Posts Tagged ‘Lewiston’


Visual Art Educator Kelsey Boucher

August 8, 2022

Androscoggin County Teacher of the Year

Please join me in congratulating Visual Art Educator Kelsey Boucher who is the 2022 Androscoggin County Teacher of the Year. Kelsey teaches grades K-6 at Connors Elementary School in Lewiston. Her love of art was encouraged and supported by her own art teachers. “I love teaching art because art is its own language. Our school is home to a variety of spoken languages but when they come into my room, the art speaks for itself.”


Tell us your story, what led you to this moment Kelsey?

Throughout my school years, I always loved art class. I had really enthusiastic art teachers throughout elementary school who provided a variety of opportunities to create. My middle school and high school art teachers really provided interesting art projects and kept my interest. I took every art class possible. When I went to college at the University of Vermont, I went in undecided. A friend of mine had been taking art courses and I wanted to try my hand at the college level. While in college, I babysat to make some extra money and everything kind of just started to make sense. I loved kids and I loved art.  I decided to transfer to USM where the Art Education just seemed perfect for me. I student taught at Raymond A. Geiger Elementary in Lewiston and Brunswick High School in Brunswick. I landed a part time art teaching position at Martel Elementary School in Lewiston, which ended up turning into full time. I did 6 years of “art on a cart” between Martel Elementary School, Longley Elementary School, and some time at Farwell Elementary School. In 2019, Martel and Longley combined into a new building, now Connors Elementary School.

What is your present teaching assignment?

This year will be at Connors Elementary School in Lewiston, teaching 37 classes in a 6 day rotating schedule. This will be my 4th year at Connors, but 10th year in the Lewiston School District. I was born and raised in Lewiston and I can’t see myself teaching anywhere else. 

What do you love about teaching? What are you biggest challenges?

I love teaching art because art is its own language. Our school is home to a variety of spoken languages but when they come into my room, the art speaks for itself. The seeing, creating, hands on nature of art and the climate of my room allows for success and the creativity to flow. Right now the biggest challenge is the buy in once I get students hooked, it’s smooth sailing. Other big challenges are beyond our control. Things like home life, poverty, the nature of life right now (i.e. Covid times), trauma, etc. 

Tell the blog readers about the Teacher of the Year process, what’s it been like?

The process has been really eye opening. When somebody nominates you in the first place, you feel finally really seen and appreciated. It’s a tough time for teachers right now, but just the nomination really boosted my attitude and helped affirm my “why”. After that, the application process was extremely reflective. As teachers, we constantly reflect on lessons and activities in our room but rarely have time to reflect on our philosophies of teaching, our values, ours beliefs in the classrooms. This process really grounded me in my work and in my beliefs. In writing my essays and even answering interview questions, the reflective nature of it all really helped me be myself and stay true to who I am. When I finally got the call from the program director, I was elated and overwhelmed, in the best way possible. My colleague and friend, Nes Griffin (who is 2017 Androscoggin County Teacher of the Year), has been my rock through this process, and when I won she was my biggest cheerleader. Nes, along with administration, orchestrated the most amazing parade through my school where all of my students cheered for me. 

I finally got to meet with my cohort (the other county teachers of the year) and spend time working with them. All I can say is WOW! Maine has some AMAZING educators. I feel so lucky and empowered to be part of the 2022 cohort.

Whose classroom have you visited that really impressed you and what were the pieces that stand out most to you? What did you learn from that experience? 

Nes Griffin, teaches grade 4 at Connors, has been a true mentor. I am lucky enough to be co-advisors of the civil rights team at our school with Nes and the way she affirms student identity in every aspect of education has been the biggest, most important thing I’ve learned from her. That one key piece has changed who I am as a teacher. 

Share a story of something you’ve learned from your student(s) that has impacted your teaching.

