Raise Your Voice!

Producing for Raise Your Voice can be a great way to make friends, and share your ideas with our audience.

Raise Your Voice!, the Maine Education Project’s center for ideas and perspectives from students and teachers reaches a broad audience interested in education and we want your voice in the conversation.

We want to know what young people think about what they’re learning, how they’re learning, and what they’re doing with the skills they're gaining. And we want to know what it means to teach young people today, what challenges educators face, and how we as a society can ease the process and help improve the system.

For the second summer in a row we're inviting high school students to  join our Raise Your Voice Workshops, two-weeks of writing, making new friends, and creating multimedia. You'll gain valuable communication skills while developing work we'll feature on Raise Your Voice. These programs will take place at the University of Maine in Orono and at Baxter Academy for Technology and Science in Portland. They're free, and they'll run from July 23 to August 3, 8:30 a.m. to noon each day.

Space is limited so register early!

For more information about any of our programs, contact Dave Boardman, our education program coordinator, at dboardman@mainepublic.org, or call him at 207.423.6934. And if you're a teacher and interested in working Raise Your Voice into your curriculum, reach out. We'd love to talk about ways to connect your students with our audiences.

Part of The Maine Education Project and funded by The Nellie Mae Education Foundation, Raise Your Voice! provides a forum for students and educators to share what it means to teach and learn in today's world.

Click the headline of each story to read the full text.

It's Time to Rethink Classroom Light Designs

Jan 13, 2018

At the end of my sophomore year in high school, it was time to take the AP U.S. History Exam. Everyone in my class was told to arrive early in the morning in order to get on a bus to be taken to the University of Southern Maine campus in Gorham where the test would be given. When we got there, the teachers split us up alphabetically and put us in different classrooms. The room I was in had no windows. If it weren’t for the tables in the shape of a horseshoe, a desk at the front of the room, and the chalkboard on the wall, I could have sworn it was a jail cell. Okay, maybe not a jail cell with the amount of artificial lighting, but since we were there for a test it wasn’t far off from an interrogation room.

When the test was over, the light outside was an exquisite sight. Being in that room for a few hours straight made me think I might never see the sun again. I was pleased to find that I was not going to be trapped forever in a room with incredibly harsh lighting.

My high school also uses those cool-white fluorescent bulbs. I understand that there are schools around the world that do not have access to electricity, and that this is considered a first-world problem. 

Route To the Dream Doesn't Follow an Equal Path

Jan 11, 2018

The American Dream is built on the belief that as long as you work hard, you will achieve your dreams. It also gives people the thought that we are all created equal and have equal opportunities. Although, as time goes on, you hear people say, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

Hard work is no longer all you need to succeed. The college admissions process is the first time in many people’s lives that they realize what the American Dream has become. 

The admissions process can be stressful for any student. However, the challenges that each student faces are not the same. I want to shine a light on a topic that does not get discussed nearly enough: the struggles and challenges that low-income minority students face when applying to college. 

When I was 16, I went to a TED Talk in Derry, New Hampshire. One of the speakers was Maribel Duran. Maribel is a teen mom from the south side of Chicago and her parents are Mexican immigrants. She became the chief of staff in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education. One the statements she made that stuck with me was that it is hard for kids to become someone who they do not see.

Student-Focused Teaching Leads To Engagement, Learning

Jan 5, 2018

Picture a classroom environment. Size, atmosphere, peer-to-peer and student-to-teacher relationships, consider anything to create an image incorporative of a student's thought, emotion and physical self. Now, what rules and guidelines must be adhered to have this classroom function as planned? Would they require strict vigilance, forgiving leniency or some mix of methods to be enforced? What determines effective classroom boundaries, and how does one go about enforcing them?

I ask this because boundaries in some classrooms are negligent, disengaging or harmful. Whether there’s an absence of boundaries or they exist ineffectively, students will be unable to perform to their full capacity.

