Superintendent’s Notebook: Nothing wrong with kids these days

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I often hear phrases that start “Kids these days …” and imply that youngsters are less thoughtful, caring or engaged than in past generations. Sometimes, people ask me, “What are young people thinking?” Or they remark, “I don’t know what’s happening with today’s youth!”

I have worked with children my entire professional life. Over and over again, I have seen primary-age children and adolescents open their hearts to those in need. Caring adults who work in our schools encourage, guide and organize those efforts. While some community service projects take place outside of the normal school day, others are incorporated into the curriculum through so-called “service learning.” Students become more engaged in their academic work when they apply their skills and creativity to real-life problems, and they see how their efforts can make a difference.

During December, schools throughout the district have undertaken projects to help our community’s neediest residents. At Deering High School, students in Andrew Gordon’s advisory group organized a school-wide collection of toys, mittens, scarves and books. All of the items were delivered to the METRO toy bus on its stop at the high school.

At Nathan Clifford Elementary School, students in Anne Marie Demers’ third-grade class are sewing and decorating stockings to donate to the Portland Boys & Girls Club. Third-graders in Rebecca Walsh’s class at Hall Elementary School will wrap gifts for children from Sagamore Village who go to the Boys & Girls Club in the housing project.

All three first grades at Clifford are assembling “Mitten Bags” containing toiletries and other everyday essentials for a family shelter. Casco Bay High School students are collecting winter clothing for Amistad, an agency serving people struggling with mental illness.

The entire student body at Howard C. Reiche Community School is involved in a year-long effort to raise money for books and school supplies for children in Tanzania. The project began last year, after a Reiche family who had built and supported schools in Tanzania returned to Maine.

Students in Lynn Provencher’s fifth-grade class at Reiche are leading this year’s penny drive, with a goal of raising $800. They created posters advertising the drive, and they are counting and wrapping the coins that are collected. They also are doing a research project about Tanzania to give background to the cause. Provencher’s students are making alphabet books in English and Swahili, and the local family will deliver them to students in Tanzania.

Part of our work as educators is to empower young people to make a difference in the world. The Portland Public Schools takes that charge so seriously that it is part of our new mission statement. 

We can be proud of our students and staff, who understand that assisting others through community service and service learning is a critical part of the learning process. The foundation for future service to our community as adults is being established through this work. Around the corner or around the world, Portland Public Schools children are showing that they care.

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James C. Morse Sr. is Portland’s superintendent of schools. His column runs monthly in The Forecaster and on He can be reached at