Portland School Notebook: Dec. 16

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Portland woman completes intensive research

Abby Harrison of Portland, a senior majoring in electrical and computer engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, recently completed an intense, hands-on project in Massachusetts at Lincoln Labs. The project was titled “Digital Programmable Gaussian Noise Generator.”

At WPI, all undergraduates are required to complete a research-driven, professional-level project addressing a challenge in their major field of study. About two-thirds of students complete a project at one of the university’s more than 40 off-campus project centers, which are located around the world.

“The WPI project-based curriculum brings students out of the classroom and into the real world to apply their knowledge to solve problems,” said Professor Richard Vaz, dean of the WPI Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division. “Students are immersed in a new setting, solving open-ended problems and working with people of different backgrounds – all valuable perspectives for surviving and thriving in today’s global marketplace. They also make valuable contributions to a problem in their field.”

Students rewarded for playground project

Two Lyman Moore Middle School students helped others by completing a community service project to fix up a playground in a housing project so it’s a clean and safe place for children. In return, a Portland police officer rewarded the students by giving them each a beautiful, handcrafted desk.

Portland Housing Authority staff presented the gifts donated by an anonymous donor to eighth-graders Atak Natali and Divine Macibiri late last month at the Front Street housing complex on West Presumpscot Street. But authority staff said the donor is a police officer who was so moved by what Divine and Atak did that he put other projects on hold to make their desks.

The students and many of their classmates live at the Housing Authority-owned complex, which has 50 family apartments. But Divine and Atak said the complex’s playground was dirty and unsafe, and they made it their mission last year to fix it. This past June, new wood chips were spread, the structures were scraped and painted and new swings were installed at the playground. New tripletoss poles – paid for in part by the Maine Red Claws basketball team, after Divine and Atak asked team President Dajuan Eubanks to help – are scheduled to be installed next spring, according to Lyman Moore social studies teacher David Hilton.

The two students came up with a vision to improve the playground while participating in Make It Happen!, a program of the Portland Public Schools’ Multilingual and Multicultural Center. The students’ efforts included winning a $500 grant for the playground from Painting for a Purpose, a local organization that funds youth-led initiatives that make a difference in the community. The students also met with Housing Authority staff to discuss their ideas. The Housing Authority donated wood chips, new swings, paint and equipment and hours of labor. Divine and Atak were also honored by the Portland Board of Public Education in February for their community service efforts.

Reiche awarded for initiative

Reiche Community School and the Portland Public Schools recently won an award for a collaboration between the school district, the teachers union and the school in transforming Reiche into a teacher-led school.

Reiche teachers, the Portland Public Schools and the Portland Education Association (teachers’ union) were honored at the Teacher-Powered Schools National Conference, held last month in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At the conference, Portland interim Superintendent Jeanne Crocker, PEA President Suzette Olafsen and Reiche teacher leaders Selene Becker, David Briley and Lori Bobinsky accepted the Teacher-Powered Schools Initiative Award for School-Union Partnership on behalf of the Reiche community and the Portland Public Schools.

At its Nov. 17 meeting, the Portland Board of Public Education recognized Reiche teachers for winning the award and their work in transforming the school.

Reiche staff and parents, the PEA and the district explored different governing structures, and transformed a traditionally governed school into a teacher-powered school governed by the teachers. Reiche’s governance is based on collaboration at the building level and among a variety of stakeholders.

IXplore STEM receives grant

IXplore STEM, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was awarded a grant from the Rines-Thomson Fund of the Maine Community Foundation to broaden student participation in science, technology, engineering and math, know as STEM curriculum. The grant will provide more than 300 high school students in the Portland area the opportunity to engage in modern scientific research using DNA barcoding and contribute to the Maine Barcode of Life project.

“Life science students and teachers will benefit from this project – using modern biotechnology and equipment that would otherwise not be available to them,” said Karen Shibles, a Deering High School science teacher who completed training during an iXplore workshop.

“Students investigate topics such as the effects of global warming on biodiversity, the presence of invasive species, and food fraud in markets and restaurants,” said Deborah Landry, executive director of iXplore STEM. “Students publish their results in BOLDsystems.org and build the genetic library of existing Maine species that can be used by scientists around the globe.”

The University of New England’s Marine Science Center will collaborate on the project and host classroom visits to collect specimens for student research.

“This effective teaching tool not only offers an avenue for authentic classroom research, but it also prepares students for college-level science,” said Markus Frederich, a UNE professor of marine biology.