My time as the civil rights team co-advisor has transformed my outlook completely as a teacher. I’m lucky enough to teach the entire school, so getting to spend time with students on the civil rights team allows the student leaders and I to gain a different understanding for each other. As we started to do a lot of work on the civil rights team, I started to see their artwork change and become more personal. Kids starting adding more social justice flare to their art and add personal touches that they hadn’t previously. This further amplified the importance of affirming student identity in all aspects of school.

You’ve had professional development in communicating with the press since you’ve been selected as the Androscoggin County Teacher of the Year. What did you learn that is good advice for all teachers in communicating about the importance of your role as a teacher?

The media professional development was so eye opening for me. There is so much more to doing interviews than just speaking. We learned a lot about sound bites and how important it is to stick to your sound bite. It helps you nail down what your message is and allows you to stay focused on that. This is really helpful for what I do because art is so much more then something pretty to look at. For some students, it is their pathway to learning, for some it is their outlet, for others it is their way to use their voice and make a change. 

What advice do you have for new teachers?

My message for new teachers would be to put a lot of priority on getting to know your students and build a relationship with every single one of them. Relationships and affirming students’ identities are the key to everything else and once that is established, the lessons, the planning, and your time together will be more successful and enjoyable. 


MALI Teacher Leader Story: Laura Manchester

May 1, 2018

Visual Art Educator

This is one of several blog posts in 2018 that include stories of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 7 Teacher Leaders and Teaching Artist Leaders. This series includes a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about each leader. CLICK HERE  for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE  for more information on the 93 Teacher Leaders and 8 Teaching Artist Leaders.  CLICK HERE  for Arts education resources. CLICK HERE  for the MALI Resource Bank. Search in the “search archives” box on the bottom right side of this post for past teacher leader stories.  Thank you Laura for sharing your story!

Laura Manchester teaches visual art at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston. She has been teaching the entire school population of just over 750 children, 32 classes a week for 7 years. Laura also teaches the after school art club, 4 days a week for an hour. Each session runs for 6 weeks which includes a rotation of 15 students from grades 1-2 and 15 students from grades 3-6.

What do you like best about being an art educator?

The best part of my job is when teachers bring their classes back to me in a week and tell me that their students made connections between what they’ve learned in my room and what they’ve been learning in their general classrooms. Seeing that art is influential and valid throughout a student’s day is integral to keeping art alive and relevant. It’s very rewarding when the kids can make their own connections, independently.

What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?

  1. Relevance. Keeping what students learn relevant to their world keeps them engaged and excited. It’s natural to want to know WHY you are learning something or how it connects to you.
  2. Consistency in routine. When students know where things are and what to expect, they can focus their energy on learning new things. This doesn’t have to be boring. By having clear, positive expectations you allow students to “own” their experiences and be more adventurous when learning new ideas and processes in the art room.
  3. Get excited. If you’re excited about what you’re teaching, the students will be as well.

How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?

Assessment helps me to check what students know and need to learn. By using a variety of summative and formative assessments throughout the year, I can see how close students are to meeting specific overarching curriculum goals and where they need practice or support. I use a lot of student self-assessments to help kids make connections between lessons and curriculum goals.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the Maine Arts Leadership initiative?

As the only visual arts teacher in such a large school, it has been difficult to get connected with other arts teachers. By joining MALI, I’ve opened so many more opportunities to collaborate and celebrate my craft. MALI inspired me to try new things in the classroom, refreshed my approach to assessment and overall given me the chance to approach this school year with my best foot forward.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am most proud of the connections I have made with the school’s community during my time here in my current teaching position. Attendance in after school events is quite low at our school- with only 4 parents participating in our parent-teacher organization and typically less than 50 attendees at any given event. Several years ago I joined our parent-teacher organization and have consistently made calls and had conferences with parents to engage them in what their child is doing in my classroom. I think it is because of this, and because of the genuine interest and excitement that art can bring to people that our annual art show is the best attended event of the year. As I mentioned earlier, many events are not well attended after school. The art show has consistently brought in over 500 attendees for the last 6 years. Those numbers alone are something to brag about- let alone the enthusiasm that parents have when they see the incredible work their children have done. While my work here is exhausting, the connections and results of those connections with families are priceless.

