laptops donated by Spectrum to provide opportunities for our Job Skills students,” said Anita St. Onge, Executive Director at PAE. “These are students who are working to improve their skills to get a job or advance their careers.”

One recipient of a new laptop is PAE student, Violette Zola, who immigrated to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo. With new immigration laws in effect, Violette is not eligible to apply for a work permit until next year.  In the interim, she has been applying herself as fully as possible to her studies, taking courses to improve her English and learn technology and job skills. “I would like to thank Spectrum so much for this donation,” Violette said. “COVID-19 has put us in a situation where we cannot come together to avoid contamination. The computer has helped me to follow my lessons at home without worry, especially the Microsoft office class. I am very happy to receive this computer which is new and easy to use. I want to become a CNA or a phlebotomist or a medical assistant when I get my work permit. I prefer to work in my field as I worked a long time with people with HIV for different International NGOs in my country.”

“Spectrum is proud to lend its support to Portland Adult Education and the Foundation for Portland Public Schools with the donation of twenty-five new laptops,” said Camille Joseph, GVP, State Government Affairs for Charter Communications. “We continue to support broadband education, training and technology with funding to nonprofit organizations that are interested in providing the necessary tools and training to helping students and communities excel in the digital age.”


Local Health Care Organizations Team Up to Donate Thermometers and Masks to Portland Public Schools

Spectrum Healthcare Partners, Martin’s Point Health Care, and InterMed have joined together to provide 2,000 thermometers and 500 child-sized, reusable masks to distribute to Portland Public Schools students. The effort, coordinated by Spectrum Healthcare Partners and the Foundation for Portland Public Schools, is intended to help students and families comply with school health and safety protocols. School nurses and multilingual, multicultural parent community specialists will be distributing the supplies to families in need.

Over the summer, the Maine Department of Education published a framework for reopening schools and returning to in-person instruction for public schools across the state. One of the requirements is symptom screening for all students and staff before coming to school each day. 

Portland’s daily symptom check includes the question, “Do you have a fever (greater than 100.4) or do you feel feverish?” Answering this question accurately is challenging for families without a thermometer, which is the case for many Portland Public Schools (PPS) families. The Portland Public Schools used local funds and statewide Coronavirus Relief Funds to purchase all of the necessary supplies for health and safety in schools. However, they did not have funding or resources to purchase supplies for families to use at home. 

The Foundation for Portland Public Schools, a nonprofit organization that works to address unmet needs of the school district, reached out to community partners to fill this gap. “Greater Portland businesses have a long history of investing in and supporting the Portland Schools. Over the last few months, healthcare organizations, along with many others, have shown their commitment not only to our community’s health, but also to addressing the equity issues in the schools that have been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said FPPS Executive Director Andi Summers. “I knew that when Superintendent Botana shared this need that our local healthcare organizations would help.”

Another element of the PPS health and safety plan is the requirement for all adults and students 4 years old and above to wear a mask/face covering on the bus and in school. Students are asked to bring their own masks, so this generous donation of masks will help Portland Public Schools families comply. As Dr. Randy Barr of InterMed said, “When social distancing is not feasible, masks are the most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. InterMed is proud to support efforts to reduce future COVID-19 infections in our schools and communities.”

Dr. James Kuhn of Spectrum Healthcare Partners, who helped initiate this collaboration, said “As healthcare providers we are committed to addressing the disparities in the healthcare system. Providing disadvantaged families with some basic tools to keep them safe while their kids go to school is a step in that direction. We are very happy to be able to help these students, and the Portland public schools.”