AUGUSTA, Maine — In just a few weeks, students and teachers will return to classrooms around Maine. As the state prepares for another unpredictable school year, some educators will be rethinking remote learning options.
On Wednesday the Department of Education announced $2 million in funding for Maine schools that built and implemented pilot programs as part of the Rethinking Remote Education Ventures (RREV) project.
"(RREV will) support innovative, educational practices around working with students in nontraditional; settings," project director Martin Mackey said.
Mackey said educators have done heroic things for their students during the COVID-19 pandemic and this project will give those teachers the tools and support they need to best serve their students.
The initial pilot programs are at nine school districts across Maine. The Brewer School Department's project is called the 'Remote Learning Pathway' and its goal is to offer remote education options for students but at the same time offer crucial in-person experiences as well.
“We know that social and emotional is just as important as the academic piece," Director of Information and Technology Renita Ward-Downer said during the DOE's announcement.
“We learned really quickly that a lot of kids in western Maine don’t know how to be outside," school principal Elizabeth Clarke said. “Outdoor learning will look different at every grade level because there are so many variables. The make up of a classroom will affect what we do and how we do it.”
Clarke added the school was awarded a $250,000 grant for its 'Teaching Outside: The Box' program. The funding will allow the school to build a new yurt for an outdoor classroom and help pay for an Outdoor Learning Coordinator for two years. Sarah Timm will be in that role for the school.
“We have all the parts and pieces and now we just need to put it all together to begin," Clarke said. “We are super excited, and we feel super blessed to be in this position.”
The silver lining of the COVID pandemic, Clarke added, was that students were able to explore more of the outdoors and allow the school to work on building the foundations of this program.
Clarke said her school is a second home to many students and this new program will give them another thing to look forward to every day. The first six weeks of the fall will be dedicated to setting expectations inside the classroom and out, then, it's go time.
“I never thought in a million years our little school would get a quarter of a million dollars.”