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?

Laura works with Jen Nash at the MALI summer institute, August 2017

The number one challenge for me is that our school simply does not have enough arts staff to appropriately accommodate its high volume of students. My schedule is packed at 32 classes a week, some of those classes having students from multiple classrooms crammed in for a single 40 minute block. With this tight schedule, I have limited planning time at school- which is never used for planning but usually a time to catch up on grading, hanging artwork, providing additional time for students to finish their work, etc. This schedule is so exhausting that it truly inhibits what I can do outside of school to continue my own education or continue as an artist. I rarely have time to plan additional fun activities and because of limited staffing elsewhere in the building, I am very limited in the amount of professional development time I can take.

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?

In my classroom students are absolutely a joy. I run a tight ship with a lot of student responsibility with materials and procedures. Although many might say it is because I teach a fun subject that students are so responsible and receptive, I believe that it is just as much (if not more) due to the idea that I set high expectations for students and reinforce positive behaviors. Allowing students to “own” the room by providing access to material shelves and student-led responsibilities as well as facilitating student choice is imperative to giving kids a chance at finding a sense of self in a classroom that they only get to visit for 40 minutes, once a week.

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

Take the time to reflect on what is truly important about your role in your students’ lives. Messes can be cleaned up, rough days come to an end and eventually all that’s left is the impact of the experiences you gave and allowed to happen while you were there teaching. If nothing else, be able to say that you were kind and allowed something special to happen while you were together.

If you were given $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

If I was given $500,000.00, I would pay off my student loans and then buy a few groceries. Haha! Just kidding… I would invest in an unused building- probably one with some cool history to it- and design the interior to accommodate a bunch of arts-based classrooms and studios. There would be a gallery and performance space on the main floor. I would run the building to have classes throughout the year for students of all ages to explore and experience different art forms. Classes would be facilitated by local artists, musicians who would teach their craft to the public in exchange for having a free space to showcase their personal works. There would be some sort of annual fundraiser that would help sustain funds to keep the project running and progressing. Oh, the possibilities!!

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?

Most definitely: If I live to be 94 years old, I’ll regret not having dessert every day. That’s a lot of wasted ice cream and cake.


Franklin County Fiddlers

October 14, 2016

Mt. Blue High School, Farmington

The Franklin County Fiddlers from Mt. Blue High School, Farmington, under the direction of music educator Steve Muise,  performed at the Maine International Conference on the Arts provided by the Maine Arts Commission on Thursday, October 6, at the Franco Center, in Lewiston. They were one of several pop-up performers that wowed the audience during the MICA conference! Below is a small clip of their pop-up performance.


Pre-MICA Arts Ed

October 11, 2016

Lots of energy

Cheryl Hulteen, author of YES YES GOOD! provided an energizing workshop for 40 participants last Thursday at the Franco Center in Lewiston as part of the pre-Maine International Conference on the Arts events. They were a mixture of PK-12 arts educators, teaching artists, and representatives from community arts organizations. Below are some photos to give you an idea of the learning and those who participated.


Cheryl Hulteen and Maine teaching artist Martin Swinger








MICA Conference

September 28, 2016

Registration still open

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-9-08-12-amLooking for some creative inspiration? How about learning about how we can create cultural equity for all Mainers, or leading from a place of making? These are just two samples of the many inspiring keynotes and sessions you’ll get at the Maine Arts Commission Maine International Conference on the Arts (MICA) October 6-7 in Lewiston/Auburn. Poet and advocate Crystal Williams will speak on “Practical Approaches to Creating Impact: Getting to Cultural Equity” Thursday night at 5:30 p.m., and Friday lunch keynote is “Stop Asking for Permission! Leading from a Place of Making (Things Happen)” by Sherry Wagner-Henry. Advance Registration closes September 30: go to to learn more and to register today!