Nellie, a senior at Mt. Ararat High School, wishes her classes were more functional. “In my, not-titled-as-advanced classes, I’m just mixed in with the kids who are at school because they have to be. It’s so hard for the teacher to control the kids when there's so many, because when one starts then everybody has to start. I think they’ve tried to just teach the kids what to do, or just send them to the office, give them an in-house, do detention, suspension…”

To deconstruct this dynamic: the only reinforcement for bad behavior is reprimanding,  then punishment, and if this fails, then there is no further intervention. The message given by the teacher is one of severity, then apathy; at least this is how I have perceived situations like this in the past. With so many students disengaged from their whole school, being in a classroom that combats negative with negative furthers that disengagement.

Standards Matter When You're Looking for Your Best

Dec 29, 2017

For someone like me who has high standards, doing something well once, like writing a really good essay, is almost a bad thing because I can never lower the bar for myself again. It’s not that it needs to be the best paper either, it’s just that it has to be my best.

It’s not easy to always have such high standards, especially when you’re at a place in your life where everything and everyone around you might not fit those standards. Obviously it isn’t especially healthy too, when you set your standards so high that if it isn’t great, it’s just not worth it. That’s the trouble with trying to do something I find meaning in because I have that constant pressure of performing poorly. But I still think that we should have high expectations and high standards. 

It’s hard to pinpoint where or how anyone picks up their opinions, ideas, and above all standards. Logically, my brain goes to my upbringing. I had a lovely childhood.  It all really wasn’t that bad and it was all just adventures with lots of toys and love. I suppose the thing that really woke me up and made me have such high standards was after the most traumatic experience (I’ve had so far that is) when in the same year, my family had our house burn down and my dog run over, respectively.

I’ve been bullied and harassed for most of my school career, from about third grade onward. I encountered mean girls and guys who obviously needed some kind of help, whether counseling or a different outlet for their anger. I’ve been threatened with loss of friends, the destruction of my reputation, and retaliation.

The worst part of it started in sixth grade and briefly ended for a year in the eighth. That was until it picked up with a harsher intensity freshman year of high school. It was a battle I fought through blood, sweat, and tears, which I would eventually lose.

Though I’m not writing this for you to hear some sob story. 

The purpose of this is to not be silenced. I refuse to be silenced by anyone, including myself, anymore. There is still a problem with how high schools handle incidents of bullying or harassment in any capacity, whether it’s outside of school or not. 

The law signed in 2012 by Governor LePage, is meant to give schools more implementable punishments for the perpetrator, allows schools to punish actions that happen off campus as well as on, and it gives a universal definition for bullying, which can also work for harassment.

The document defines bullying as any “written, oral or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof directed at a student or students.” The law goes on to specify that it’s bullying and or harassment of any kind if it physically harms the student(s), puts them in fear of physical harm or retaliation, disrupts any and all ability to participate in their academics, or is based on discrimination of a certain characteristic.

Magnet Schools Give Students the Route to Engage, Achieve

Nov 20, 2017

I was bored the entirety of my pre-high school academic life. I moved from grade to grade, unchallenged. One of my earliest memories of this was in first grade. I had known my classmates for two years, and I had begun to notice something. Those who didn't enjoy their time at school were an unlikely duo of schoolyard demographics. Both students with outstandingly good grades, and those with outstandingly bad ones disliked going to school. From this, I came to the conclusion that school was too easy for the top, and too difficult for the bottom.

At this point, my grade had three classes, so I suggested that we break it up into a 1st-tier class, a 2nd-tier class, and a 3rd-tier class. This, obviously, was not hailed with jubilation declaring that I had “solved” education. I was told that it would be unfair. First-grade me did not see how, but now I hope I can shed light onto both sides of what I thought of as tiered classes.

Luckily, my perceived misery ended. In sixth grade, I found my holy grail. Not just a 1st-tier class, or grade, but an entire 1st-tier high school, the Maine School of Science and Mathematics

Learning to Advocate Starts in the Classroom

Nov 17, 2017

Sitting down with my dad, I put on a pleading face and told him my dire situation. “It’s nearly the end of the school year and my grades are slipping! I just took my last test and I’m afraid it won’t help my average. What do I do?” 

My dad set down his soda with a sigh and looked me straight in the face. “Listen, the end of the year is a stressful time for teachers. Just approach them respectfully, and be the first one to offer help. It’ll pay off.” What he said resonated with me as a key way to advocate for myself, and anything I was passionate about. 

