School Notebook: Portland starts snow delay days, Peak's students celebrate STEM

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Legos celebrated at Peak’s Island school

PEAK’S ISLAND – Over 60 parents and community members attended the Lego Robotics celebration at the Peak’s Island gym Oct. 30. The event was an opportunity for the island community to celebrate the unique and rigorous work of the first of many After School Academy enrichment activities. The event was also a rehearsal for the 17 fourth- and fifth-graders who will showcase their work at the Second Annual STEM Symposium on Tuesday, Nov. 10th at USM’s Sullivan Gym in Portland.

First-graders participate in pilot program

PORTLAND — Ocean Avenue Elementary School has been selected as a site for a new pilot program sponsored by Starting Strong to boost first-grade reading. The program, which is called “Reading Partners,” pairs trained volunteers from the community with first-grade students who need extra support to reach grade-level reading proficiency. More than 30 volunteers have been matched with 16 students so each of the students reads with a volunteer twice a week for 20 minutes each session. The volunteer provides supporting activities, including sight word recognition and talking about the book. The program’s priority is helping children reach reading proficiency by the end of the third grade.

At Ocean Avenue, the first-graders are gaining fluency, sight vocabulary and comprehension. Ocean Avenue’s literacy coach, Beth Spinney, provided a comprehensive training session to the volunteers that covered a wide range of topics. They included offering insight into how students learn to read and how to support student learning and engage students.

Starting Strong is the early age component of Portland ConnectED, a community-wide partnership of agencies and organizations committed to helping Portland youth succeed from cradle to career. Starting Strong, which is supported by United Way, provided a small grant to cover the cost of the training and materials.

Lyman Moore students walk to help hungry

The school food pantry that Lyman Moore Middle School students started last year to help classmates whose families don’t have enough to eat is going strong – and getting stronger – thanks to the students who just held a 5K walk to raise donations.

During the second annual Food Pantry and Care Closet 5K Walk Oct. 30, all the students walked together in the North Deering neighborhood, starting and ending at the school. They delivered fliers about the food pantry to houses along the way and picked up food and other donations, such as hygiene products, during the walk.

“This event is organized by the staff Community Service Team, in conjunction with a group of student leaders who were in eighth grade last year,” said social studies teacher David Hilton. “Our goal is to supplement food and care items available to students and families. Last year we established the food pantry and care closet. This year many students are accessing those areas. Our community needs have increased and we’re committed to support our families as much as possible.”

The annual walk also promotes physical fitness. Every student participated last yea,  and the food pantry received more than $1,000 in donations in addition to  food and health care supplies, Hilton said.

Caroline Foster, another Moore social studies teacher, said the idea for the food pantry stemmed from a project in which students identified a health problem in the community: they found nearly 60 percent of their peers live with food insecurity, so they founded the pantry. Students in need are able to discreetly access the pantry for their families through school guidance counselors and social workers.

Snow may delay Portland school start times 

The Portland Public School Department is including a new option to the district’s snow day procedures this year: The district may delay the start of school for one hour because of bad weather, instead of canceling a full day of school.

District schools are sending out a letter to families informing them of the change. It should mean fewer snow days, resulting in more student learning during the school year, and an earlier start to summer vacation. Most families taking a recent district survey on the issue supported a delayed start when conditions permit.

If a one-hour delay is called, students will start school one hour later than on a normal day, and if students take a bus, then the bus will come one hour later than normal. Students will go home at their regular time.

On occasions when the weather is very bad, the district will continue its practice of cancelling a full day of school. If there is a one-hour delay, the morning session (8-10:30 a.m.) at PATHS, the Portland Arts and Technology High School will be canceled. In addition, all Portland Recreation before-school care will be cancelled on days when there is a one-hour delay.

There are a variety of ways families can learn about delayed start times and cancellations: local television stations; the district’s website,; on on Channel 3, the district’s educational television cable channel and on Facebook and Twitter.  In addition, families will receive a “robo” phone call – usually by 6 a.m.

Fifth-grader Lilah Green demonstrates how her robot does tricks at the Peaks Island After School Academy Lego Robotics Celebration.