Following the arts education conference on Thursday afternoon, October 6, the MICA officially opens at 4:00 pm with a reception at 4:30 pm, Franco Center, Lewiston. Following the reception Pam Breaux, CEO of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) will provide a brief “State of the States”. Crystal Williams will be the opening keynote at 5:30 pm. Poet, essayist, and Bates College VP and Chief Diversity Officer Crystal’s keynote. Following the keynote in downtown Lewiston: cultural offerings including Downtown Lewiston Gallery Crawl, showcases at The Community Little Theater in Auburn, Franco-Fest at Bates College, Poetry Reading at the Lewiston Library, and more.


MICA opens on Friday morning with an Idea Lab – 5 artists presenting in a Pecha Kucha format. Included in the Idea Lab is Nancy Frolich who established an arts and literacy with a program she created called LEAPS of Imagination. During the day participants have choices between 20 sessions – 5 different strands with 4 sessions under each of these topics: Leveraging Investment, Visibility of the Arts & Culture Sector, Arts Education, Cultural Tourism, and Building Capacity. A general schedule is located at THIS LINK. A pdf and more schedule info is located at THIS LINK.

I hope to see you in Lewiston! If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to email me at



July 1, 2016

Maine International Conference on the Arts, Lewiston/Auburn

Inspiration, Networking, Learning & Arts Experiences offered at the Maine Arts Commission’s second statewide conference

AUGUSTA, MAINE–The Maine Arts Commission (MAC) is excited to announce that Early Bird registration is now open at www/ for its second Maine International Conference on the Arts (MICA). The dynamic, activity-filled conference, in Lewiston/Auburn October 6 and 7, will focus on the intersections of Creativity, Industry, Art, and Innovation. Made possible by a statewide collaboration of Maine arts organizations as well as the Commission’s special international partnership with New Brunswick, Canada, MICA will be hosted by the Gendron Franco Cultural Center and Arts and Culture Lewiston/Auburn at the Franco Center and at the Bates Mill in downtown Lewiston. The Commission encourages creative professionals across all artistic disciplines, including artists, arts organizations, arts educators, and interested community members and policy makers to come together at the conference for inspirational presentations, networking, learning, and arts experiences.

“We create world class art in this state, and Maine has a deep culture and long history of driving industry and innovation through creativity. We need and deserve a world class arts conference in support of this,” said Julie Richard, Executive Director of the Maine Arts Commission.

Leading the inspiration will be MICA keynote speakers Pam Breaux and Sherry Wagner-Henry. Additionally, Matt Lehrman, of Audiences EverywhereTM, and Crista Cloutier, The Working ArtistTM, bring their nationally renowned sessions to Maine for the conference. Add in an Idea Lab featuring five Maine artists, a dozen pop-up performances by a full range of Maine performers, 18 other breakout sessions, local food and drink picks, behind the scenes walking tours of Lewiston/Auburn, local evening entertainment designed specifically for conference attendees and a first-ever Maine Craft Apprenticeships Exhibition for a thrilling, action-packed, and art filled 30 hours in Maine’s second largest urban area.

Breakout sessions will be offered in five tracks that mirror the Commission’s priorities as outlined in its new Cultural Plan, “Fortifying Maine’s Creativity and Culture.” The plan culminates in Maine’s bicentennial in 2020. Each of the five tracks–Leveraging Investment, Increasing Visibility, Fostering Arts Education/Lifelong Learning, Encouraging Cultural Tourism, and Building Capacity–will include hands on, nuts and bolts professional development sessions such as The Life Cycle of an Organization, Strategic Social Media Partnerships, and The Economic Impact of the Arts: What Data Tells Us and How to Use It, in addition to a cross-discipline funders panel, innovative pitch sessions around cultural tourism, and workshops on Creative Aging/intergenerational programming, STEAM, and unlocking creativity.

