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Falmouth resident receives $25K award for work at The REAL School

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Falmouth resident receives $25K award for work at The REAL School

FALMOUTH — A Falmouth man who teaches at The REAL School on Mackworth Island received a $25,000 Milken National Educator Award in a surprise assembly at the school Tuesday morning.

Richard Meserve, 43, is in his sixth year as an alternative education teacher at the school, which is a regional program for grade 7-12 students with severe behavioral, emotional and/or learning disabilities. It is part of the Windham-Raymond School District (Regional School Unit 4).

"My head is still spinning," Meserve said from his home Tuesday afternoon. "I was completely surprised, 100 percent blown away."

Unlike Maine's Teacher of the Year award, for which Meserve was one of 14 nominees this year, candidates for the Milken awards do not know they are under consideration and only find out when notified by school and state Department of Education officials at the surprise assembly. The $25,000 award may be used by Meserve for any purpose.

For Meserve, becoming a teacher was not something he'd planned. Instead, he said he "fell into it" about 10 years ago, while tutoring at-risk students.

"My personality allowed me to build a relationship with these kids," he said. "Probably from being a dad, it provided me the patience to remain connected to these kids."

In addition to incorporating interdisciplinary, thematic units of study and community-based activities, Meserve is active with the school's Adventure Program, organized a service learning trip to New Orleans where students worked for a week in a tent-city soup kitchen and began a school basketball team. He also serves on the RSU Crisis Intervention Team and the Wellness Committee.

Meserve said the honor means a lot to him individually, but is even more important because of the positive light it shines on all educators and in particular on the alternative approach offered by The REAL School –  "hooking kids into education" so they can finish high school and look to a better future.

"This is a very rewarding career," he said. "It's not about making as much money as I can but it's about giving back, doing what's right for the community and society. And it feels good at the end of the day going home. "

As one of more than 50 Milken Educator Award recipients nationwide this year, Meserve said he hopes this award will help him to encourage others to give back to their communities, by teaching or by another occupation or volunteer work.

This is the second time this year Meserve has been recognized with an award. In July, he received a Carnegie Hero Award and medal for risking his life in 2008 to save a 9-year-old girl in danger of drowning at Higgins Beach in Scarborough.

According to its Web site, the Milken Family Foundation seeks to "discover and advance inventive and effective ways of helping people help themselves and those around them lead productive and satisfying lives." In 2001, The REAL School's director, Pender Makin, received one of its educator awards. Since then, the foundation's Festival for Youth program has awarded four grants to the school itself.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.

Moment of truth

Moment of truth
Photo: Paul Cunningham
Richard Meserve, center, buries his head in his hands on Oct. 13 as he is announced in an assembly at The REAL School in Falmouth as the surprise winner of a $25,000 Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.

Big check

Big check
Photo: Paul Cunningham
Teacher Richard Meserve, left, his wife Jennifer, and daughters Hannah Michaud, Katrina and Shannon with the ceremonial check for $25,000 that was presented to Meserve on Oct. 13 at The REAL School in Falmouth by the Milken Family Foundation.