58 Maine Seeds address challenges facing state's education system
PORTLAND | High school student leaders from across the state met March 8 to find solutions to challenges facing Maine’s education system as part of the Seeds of Peace Maine Youth Summit on Education in Portland.
The goal of the 2nd Annual Youth Summit was to empower Maine youth to communicate their educational needs while also providing a forum in which they could discuss the issues with influential policy makers.
The students hailed from 14 public and private high schools across the state and included a mix of recent immigrants and multi-generational locals. A total of 58 Seeds took part, as well as eight non-Seed students, 10 local educators, and number of other community partners.
In preparation for the summit, the student facilitators spent months choosing and researching relevant topics, including Maine’s school standards, resources for students with learning disabilities, English Language Learner programs, and the economics of public education. The students structured the day-long program to provide opportunities for Maine Seeds to lead presentations as well as partake in the group discussions that followed.
One important element of the summit was to provide students with a platform to share the challenges they face on a daily basis. Students gave presentations on subjects they viewed as most relevant to their personal experiences, including the economics of education, standards-based learning, and learning disabilities. Each presentation gave a critical overview of the issues, and provided solutions for moving forward. Following the presentations, the students led discussion groups panels, allowing participants to further explore solutions and ask questions.
In testament to the attention among local lawmakers garnered by the Summit, several Maine Congressional officials addressed the students at the Summit by video, letter, or via representative.
Senator Susan Collins said in her video message, “I can assure you that education leaders and policymakers will read your report with great interest and appreciation,” she said.
“You are making a difference that will benefit the young people of Maine for years to come. Making a difference is what Seeds of Peace is all about.”
Edie Smith, State Director for Sen. Angus King, and Maine gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler also joined the students, high school principals, and superintendents at the Summit. These state and local leaders fully participated in the conversations, giving them an opportunity to interact directly with the students.
“I wanted to show others what it felt like to be considered an outsider and to be labeled as something different and foreign,” said Sahra, a 2013 Seed who presented on English Language learning. “I wanted to represent a community that isn’t well represented in the Maine educational system.”
“[The Summit] taught me that I could say something despite being worried about offending someone who thought differently. It deepened my leadership skills as well as heightened my knowledge. It was truly amazing seeing everyone go on stage and present on a topic that they felt passionate about and wanted to be apart of fixing it.”
Seeds from previous years were impressed with the dedication of the students. “It was amazing to see such an eclectic mix of young people with sterling qualities work to solve our social issues,” said Lars, a 2000 Maine Seed and facilitator at the Summit.
The topics and research findings discussed at the Summit will be sent to Maine lawmakers and school administrators. The Maine Seeds will continue their important work by reviewing the conclusions of the day and updating the previous charters. In the fall, Maine Seeds will formally present the new 2014 Youth Charter to the governor, to leaders of the Legislature, and to Maine’s congressional delegation.
“I think it’s important for kids to hear people like Eliot Cutler speak and know that there are important people looking at this [Charter] and scrutinizing it,” said Meredith, a senior who led the 2013 Youth Summit.
By providing students with a platform to voice their concerns through this annual event, Seeds of Peace will continue to engage Maine youth as civic leaders in their own communities.
“I learned that we as a generation need to be the change and we need to make those changes as well,” said Sahra. “We are the ones who will be impacted by all of these issues in the future.”