The conference also represents a singular and remarkable opportunity to showcase one’s work and to share and book talent. The Commission will create two networking hubs at the Bates Mill, and the conference schedule in many ways prioritizes and creates informal opportunities for networking as much as it does for formal session attendance. Artists, agents, managers, talent buyers, vendors and other service providers will have the space and encouragement to connect with attendees and promote their wares. And audience members will have the chance to be delighted by the many pop-up performances that highlight Maine’s best talent.

Additionally, the Commission has partnered with the communities of Lewiston-Auburn and Arts and Culture LA (ACLA) to provide conference attendees with multiple opportunities to experience the vibrant cultural life and deeply creative industrial heritage of the twin cities. Attendees will have two opportunities during the day Friday for guided walking tours of the cities, and on Thursday evening will be treated to a specially-curated selection of community opportunities after the opening reception and keynote.
A native of Lafayette, Louisiana with a M.A. in English and folklore from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, PAM BREAUX brings an intimate understanding of the celebration and sustenance of Franco culture in the U.S. to her position as CEO of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA). As CEO she works in collaboration with the NASAA board of directors to advance NASAA’s federal policy agenda. She has previously held leadership positions at the local, state and national levels. Before working in state government, Pam managed southwest Louisiana’s Decentralized Arts Funding Program and was executive director of the Arts and Humanities Council of Southwest Louisiana. She has served on the boards of NASAA, South Arts, the Louisiana Board of International Commerce and the U.S. Travel Association. She most recently was assistant secretary of the Office of Cultural Development at the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism (CRT). She was also executive director of the Louisiana Division of the Arts. During her time at CRT, Pam led Louisiana’s cultural economy initiative and spearheaded the state’s attainment of UNESCO recognition of Poverty Point as a World Heritage site.

SHERRY WAGNER-HENRY is the director of and created the Arts and Cultural Leadership masters degree program for the Bolz Center for Arts Administration at the University of Wisconsin Business School, the oldest and most respected program in the U.S. She came to the position, bringing extensive experience in arts administration and higher education, from the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis/St. Paul, where she was director of graduate programs for the College of Continuing Education and faculty director of their Master of Professional Studies in Arts and Cultural Leadership (ACL). Through her efforts, enrollment, scholarship support, and general revenue all increased. Previously, at the University of Minnesota, she was managing director, University Theatre and Dance, and executive director, Minnesota Centennial Showboat.
Speaking in regard to one of the day’s special workshops, Audiences EverywhereTM, one participant said, “Unbelievably honest and exactly what every organization needs to hear,” about the workshop’s “whole organization approach” to understanding and serving audiences.

“We’re re-invigorating Maine as the center for cultural exchange between New England, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada,” said Kerstin Gilg, the Commission’s Director for Media and Performing Arts and a member of the Maine-New Brunswick Partnership Initiative. “As attendees at the first MICA in 2013 noted, there is nothing else like this for Maine’s creative sector. We’re excited.”

Early Bird registration, which offers attendees a 25% discount on conference attendance, has been extended and closes July 15 at

To see further presenter, workshop, and schedule details and to register for the Maine International Conference on the Arts please go to To learn more about the Maine Arts Commission’s current and future programs please go to You may also join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @MaineArts.

The Maine Arts Commission shall encourage and stimulate public interest and participation in the cultural heritage and cultural programs of our state; shall expand the state’s cultural resources; and shall encourage and assist freedom of artistic expression for the well-being of the arts, to meet the needs and aspirations of persons in all parts of the state.


The Ant Girls

April 17, 2014

UMaine, Lewiston

The University of Maine, Lewiston campus is the site for an art exhibit called Ant Farm. The Ant Girls are artists Dorothy Schwartz, Rebecca Goodale, Vivien Russe and Colleen Kinsella. These 4 Maine based artists have been collaborating to merge art and science through the visual exploration of leafcutter ants. The Atrium Art Gallery, 51 Westminster St., Lewiston is the exhibit location and will remain until June 6. The show is a great example of the connection of art and science and would be an excellent exhibit for students to visit.