Too often when advocates who seek something from a person holding a position of power, like with me talking to my teacher, we lay out their case and hope for the best instead of getting involved in the process. Many times these will be people the advocates don’t even know. Asking for something without forming a relationship with that person is one of the most ineffective ways to advocate. Personalizing, and presenting yourself as a relatable, emotion-feeling, average person, will go leaps and bounds in your favor. 

I had a moment to do an interview with state Senator Amy Volk, and ask her what the most common way people try to sway her opinion is. 

Documentary on March Gave Student a Political Voice

Nov 12, 2017

As a filmmaker, I work to tell stories with my own artistic twist. Most of my work has been focused on simple stories, such as how I like the sound that rain makes when it falls, but some stories are smaller pieces of a bigger story. Last winter, when my father asked me if I wanted to go to D.C. for the Women's March I got a chance to do just that.

This film was the result of that trip.

The protest was the largest nationwide protest in American history, and as someone who has been making films since fifth grade, how was I not supposed to bring my camera? 

Traveling abroad always forces me to respect my access to education in a much more profound manner. Recently, I took a trip to Ladakh, India, a three-day journey from just about anywhere in the U.S., to volunteer at the Siddhartha School, a private institution that values a strong academic curriculum and a culture of giving and compassion in India.

The school, which encompasses children from early childhood through grade 10, was started by the Buddhist monk, Khen Rinpoche Lobsang Tsetan, in his hometown of Stok, Ladakh, to give area children “access to a rich, thoroughly modern education that is in harmony with their Himalayan heritage and their cultural traditions.”

Siddhartha School itself lays in a shallow valley 11,000 feet above sea level, nestled tight in a ring of massive snow-capped Himalayan mountains, high on the Tibetan plateau. The surrounding land is parched and dusty except for the oases of farmland and trees created by thorough irrigation.

There were no other schools accessible to the children of this mountainous region in 1995 when Khen Rinpoche founded the school. Rinpoche took it upon himself to establish the Siddhartha School, turning down an invitation in 2000 from the Dalai Lama to become the Abbot of Tashi Lhumpo Monastery to instead work with local children.

Science Classes Might Need a Change in Focus

Oct 20, 2017

I’ve heard the internet referred to as the greatest tool for the human mind, or as the greatest assault on cognitive development. I take a far more standard approach to the internet; it is no doubt a tool, but I do not hesitate to suggest it can be misleading, with erroneous information and a tendency to bring out the worst of us (largely due to the ability to remain anonymous).

It’s a promiscuous tool, and one I fear may be largely responsible for the distribution of bad information, especially the spread of bad science. Now the term “bad science” is largely misleading, as much of what I am discussing is not science at all; it is fallacious and does not conform to the processes of science. When I refer to “bad science,” I speak of “anti-vaxxers,” global warming “skeptics,” young earth creationists, and even so-called “flat-earthers,” (do not be fooled; they do exist). These positions are ones which directly conflict with known science.

For a hypothesis to be merely considered in science, it must be put through a rigorous process of peer-review, which can take months and involves the input of the brightest minds in the field.  Most papers submitted will be rejected. But there is no peer-review process with the internet.  Not that there should be; that could be considered a violation of free speech. Blogs or websites which report to write about science need no credentials, and need not be prestigious or even correct; they merely need to be convincing. 

The heart of the matter is that 51 percent of Americans deny human-induced climate change, 34 percent deny evolution, and 6.5 percent of citizens claim vaccines connect to autism, according to multiple polls from the Pew Research Center. Despite our current efforts to better teach these topics in school, people would rather believe politicians and online blogs over the wealth of scientific data and peer-reviewed papers.

A Safe Space? Schools Have to Stay Vigilant

Oct 19, 2017

In today's society, school is regarded as a “safe space.” It prides itself on being a place where people can share their ideas freely. The surface is seen as sheltered. More often than not, parents will send their children off knowing that they will be “safe.” Is this really true though?  

