The first Monday in June is designated Samantha Smith Day in Maine. This year the first annual Samantha Smith Challenge celebration was held in the Hall of Flags at the Maine State House on Samantha Smith Day. Over 500 students from across Maine accepted the challenge put forth by American Who Tell the Truth and the Maine Association for Middle Level Education to choose a problem in their community, state, country or the world that they would like to address and help solve.
The Hall of Flags began to pulse with energy as students poured into the room to set up their projects. Posterboards, trifolds, iPads, laptops, and oil paintings appeared and transformed the Hall into a showcase of student curiosity, hard work, research skills, and commitment to addressing troublesome issues. These students tackled a myriad of topics: underage drinking, animal abuse, poverty, homelessness, mental illness, cyberbullying, suicide, and harmful bacteria lurking right under our noses.
A variety of distinguished visitors shared with students their stories related to becoming an active participant in addressing the problems of our communities–near and far.
Dr. Nancy Doda, 2014 MAMLE Annual Conference keynoter and Brazee Award honoree, guided the festivities and introduced the honored guests.
Jane Smith, the mother of Samantha, congratulated students and reflected upon her daughter’s legacy to the world.
Former Maine legislator Elizabeth McTaggert introduced Senator Angus King who addressed the students via a video message.
Maine’s First Lady Ann LePage chatted with students and helped put into context the world in which Samantha Smith lived–the Cold War era.
Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap shared why his family moved to Maine during the Cold War and congratulated students for becoming involved with important issues in their community.
Florence Reed, the founder of Sustainable Harvest International, shared how she was on a similar journey to the students to address real issues that affect communities and possibly the world at large.
The morning ended with each school receiving from Robert Shetterly of Americans Who Tell the Truth a poster of his painting of Samantha Smith.
The teachers were also honored and received a thundering round of applause from their students.
Lessons learned by participating in this type of project—quotes from the students.
“I always have room to grow. I had thought about poverty as something very other than myself, something that didn’t really affect me. Turns out it’s not, and the kind of thinking I used to have was actually part of the problem because it prevented us from finding solutions.” Leonard Middle School student
Doing suicide has been a tough challenge. It’s been devastating reading each story and finding a solution. Through the past couple of weeks on working on this, it’s been rough.” Lyman Moore Middle School student
“It was fun because it wasn’t “school work”; we got to go out in the community and change an issue that is affecting our area.” Messalonskee Middle School student
“I learned that I didn’t give up after we had our first setback and two more after that.” York Middle School student
“Working on this project has made us come back to reality and realize that this is a bigger problem than we thought. It’s hard to believe that we have found over 110 cases of cyberbullying that end in suicide. We were shocked by the large amount of teens (especially females) that have admitted to cyberbullying and/or being cyberbullied. Cyberbullying is a huge epidemic of the modern day world. It has to stop now before we lose all sense of morality.”
Poland Community School students