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.

Students Learn When They're at the Center

Oct 11, 2017

When I ask people what values and skills they think should be instilled into children by the education system, I find that an overwhelming number think critical thinking and passion are the most important. 

They want to have a generation of learners who ask “Why?”  A generation that asks it when they don’t understand, when they disagree, when they want to understand someone different than themselves.   

This implies that somewhere along the way, despite their best intentions, schools are failing to give students these skills.  How?  

I think the answer is in the way classes are taught.  Most of my high school classes, especially those with more material, are lecture-based.  A lecture format leaves no room for interaction between students, or between students and teachers.  Questions and discussions are seen as distractions, and if the teacher allows them to develop, they won’t get through the lecture.  The kids will be missing material.  In a lecture classroom, some will indeed learn the material, and the rest will be able to focus enough to understand varying degrees of it.  But none will interact with the material.  None of them will develop those critical thinking skills.

“Does that make sense?” my middle school math teacher asked the class, not even really wanting an answer after finishing a lesson. I scrambled to finish writing the notes from the board into my notebook before he took the eraser and ruined my hopes of ever catching up. Usual. “Don’t worry, you can use mine,” my friend whispered to me just before the bell rang.

All my life I have struggled in math. I hated math and math hated me. It was borrowing notes, low homework grades, and late nights studying for tests I knew I would never pass. Every semester when report cards would come home, my math grade would always be significantly lower than all of my other classes. My sister would scold me for doing so poorly in classes she’d already taken that had come easily to her.

In eighth grade I had a teacher who changed everything. Suddenly, tests weren’t an ego killer and for once I actually felt like I knew what I was doing. He had a way of tailoring his teaching style to help each particular student when they needed a bit more explanation, demonstration, or even just a quick recap on the material. Since everyone has a different way of learning, students should be able to request teachers with a specific teaching style in order to ensure their academic success.

Student Stories: A Day in the Life of Portland Schools

Oct 2, 2017

Imagine if schools could take the best of their communities, and use those approaches, facilities, and positive attributes to make education better? During the summer of 2017, a team of Portland students developed that advice, exploring their community and their own lives, and then brought those ideas together in this short documentary.

These young people learned the basics of storytelling through video production during Gateway to Opportunity, a six-week learning and work program run through the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School for Public Service and Goodwill Northern New England.

This team of young documentary filmmakers was sponsored by Maine Public's Maine Education Project and the Communications and Media Studies Department of the University of Southern Maine. They worked with USM Communications graduate James Doyle to produce this documentary on learning and living in Portland.

Filmed, edited, and produced by the Maine Public team of Gateway to Opportunity: Ray Intwari, Dorcus Shambu, Adamo Nitunga, and Akram Ibrahim,  with assistance from Baha Ibrahim.

The New 'Nuclear Family' is Crucial for Teen Support

Sep 30, 2017

The iconic “Nuclear Family” has been chased after and argued over since it was first coined.  This idea of the perfect family is nothing more than the bandage America uses to cover the bullet wound, a mask hastily slapped over the disfigured face, lest anyone know how imperfect we really are.  Despite the forever failing Nuclear Family, families can still be happy.

We all have learned to picture a white picket fence and large yellow house.  The perfect wife and mother, with a minivan and natural talent for cooking.  A father in a suit with plenty of time for family dinners, homework, and sports games.  A son who always wins and a daughter with a perfect smile.  This is what everyone knows as the Nuclear Family.  However, we also all know this is never really the case, nor is it necessary.

When I was ten years old my mother left my father for a woman.  After a few years of confusion, I moved in with my brother, father, and aunt.  For many years, this was my family.  This was my normal.  I was happy living with my aunt as my guardian while my mother learned to breathe again without my father.  Then, when I was fourteen, my father passed away causing my family dynamic to shift again.  Just like that we changed from four to three.  A year after his passing, my brother, freshly graduated from high school, had a full time job.  He was almost never home, and when he was, he was never alone.  His friends would always be hanging around, happily eating my aunt's cooking and trying to give me advice on life I never asked for.  They became just as much a part of our strange, but functional, family as I was.

Climate change is becoming more and more relevant to the state of Maine. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, over the last century, Maine’s temperature has risen by twice as much as the other 48 continental states. Climate change will affect our beaches, the fishing industry, the skiing industry, and many others. In order to solve the problem, people must fully understand it. Therefore, climate change should be emphasized more in the education system.

Right Words Matter When Talking About Mental Illness

Sep 18, 2017

“Don’t freak out on me again,” is the only thing I hear from my (questionable) friend, who is referring to the nervous stream of sentences that sometimes escape when I’m having a panic attack.  And as I walk away, I focus on nothing more than controlling that worry that always seems to befall me at the wrong moments.  Worst of all, I’m trying to be someone that I’m not, simply because my true self isn’t accepted here. “Here,” being school.

