School fellowship will help develop Peaks Island programs

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PORTLAND — With the help of a fellowship at Peaks Island Elementary School, students will learn how to become better stewards of not just their own island community, but the planet as a whole.

There will also be a renewed focus on ways to live more sustainability, and making intergenerational connections with the island’s older residents, according to Kelly Hasson, the new teacher leader of both the Peaks and Cliff Island schools.

Under the two-year fellowship, the Peaks Island community will have someone committed full time to implement an Edible Schoolyard project while also crafting a plan for better, more supportive aging-in-place programs for seniors.

Andy Theriault, a community development officer at the Island Institute, said the request by the Peaks Island community to have its own Island Fellow was approved last spring.

Grant funding will support the work of Nell Houde, a recent graduate of Bates College in Lewiston, who started at Peaks Island Elementary on Sept. 4. Houde will live on the island and the intent is for her to become fully integrated within the local community, Theriault said.

Houde is “very excited” to be working with the school to implement the Edible Schoolyard master plan, Hasson said this week.

Each class already has its own vegetable and herb garden, but Houde will “extend this work through developing (a longterm) plan, identifying community stakeholders (and) seeking funding opportunities,” Hasson said.

Houde will also help to further develop a project-based learning initiative offered through the elementary school’s Afterschool Academy, which provides not only homework help, but also introduces students to a wide range of fun, engaging outdoor activities.

Theriault said the Island Institute sponsors Island Fellows as a way to support community objectives by providing key support and technical expertise. But fellows not only benefit their assigned community, he said. These young people also gain a whole host of “skills and experiences that are normally not available with most entry-level jobs.”

Fellows are matched with a project that has widespread community support, he said, and their job is to create a strong base so that the longterm goal can be more easily met and sustained over time by the community itself.

In this case, Houde “has a ton of passion for her work,” according to Theriault. In terms of the Edible Schoolyard project, her intent is to “integrate educational opportunities between the school, the community and the gardens,” he said.

Hasson said Houde’s presence will be critical as “we work to prepare our students to become responsible and respectful members of the global community.”

“I believe helping them to become stewards of their island community is a critical first step toward developing the essential knowledge and habits of mind necessary to recognize their roles in caring for our planet,” she added.

Hasson has strong ties to Peaks Island. She grew up there and was also the principal of both the Peaks and Cliff Island schools from 2005 to 2007.

“I am a native of Peaks Island and a proud alumnus of Peaks Island Elementary,” she said this week. ” My dad and his siblings also grew up on Peaks and attended the school so we have deep family roots here. Returning to the place where my heart has always been is a dream come true.”

“The children, families and staff of both schools are really wonderful, and I want to ensure that the culture of learning in both schools remains strong,” Hasson said. She lives in Portland and most recently served as principal of Pond Cove Elementary School in Cape Elizabeth.

Hasson said what she’s most looking forward to is helping both schools “continue to thrive within their roles as the heartbeat of each island community.”

The Peaks and Cliff Island schools also “offer amazing learning environments for children,” she said.

“With low student-teacher ratios, (an) environment that includes myriad natural resources to leverage as outdoor classrooms, as well as a close, tight-knit feeling, both island schools provide outstanding educational opportunities.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Peaks Island native Kelly Hasson is the new teacher leader at the local elementary school. Her duties also include overseeing the school on Cliff Island.

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