From personal experience, it depends on the setting. I attend Traip Academy, a small school of about 300 kids in Kittery. Being transgender, I am greatly in the minority. Last year there were just three transgender kids at my school, just one of every 100. But does this mean that we are targeted? Not necessarily. 

From what I have seen, my school is such a tight knit community where everyone has history with everyone. And although sometimes people have had their differences, from my experience, there has never been an unhealthy degree of harassment. I have heard stories from other schools; friends have been assaulted, even physically, because of their choices. 

Video: Internships Offer Path Beyond School

Oct 18, 2017

What's the value of an internship? Mid-Maine Technical Center student Sydney Orcutt and Brayden Paine, a graduate of the school's Mass Media Communications program, looked at how one Waterville employer's partnership with a local school gives young people a chance to gain professional proficiency, as well as valuable workplace skills. Their work was screened nationwide on the 2017 American Graduate Day broadcast.

American Graduate Champion: Mentorships from Maine Public Video Production on Vimeo.

I came to the United States from Africa in December of 2016. I’ve noticed how hard it was for me to travel alone, but luckily I knew how to speak English. At first, I didn’t want to learn the language, but I later changed my mind. 

I learned English because you never know where life is going to take you. I had taken English conversation summer classes for two months before coming to the United States. I had a tutor who used to live in the U.S. and who would work with me every morning. I didn’t think I could learn English in two months, but I didn’t want to stay in my country, so I worked hard and practiced even without my tutor.

In December, I got on an airplane for the first time, and when I landed in Washington, D.C., I didn’t know where to go. I was alone without someone who could help me, and I wanted to go back to Africa because I didn’t know where to go. But I asked someone who worked there because I knew how to speak English, and he helped me. I asked myself after, if I didn’t know how to speak English, would I have missed the plane? I’m sure I would have missed it.

I’m sure everywhere in the world, in each country, there are English summer classes available for students who don’t speak English. I think students should learn other languages, because I’ve noticed how helpful learning English has been for me, and I think it could be helpful for others too.

Alternative Option Might Be The Wrong Path Out of School

Oct 12, 2017

High school is the time that many consider the best of their lives. There are football games and homecomings and nights when the stars shine brighter than ever and everyone feels alive. However, high school is also made up of rumors and cliques that run through school, clogging the ideally smooth system.

Almost everyone in any school somehow fits into a clique, whether it be the jocks or the drama nerds or the smart kids. Some fit into more than one while others feel as though they don’t fit into any. Those kids are seen as the outcasts. They have always been separate from the rest of the school, whether it be because of backed up learning or problems with other students.

This separation starts early on and by the time high school rolls around an indestructible wall has been placed around them. These kids become the “troublemakers” that are sent to alternative education programs that do not necessarily give help for the better. Alternative education groups need reform because they are not as effective as they appear to be due to the separation of students from their classes. 

During a writing workshop this summer I had the chance to walk around Portland and talk with people about how high school influenced their lives, and many had similar answers. They agreed that the habits they made during that point stuck with them.

One woman said, “High school is very impressionable . . . you know there will always be a very important part of me that was made during high school.” High school is a time of making decisions and creating habits that will greatly affect future paths, and that is why this early separation of students is probably not the best choice for dealing some students. 

Looking for a Renewed Focus on the Purpose of Education

Oct 12, 2017

As a high school senior, I have noticed a lot about learning and education.  The biggest issue I am seeing today is that there is a change in perspective on the purpose of education and the way students approach learning.  

Instead of pursuing learning as a valuable, enriching experience, many students think only to the future and disregard the present. This mindset is hurting education and making it a competitive sport. Students only take classes to look good for colleges, and one-up each other in grades.  Instead of finding their passions and enriching their minds with what they love, students are thinking only about financial security and college reputation.  These students see failure as unacceptable and set ridiculous standards for themselves, leading to inevitable stress. This issue is why we must re-evaluate the question: What is the purpose of education?

To find out more about how people feel about this issue, I headed to the streets of Portland this summer.  The first answer I got lined up with the competitive mindset: a woman responded with: “to make people smarter and allow them to get a good job.” Financial success is very important and education absolutely sets many people up for college and careers.