Frequently, I’ve heard whispers about people who are making up a mental illness because they want attention.  “Self-diagnosis” is a popular term.  And if they happen to be diagnosed by a medical professional, the hate continues because they are now officially “crazy,” or perhaps “messed-up.”  However, the truth is that anyone with a mental illness is wildly similar to anyone without: they’re just trying to live life and be accepted.  Why is it so unfathomable that these people can have a place in the world without being called out by others?

A mental illness isn’t a path that is chosen by an individual, and it isn’t something that they are making up or can end at any moment, just with their own willpower.  It is a constant struggle that often hurts just as much as physical pain.

Grading Participation Misses the True Picture

Sep 17, 2017

For anyone who is an introvert, you may be familiar with the rush of terror that accompanies being called on by the teacher - the sudden heat in the face, the feeling that your stomach has been flushed and then forced back down your throat.

These physical reactions are part of the introverted body’s fight or flight response to a perceived stress. For an introvert like me, the solution to this discomfort is to sink into my desk and avoid eye contact with the teacher at all costs. However, in American high schools such as my own, a major part of demonstrating knowledge is through class participation, a veritable torture for me and other introverts - an estimated one third to one half of the US population. While the current education system is biased against introverted students, there are methods to ensure our success in the classroom.

CTE Opens the Path for Students to Explore

Sep 17, 2017

There can be few opportunities in high school for students to really have a choice in what they do and how they do it. But career and technical education offers one possibility where young people can try out fields they find interesting, and along the way, build the skills that could lead to a career.

Caitie Collier, a graduate of Mid-Maine Technical Center's program in Mass Media Communications and now a student in Southern Maine Community College, produced this mini-documentary as her senior project, and talked with students working in a variety of fields about why they found career and technical education the right path for them.

Career and Technical Education from Mid-Maine Technical Center on Vimeo.

Specializing Earlier Would Ease College Burden

Sep 17, 2017

A lot of people say that college costs a lot, and it’s true for many schools. It costs a lot, and it’s the reason for the student debt problem in the U.S. College students go into debt because they have to pay money for school, and don’t have enough money. There might be some solutions to this problem, rather than just watching as the debt rises.

Here’s the problem: college costs so much that it leaves many students in deep debt; the average 2016 college graduate owed $37,172. That’s up more than 5 percent from last year, and debt is rising alarmingly. High college prices can leave students worried about their future, or discouraged from going to college.

I’m already worried about owing lots of money after college. There’s a definite problem with this higher education system. Money for college is a big barrier for some who want to realize their dreams; a high school diploma can’t get you every job. There’s also an ever-widening wage gap in America, and expensive education is a factor. People who graduate from high school and don’t go to college usually get lower paying jobs, and don’t have much hope of climbing up the economic ladder, earning 56 percent less than college graduates.

There are a couple of options that might be considered to fix this problem. First, high school should become entirely specialized. Students would learn everything about their jobs and how to do them in high school. There would be no need for college, so no student debt at all. High school graduates wouldn’t need to learn much else; they would go to their jobs directly from high school. There could be apprenticeships after that if more school was needed, and students could take a skills-based test to graduate from high school.

College tuition is a national crisis. More than 44.2 million Americans have over $1.44 trillion in unpaid student loans, and this number is only rising. College enrollment has risen by 138 percent over the past 40 years, as it should have. But student debt and college tuition have both risen by extreme amounts as well. And when so many Americans are thrown into debt trying to escape poverty, something needs to change

Education seems to be the only option to have a financially stable life in the United States. According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, a high school dropout on average annually makes close to $19,000, and a high school graduate makes almost $10,000 more at $28,000. Those who hold a four-year degree make more than the national average of $48,000, around $51,000 a year. Advanced degree holders on average make $75,000 annually. It seems obvious that the higher degree one holds, the higher the annual salary. It also appears to be an easy choice to make, but when people have to throw themselves into extreme debt for decades, it becomes a problem.

College is expensive. It has always been expensive, but in the past 30 years, it has become exponentially more expensive. Since 1985 the consumer price index has increased by 115 percent, whereas the college education rate has risen nearly 500 percent. To put that in perspective, the annual in-state tuition rate at Ohio State University in the 1985-86 school year was $664, according to national education statistics. In the 2017-18 school year, in-state tuition will be $10,591. The rise of tuition and inflation isn’t the only inequality either.

In-state and out-of-state tuition have extremely different price points. Student in-state tuition should be should be lower than out-of-state tuition. Students or their parents pay state taxes that help fund the school. But the inequality shouldn’t be as extreme as it is. On average out-of-state tuition costs $8,990 more than in-state, which doesn’t even include the usually necessary room and board costs. State tuition inequalities also lead to students receiving a worse education. 

Because of our heteronormative culture, and the fact that most people identify with the gender assigned to them at birth, it’s assumed that the only truly necessary lessons and resources are those specifically for straight cisgender people. Because of this, many aren’t informed on subjects others don’t have any problems with. For example, in health classes, sex ed is only taught in one context: a cisgender male and a cisgender female. 