If your school has limited funding for field trips please note that the Maine Arts Commission Ticket to Ride funding is still available and this is a perfect opportunity for your school to apply for the funding. Information and details are located at

I am delighted to think that Ticket to Ride funds can be used for this–it is such a creative explosion of science and art put together by 4 artists working in different mediums plus a soundtrack! ~Carolyn Wollen

Artist Dorothy (Deedee) Schwartz passed away in March but her husband, musician Elliott performed at the Ant Farm opening this past week with musicians Caleb Mulkerin and Colleen Kinsella. Elliott and Caleb composed the piece “Ant Girls” for the show.

You can read the Ant Girls blog to learn more. Included are more photos of the exhibit, and listen to the sound tracks of the piece that Elliott and Caleb composed at


photo 2

photo 3



I am delighted to think that Ticket to Ride funds can be used for this–it is such a creative explosion of science and art put together by 4 artists working in different mediums plus a soundtrack!


Jordan Conwell’s Presentation at Bates

June 20, 2012

Bonner Senior Celebration of Learning (Capstone)

Nancy Salmon, dance educator, recently sent me an email with the text of Jordan Conwell’s presentation that he did for his capstone project at Bates. I felt the message is powerful, whether we live and/or teach in a college town or an island school, small rural town or a suburban or urban environment.  Consequently, I know some of you will be moved by Jordan’s words. It’s not about the arts specifically but it is about community – something that the arts directly connect with all the time! Jordan kindly gave me permission to reprint this on the meatsed blog and shared a photo as well. Knowing that many of us are visual learners the visual helps imagine Jordan delivering it.

Good Evening. My name is Jordan Conwell. This month, I will graduate from Bates with a double-major in Sociology and Rhetoric. It has been privilege throughout my four years at the College to be part of community partnerships with the Lewiston School District and the Auburn School District.

The school community at Park Avenue School in Auburn has graciously welcomed me for the past two consecutive academic years (as well as for one semester during my freshman year). I consider my relationship with the school and my community partners there – Amy Heimerl, Robin Fleck, Chris Turcotte, and many others – to be my most rewarding community engagement experience.

In my work as a classroom aide in Amy Heimrel’s Kindergarten classroom, I’ve helped with tasks ranging from working with students on iPads and beginning reading/ writing skills to assembling pop-up books to making photocopies. Throughout, I’ve been able to marvel at a group of four-to-six year-olds who are learning, communicating, doing, and being.

This is what I wrote in the acknowledgements of my community-inspired sociology thesis:

To Mrs. Amy Heimerl, Mrs. Robin Fleck, Mrs. Chris Turcotte, and the students, faculty, and staff at Park Avenue School in Auburn, Maine- Thank you for allowing me to become a part of your school community, and letting me in on the tremendous joy, in spite of the many obstacles, that is embedded in the spirit of your work. Those of us with aspirations to think, write, debate, and legislate about education issues will always stand in awe of all that you do on a daily basis. You are, and always will be, the talent.

If the educators at Park Avenue School are the talent, that makes me a lackey, or maybe even a groupie. I hope that over these past few years I’ve been the best lackey anyone’s ever seen. Because the talent is doing some really important stuff. In talking about my learning, I’ll try to explain what they’ve taught me (even if they don’t know they have), and what it means relative to what I’ve learned in classrooms at Bates.

There is a sign in the teachers’ photocopy and lounge area at Park Avenue that reads, “I touch the future, I teach.”  I don’t teach, I just get to admire those who do, so I won’t claim to touch the future. However, I have looked into the future’s eyes and felt the warmth of the future’s smiles and laughter. I have unfortunately on occasion felt the acute hurt of the future’s distress. The future has the potential to be much, much better than we are. We, us adults, we are the past; we drastically affect the future’s present- sometimes for better, much, much too often for worse.

