Peaks Island school to join expeditionary movement

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PORTLAND — Teachers at the Peaks Island Elementary School will bring a new style of education to their students next year.

Over the course of three sessions in January, the island’s teachers and others will become trained in Expeditionary Learning, a model of comprehensive school reform where students participate in project-based expeditions.

Casco Bay High School at 196 Allen Ave., King Middle School at 92 Deering Ave., and Presumpscot Elementary School at 69 Presumpscot St. are all Expeditionary Learning schools.

The training, which will occur on Jan. 6, 13 and 20, is open to island parents and any district teacher. Karen MacDonald, a retired teacher from Portland’s King Middle School who also won the 2014 Maine Teacher Of The Year award, will be providing the training. MacDonald began working at Portland public schools in 1978, and taught at King from 1989 until she retired this year.

According to Peaks Island Elementary School Principal Renee Bourgione-Serio, MacDonald will be paid by the city as a consultant. She said MacDonald will come back six times in the  spring to help students and teachers as needed.

Bourgione-Serio said MacDonald will train the teachers in what the nature of an expedition is, how to build units for grades and classes, and how to be able to replicate the lessons every year. She said MacDonald will bring in performance tasks used at Presumpscot Elementary School, so the faculty can see what it looks like when students use this model of learning.

Bourgione-Serio said because of the training, the students will be able to make “bigger links” and be able to connect their studies to more global issues outside the island.

“The task will be to develop long-term units of study,” Bourgione-Serio said. “The kids will be fluent in the problems of the island and can make connections globally.”

She said while it was too early to know what topics the teachers and students will explore after the trainings, she said science and literacy will be two possibilities to explore.

“Once (the teachers) are trained, then we’ll say, ‘What are topics rich and possible on the island now?'” Bourgione-Serio said, adding that the new program is an exciting opportunity for the school.

One possibility Bourgione-Serio mentioned is the school’s aging heating boiler system. She said rather than getting a new boiler, she wants to be able to find a cleaner form of energy. Using that as a launching point for a study on energy efficiency with a global context could be a possibility.

Despite the training, however, the school will not be recognized as an official Expeditionary Learning school. Charlie Marenghi, a teacher at the school who advocated for the training, said the school does not have the financial resources to become an official Expeditionary Learning school.

However, Marenghi is still excited about the announcement. He said a school-wide expedition in the community will be planned for the spring.

“The expeditions will use island resources and island life as our lens, leading up to high-quality products that the children and community can use,” Marenghi said via email.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Teachers at the Peaks Island Elementary School in Portland will receive Expeditionary Learning training during the winter, with a school-wide expedition planned for the spring.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or