Same sex couples are excluded from this without most people’s knowledge, and may end up having to find out in an unreliable way such as the internet. Teachers of health classes should assume that there are students in the class who are, or may someday be in, a relationship with someone of the same sex. Counselors and/or teachers should be available to students any time they have a question or need any kind of support. Pamphlets and other written resources should be placed somewhere anyone can easily find them to take and read. Schools’ Gay Straight Alliances are usually the place to get this kind of thing, but to better publicize them would be much more helpful.

Education Needs to Meet the Identity Challenge

Sep 13, 2017

Every day a myriad of labels, both old and new, are thrown into society, reaching first its most vulnerable population: its teenagers.

Through social media and word-of-mouth, the spread of these labels can create both comfort and fear in teens trying to find their place in the world. Having lived just a small fraction of their lives, they are pushed to fall into certain groups which will supposedly make them more readable by their peers. However, this means that once grouped in a certain way, kids are expected to fit into a label completely. This not only results in kids losing their individuality, but also masks the individuality they do possess.

I grew up as a first generation American in a mix of two cultures; a home environment filled with Venezuelan news and food, and a school that taught me about the American Revolution and had me standing up with my classmates and friends, right hand on my heart, left at my side.

The labels set in stone for me such as Venezuelan and Latina have been ones that both others and I have questioned. If I am a Venezuelan American, am I less Venezuelan? Am I less American? Am I really in the Latinx community if I do not look like what some people assume a “normal” Latina looks like despite the fact that it is an ethnicity, not a race?

Why Books Need a Comeback

Sep 13, 2017

When a teacher tells you that your summer reading homework is to read a list of books, what is your first reaction? Do you grumble and groan? Do you procrastinate until the last moment possible? Stop and think how terrible the world would be without books. We should feel grateful we even have books at all, yet all I hear about books is negativity. Why has reading become such a hated activity?

Movies are commonly replacing books. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies just as much as anyone. It’s an amazing thing to see a book come to life on a screen. Unfortunately, more often than not, people ignore the books and look to the film adaptations of the story.

I am a huge fan of Harry Potter and a serious advocate for reading books before watching the movies. So it pains me to hear the responses of my peers when I ask them if they have read the Harry Potter books. The most common answer is, “I haven’t read any of the books, but I’ve seen the movies.” Unfortunately, the movies don’t provide the depth the books do. All the knowledge they have about the series is from the movies. If you think that should be enough, think again. They only know the plots to a certain degree. They think they know everything about the series, but there is so much more. Watching a movie is like scuba diving. But, instead of diving downward, you only skim the surface of the water. When you are reading a book, you dive deep into the water and discover a vibrant coral reef below. In other words, much of the book is lost when they are made into movies. Books are condensed and shortened to fit into our busy lives.

What's The Real Cost of a Connected World?

Sep 9, 2017

Flowers. Trees. Rocks. Dirt. This is nature at its finest. Even in the winter, when the blanket of snow suffocates the scene, it’s gorgeous. No communication. No connection to the outside world through technology. Yes, of course it’s beautiful, but is it practical?

No, not really.

Think of your phone for a moment. Most of you have one. What would you do without it? Would you have as many friends? Would you know as much about the world? But how much trouble is it causing?

These days, it seems like there’s an ever growing war between this generation and the last over technology. Our parents argue we’re growing dumber by the day and we retort that without internet, where would we be? Society is at impasse with tension growing by the day. 

On the one hand, there are our parents. They base their fight on the grounds that the internet is compromising our intelligence. We don’t bother to think for ourselves, wonder, or focus on learning. We ignore teachings, thinking that if we need that bit of intelligence later, we can just Google it and, voila, the answer. 

There is truth to their argument. We are becoming so caught up in technology that we aren’t caring as much for the things around us. The facts support that. In the last generation, SAT scores have dropped from 1,026 to 1,002 out of 1600 throughout high schools. However, the amount of A's given out has gone up noticeably. How is it that grades and SAT scores are going in such opposite directions?

Controversy Needs No Warning for Free Discussion

Sep 9, 2017

We are known as the “swaddled generation.” A generation set apart from the ones before us as we are overly sensitive in how we act, what we say, and how we say it. We don’t want to offend anyone so we often take precautionary measures to avoid doing so. Society tells us to celebrate our differences but to be careful in what you say about them. We are often socially scolded for discussing controversial topics like political stances, race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, rape, and assault. And, honestly, it’s extremely difficult to exercise the right of freedom of speech while not offending anybody with what you say in the process.

These previously listed topics are incorporated into many college and university courses as well as high school courses for open debate and discussion. Having this material that offers different opinions assimilated into coursework allows students to be engaged and learn the varying perspectives of others. What would college and high school classes be like if there were not topics that challenged your opinion? Why would we avoid learning the perspectives of others by avoiding these contentious topics?