You see, we send children to school with backpacks full of our failings, insecurities, hatreds, the sub-group histories we hold at the expense of whole group dialogue, and – of course – our ideas of nation and tribe. We send them to school burdened with all of our stuff, and then we somehow expect the next generation to be better than us. Children are somehow expected to move up from their parents’ stations and be more secure, less hateful, more willing to dialogue across difference, and free of insular ideas of nation and tribe. But we blanket them with our world, a world of the opposite.

Where do schools come in, then? I think I’ve learned that educators are a radical present-tense. School days are moments in which they try their hardest to defend the future against us, the past, in order to free the future. So that it might realize its potential and be better than us.

  • We tell them that people who wear hijabs hate us; Educators tell them that people who wear hijabs are just as likely to be their friends as anyone else.
  • Media portrayals often tell young students of color that they cannot achieve in school; Educators tell them that they can indeed learn if they try. And then they say lets get back to the reading we were working on.
  • We show them our selfishness, our pettiness, and our me first-ness; Educators show them that everyone needs to pull their weight, but everyone also needs to look out for others and make sure they also have what they need to do their share. Educators tell them that you may be line leader now, but you won’t be line leader tomorrow. So it’s not in your best interest to discourage the person who’s behind you today.

We show the future the world as it is, while educators teach them to aspire to the world as it should be. But it’s not that easy; it’s not that prosaic. They know we fully expect them to do this whether or not we give them the support they need – financial and otherwise – and whether or not we get kids to school on time and whether or not we show up to parent-teacher conferences and whether or not we do anything more than change the channel when we see video of teachers’ unions protesting for the right to organize. While we continue to think the same thoughts and act like we don’t understand the world we create, and then perpetuate, we expect them to teach our children to be one million things we can’t be ourselves. Oh, and make them smart while you’re at it.

This is what I mean when I say that my learning at Bates College and my learning at Park Avenue School have formed a unique educational experience that neither could provide alone. Bates has exposed me to various points of view from which to understand the system that we adults create and perpetuate. Given my course of study, I am particularly well-versed in its social inequalities and its rhetorical discourses of power. I think I see the game for what it is, and Bates has given me the intellectual capacity to hold most of it in my head at the same time. After four years, I see in 3-D. But, in theory, there’s potential for me to see the system as a hopeless mess. I could read the A-Section of The New York Times and be depressed for hours.

But this is where Park Avenue School comes in yet again. Because what a theory can’t demonstrate and what words on pages can’t read and what a lecture can’t really espouse is that those of us thinking so hard about the system – working “across disciplines” as we say and trying to describe it in the most intricate and cutting-edge ways, even if it is in order to one day create change – we are surrounded by people who are already beating it.

More than anything, in my time at Park Avenue I have been welcomed into a community of students, faculty, and staff who are beating the system, who are working together to free the future. They hold together a fabric woven of various races, ethnicities, economic classes, religious backgrounds, levels of ability and disability, and nations of origin. They teach children skills, expose them to new technologies, and show them compassion every day, no matter what.

Although it isn’t always easy or perfect, people like Amy Heimerl and Robin Fleck create small moments of triumph and joy. If I’m not mistaken, those kinds of moments sustain them. And those moments have sustained me, too. Because you can only learn about what’s broken, in theory, so long before you’d like to meet some people who are trying to fix it…for real. When you’ve been exposed to the complete laundry list of problems, you’re excited to meet someone who says “This might only work for today, or it might not work at all, but let’s try this and see what happens.” Reorganized reading group, reconfigured classroom set up, new activity, improvised lesson plan. The future is one or two steps closer to freedom from our past.

And I thank them for allowing me to become a part of what they do so well. In accepting me into their community, they have also become a part of my Bates education. Because on Sunday, May 27th, 2012, I’ll accept a Bates diploma knowing that descriptions of the system are only as good as the understanding that educators (and many others) are everyday breaking that system’s rules – trying to get us to a better place populated by learners who realize ideals that we haven’t.

