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.”
“How can we work together with the Maine Government to reduce homelessness, hunger, and poverty in our state?” That was the essential question for our Samantha Smith challenge. Throughout the research process, we discussed existing programs in Maine such as food stamp assistance, WIC, and SNAP. The “SNAP-Ed” challenge not only fit perfectly with what we were doing, it gave learners another opportunity to take action and make a difference in our community through authentic voice and choice!
Molly is a young lady who is no stranger to volunteering and providing food to those less fortunate than herself. She also enjoys cooking and experimenting with vegetarian meals for her and her family.
The SNAP-Ed challenge was open to anyone in the state of Maine, and I could not be more proud that a middle school student accepted and won this challenge! Read more about the challenge and her recipe.
Participants in the Samantha Smith Challenge will be honored June 1, 2015 in the Hall of Flags at the State House in Augusta. First Lady Ann LePage, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, and Sustainable Harvest International founder Florence Reed will join in honoring the students. Over 600 middle grades students from across the state accepted the challenge. Kudos to all of them and their teachers!
Do you remember when a group of Freeport elementary students took on fast food giant McDonalds and won? Concerned about the environmental impact of styrofoam packaging, the students convinced Freeport’s town council to ban its use. McDonalds had to come up with another way to serve their hamburgers. How about Katie Brown who at age 11 raised money to purchase protective vests for police dogs? And… did you know there are students all over the state participating in research projects related to the invasive European green crab? Given the opportunity, our students will amaze us!
After the December break is a long stretch of instructional time in which to do something extraordinary. Join other middle grades teachers and students across Maine as they accept MAMLE’s and Americans Who Tell the Truth’s Samantha Smith Challenge. Invite your students to amaze you and their school community by taking on a real life problem—local, state, national, or international—and work to come up with a viable solution or plan of action. Here is an excerpt from a recent news release:
The purpose of the Samantha Smith Engaged Student Challenge is to build a bridge between the classroom and the world and to show students that no matter what age, they can be part of solving the challenges and problems they see around them in the world. Samantha’s journey began with her concern about nuclear war. A year later she was an eleven year old teaching adults and children about making peace. Her progress from concern to courageous engagement was a series of small steps and decisions—the kind of thing any of us can do!
Should you wonder how you could possibly fit in this type of project with all you have to do, consider Maine’s Guiding Principles:
Part of The Maine Learning Results: Parameters for Essential Instruction
The knowledge and skills described in the Maine Department of Education Regulation 132 support Maine students in achieving the goals established in Maine’s Guiding Principles. The Guiding Principles state that each Maine student must leave school as:
A. A clear and effective communicator who:
Demonstrates organized and purposeful communication in English and at least one other language
Uses evidence and logic appropriately in communication
Adjusts communication based on the audience
Uses a variety of modes of expression (spoken, written and visual and performing including the use of technology to create and share the expressions)
B. A self-directed and lifelong learner who:
Recognizes the need for information and locates and evaluates resources
Applies knowledge to set goals and make informed decisions
Applies knowledge in new contexts
Demonstrates initiative and independence
Demonstrates flexibility including the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn
Demonstrates reliability and concern for quality
Uses interpersonal skills to learn and work with individuals from diverse backgrounds
C. A creative and practical problem solver who:
Observes and evaluates situations to define problems
Frames questions, makes predictions and designs data/information collection and analysis strategies
Identifies patterns, trends and relationships that apply to solutions
Generates a variety of solutions, builds a case for a best response and critically evaluates the effectiveness of the response
Sees opportunities, finds resources and seeks results
Uses information and technology to solve problems
Perseveres in challenging situations
D. A responsible and involved citizen who:
Participates positively in the community and designs creative solutions to meet human needs and wants
Accepts responsibility for personal decisions and actions
Demonstrates ethical behavior and the moral courage to sustain it
Understands and respects diversity
Displays global awareness and economic and civic literacy
Demonstrates awareness of personal and community health and wellness
E. An integrative and informed thinker who:
Gains and applies knowledge across disciplines and learning contexts and to real-life situations with and without technology
Evaluates and synthesizes information from multiple sources
Applies ideas across disciplines
Applies systems thinking to understand the interaction and influence of related parts on each other and on outcomes
The Samantha Smith Challenge fits the bill as a way for your students to work toward proficiency and meet the high standards of Maine’s Guiding Principles.