Portland School Notebook: Sept. 13

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SALT, MECA open new academic year amid several changes

Nineteen students enrolled in the first-ever Salt Institute for Documentary Studies at Maine College of Art cohort were welcomed during convocation, held Aug. 31. Chaired by former NPR foreign correspondent and award-winning radio maker, writer and editor, Annie Avilés, Salt at MECA also announced two new faculty members: Yoon S. Byun as visiting instructor of Short Film and Photography and Colin Cheney as guest writing instructor.

MCA also welcomed Alysha Kupferer, who will serve as the new chairwoman and assistant professor of the Fashion & Textile Design Program. Kupferer earned her MFA in Textiles from Indiana University-Bloomington and her Bachelor of Science in Apparel Design and Technology from Purdue University. She recently taught in the Fiber and Material Studies Department at the School of the Art Institute Chicago and was a resident artist at Water Street Studios in Batavia, Illinois, for the past two years. 

Other changes for the 2017-18 academic year include a new student tradition, new faculty and studio/classroom space and more student housing. 

More than 500 aspiring professional artists, designers, and storytellers from as far away as Hong Kong have begun the new academic year. On Aug. 31, MECA’s 18th president, Laura Freid, also addressed the student body for her first convocation exercise.

“Today we are focusing on the importance of embracing the unknown, creating a strong work ethic, and finding the balance between intuition and intellect,” Freid said.

A new convocation tradition was born as faculty formed a welcome passageway for students to walk through as a symbolic ushering in of the academic year ahead. 

MECA’s facilities footprint continues to expand with the recent acquisition of Studio 380 Cumberland. The 14,000-square-foot space is a block away from MECA’s flagship Porteous building and serves as a dedicated location for MECA’s MFA cohort, along with providing additional room for other programs such as Foundation, Painting, and Drawing.

MECA’s newest residence hall, located at 117 Preble St. in the historic Schlotterbeck and Foss building, will help to meet the growing demand for student housing by accommodating almost 50 upperclassmen. The John Calvin Stevens building was recently renovated into apartments while maintaining key architectural attributes.

Back-to-school fair to focus on needs of multilingual families 

Multilingual families are invited to a back-to-school fair 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16 at the East End Community Center, 195 North St. Families can get help with filling out school-related paperwork and learn about community services; interpreters will be on hand to help. Translation help will be provided in these languages: Portuguese, Spanish, French, Arabic, Acholi, Vietnamese, Khmer, Lingala, Somali, Swahili, Kirundi, and Kinyarwanda. In addition, the YMCA of Southern Maine and the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine will provide children’s activities. Refreshments also will be provided.

Also, more than 20 local organizations will be attending to explain what community resources are available in and around Portland for multilingual families. 

Peaks school staff start school year with a splash

Staff members at Peaks Island Elementary School are all wet – literally. 

In warm weather, Peaks Island youngsters engage in a rite of passage they call the “dock jump,” when they leap from the Casco Bay Ferry pier into the cold waters of Casco Bay. In order to celebrate the beginning of the new school year, as well as promote a spirit of collaboration, adults at the school also took the plunge. Teacher leader Renee Bourgoine-Serio and her hearty school colleagues jumped in unison Sept. 8. 

Friday’s event served as an early kickoff to Maine Coastweek, Sept. 16-23. That week, which also includes Coastal Cleanup activities, is a week devoted to calling attention to the health of Casco Bay and other Maine coastal resources. Peaks Island students will participate by again volunteering to clean up Centennial Beach on Sept. 23.

Ocean Avenue, PWD tap water for health

The goal of having healthier students and staff is being realized at Ocean Avenue School: since a water-bottle filling station was installed by Portland Water District in April, 6,563 bottles of water have been filled.

Last year, the school won a grant from the water district to bring in the filling station, and, at the school’s Aug. 29 Watermelon Social back-to-school event, the water district provided 450 reusable water bottles to students. The school also actively encourages drinking tap water and will have displays around the building designed to help students make healthy choices.


Peaks Island Elementary School teachers got into the swim of things to celebrate the new school year. From left are Zoe Ryan-Humphrey, Savannah Mirisola-Sullivan, Kathy Mitchell, Ellen Mahoney, Kelly Mascolo and Renee Bourgoine-Serio, along with fourth-grader Nora Barnes.