I think that I – and my fellow Bonner leaders, given their own unique, community-engaged learning experiences – know very well the conjunctive space between what the Bates mission statement terms “intellectual discovery and informed civic action.” I hope that we are ready, as the statement also says, “for the coming times.” If we have indeed planted our feet in the space and really do stand ready for the moment, we have to thank those of you representing the College and those of you representing our wider community, because you both played a part in it.

I’ve heard many discussions about the next few years at Bates College. They are sure to be full of institutional change, given the upcoming inauguration of a new president and impending faculty turnover. Efforts will be made to “increase the value of a Bates degree” and improve the College’s standing among elite colleges and universities. But I’m here to tell you, before these efforts even begin, that they won’t increase the value of my Bates degree one bit. Because my Bates degree and my fellows’ Bates degrees are different than most other Bates degrees. And I, for one, couldn’t be happier about that.

Their value is based on this combination or two-ness that I’ve been discussing. They have a certain reality and messiness based on our sometimes-uncomfortable knowledge that things aren’t that simple. But they aren’t that bad either.

  • Their value is based on a reciprocal relationship between what we’ve learned in the classroom and what we’ve learned and done with the community, with our neighbors.
  • Their value allows us to say that we graduated from Bates College, a school whose mission statement declaims preparing leaders with “a commitment to responsible stewardship of the wider world.” We are so prepared because the Harward Center for Community Partnerships and the Bonner Foundation and our community-engaged faculty mentors and our community partners encouraged us to engage with said wider world during our four years at said elite, residential, liberal arts college.

The value I’m talking about doesn’t have anything to do with the endowment, multi-million dollar capital campaigns, need-blind admissions, the ten-year plan, a student union, the General Education Curriculum, or faculty research productivity. It most certainly doesn’t have a thing to do with U.S News and World Report or what Brian Williams say about Bates tuition on NBC Nightly News, or how quickly the College responds to Mr. Williams.

If you think you can add value to my Bates degree in these ways, you fundamentally misunderstand the value of my degree. Thanks, but no thanks. I know community engagement efforts are secondary beneficiaries of these efforts, but that doesn’t change what I’m saying. Because I’m talking about priorities.

The value I’m talking about has to do with making sure that more Bates students graduate with Bates degrees like ours.

  • It has to do with closing the gap between the current Bates experience and the Bates mission statement, just like our community engagement has closed the gap for us.
  • It has to do with finally recognizing that calling our neighbors “townies” and other shows of disrespect for our community should be considered student misconduct issues of the most serious variety.
  • It has to do with the Princeton Review calling Lewiston the eighth worst college town in the United States of America, and whether or not Bates takes the time to respond to that at all.

The value I’m talking about hears a senior say, as one did to me, that community-engaged coursework was a quote “dumbed down” version of a college curriculum and that students don’t come to schools like Bates to do stuff like that. It responds with some examples.

  • Like Jacob Kaplove, Class of 2012, who takes what he learns in the psychology classroom and assesses the possibility for mental distress among local youth and their families.
  • Or like Rebecca Schmidtberger, also Class of 2012, who took a classroom of underachieving local eighth graders through the entire Feagels translation of The Odyssey.

It makes sure that every student, faculty member, department, and administrator knows that there’s nothing dumb about that. Actually, there’s something very Bates about it. The value I’m talking makes sure that students do come to Bates to do stuff like that, and that they are fully empowered to do stuff like that throughout their four years here.

In short, the value I’m talking about will allow the College to look back upon days when students spoke with humor and pride about “the Bates bubble” (as some do now) as a sad and regrettable stain upon this College’s history. Because that’s exactly what it is. It will then be able to discuss all of the efforts that were made to put, and keep, those days in the past, never to return again. That’s what the Harward Center, the Bonner Foundation, our community-engaged faculty mentors, and our community partners did for us. They popped the damn bubble.

%d bloggers like this: