Samantha Smith Challenge Celebration

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.

King Middle School sets up their project.
King Middle School sets up their project.

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.

 

an image of student projects
Examples of projects
Students who accepted the Samantha Smith Challenge
Students who accepted the Samantha Smith Challenge

 

image of students talking to visiitors
Students explain what they learned and how they hope to address the issues.

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.

image of Nancy Doda
MC Dr. Nancy Doda

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.

image of jane Smith
Jane Smith, Samantha’s mother.

Former Maine legislator Elizabeth McTaggert introduced Senator Angus King who addressed the students via a video message.

Elizabeth McTaggert
Elizabeth McTaggert
image of Senator Angus King
Senator Angus King, Senator (I) from Maine

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.

image of Ann Lepage and students
Ann Lepage chats with students from Lyman Moore Middle School.
image of Ann LePage
Ann LePage addresses the students who participated in the Samantha Smith Challenge.

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.

image of Maine's Secretary of State
Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap
image of the audience
The Hall of Flags was packed!

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.

image of Florence Reed
Florence Reed

The morning ended with each school receiving from Robert Shetterly of Americans Who Tell the Truth a poster of his painting of Samantha Smith.

image of King Middle School Students
King Middle School, Portland
image of Leonard Middle School Students
Leonard Middle School, Old Town/RSU 34
images of Lyman Moore students
Lyman Moore Middle School, Portland
image of Messalonskee students
Messalonskee Middle School, Oakland/RSU 18
image of Mt. Ararat students
Mt. Ararat Middle School, Topsham/SAD 75
image of students from Whittier MS
Poland Community School

The teachers were also honored and received a thundering round of applause from their students.

images of teachers involved
The Teachers

 

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

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2 thoughts on “Samantha Smith Challenge Celebration

  1. Just the most awesome thing I’ve seen in a long time. Congratulations, Nancy, Ed, and all who contributed to the development of progressive middle level education in Maine and elsewhere! I’d like to get involved somehow. Dr. Joyce Salvage (UMaine ’98)

  2. Thank you Joyce for your kind comments. It was truly an awesome day showcasing the wonderful work students can do when given a chance. It was the brainchild of Connie Carter and Robert Shetterly of Americans Who Tell the Truth. MAMLE was delighted to partner with them to bring the idea to fruition. I will make sure Connie sees this comment and pass along your name and email.

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