Raise Your Voice!

Credit Hamza Aden

Raise Your Voice! is Maine Public's platform for ideas and perspectives from students and teachers. We reach a broad audience interested in education and supporting young people.

And we want your voice in the conversation.

We want to know what young people think about what they’re learning, how they’re learning, and what they’re doing with the skills they're gaining. And we want to know what it means to teach young people today, what challenges educators face, and how we as a society can ease the process and help improve the system.

Credit Photo by imgix on Unsplash

For more information about any of our programs, contact Dave Boardman, our education program coordinator, at dboardman@mainepublic.org, or call him at 207.423.6934. And if you're a teacher and interested in working Raise Your Voice into your curriculum, reach out. We'd love to talk about ways to connect your students with our audiences.

Part of The Maine Education Project and funded by The Nellie Mae Education Foundation, Raise Your Voice! provides a forum for students and educators to share what it means to teach and learn in today's world.

Click the headline of each story to read the full text.

What Do We Learn From The Consequences of Failure?

Mar 6, 2018

I asked a handful of people on the street to answer a quick question: “Can discomfort and failure be used as learning tools?” Generally their answer was yes, and focused heavily on failure; discomfort was merely its side effect. This got me thinking about a few things: Do most people know that failure is a positive thing? If so, why is it still so hard as a society, and as an individual, to accept failure?

Is discomfort giving us a negative outlook on failure? I’m conflicted about this assumption, but I think others are too. Discomfort, being an unpleasant emotion, is hard to handle when it arises. But if we were to fail without it, would we have the incentive to learn from what we did wrong?

Personally, my recovery and growth that stems from failure is because of my desire to not fail like that again. And even though I know that we need to fail, I still don’t want to. I want to avoid those negative emotions. What if we were to embrace discomfort, similar to how we should be embracing failure? If it were to become an expected tool to help identify flaws, would that remedy that initial rejection of failure? Even if it did fix the failure dilemma, how do we embrace discomfort, how are we to be “comfortable” with discomfort?

Don't Sacrifice Creativity, Learning, for Grades

Mar 2, 2018

High school; the golden years, the time of our lives, the glory days. These all describe high school as the best years of our lives. For 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, we inhabit school buildings and attempt to follow the curriculum of math, science, English and history all while attempting to learn things more important to our growing selves.

Endless nights are spent with noses buried in books just trying to reach Friday night, when a football or basketball game will be spent with friends as a stress reliever. However, is this cycle of stress and relief of memorizing and tests during the week minimizing creativity and life during the weekends? Is the want for perfection a self-given goal or is it the pressure of our parents and teachers that drives us? What does high school really teach our youth?

For a few very special Maine elementary school teachers, this is a favorite one-liner, our gentle but pointed humor, our erstwhile collective motto, and sometimes our vehement protest:

“This is not Old Sturbridge Village!”

The one-room school teachers of Maine will smile knowingly — and roll their eyes a little — if they happen to read this. Nothing against Old Sturbridge Village, of course, but the tiny public elementary schools serving the children of Monhegan, Isle au Haut, Frenchboro, the Cranberries, Cliff Island and Matinicus are not historical reenactments, museum displays, or creative anachronisms.

Education has become the basis of all revolutions and evolutions of both the national and global community. With the human disruption of our ecosystems and earth’s cyclic pattern, education needs to take a central role in preparing for and formulating our future.

Every generation needs to take a prominent role in political and social action against measures that can be detrimental to our planet. In a state that so heavily relies on its pristine ecosystems, Maine needs to take a role in educating its residents on how to best prevent disruptions to its ecosystems and a national role in fighting for legislation that restricts these disruptions and raises awareness on the effects of these disruptions. For states like Maine, this is not only a moral argument, but an economic necessity. 

Living in Maine, I am constantly surrounded by the natural beauty this state provides. In the summers, lakes and beaches fill with people swimming, while mountains and hills are trekked. The environments we inhabit become our classrooms; field trips have taken me all over, from the Kenduskeag to an island off Bar Harbor, and the environment has been brought inside as I grew monarch butterflies in kindergarten and identified types of algae just this year. 

In Maine, it is truly difficult to grow up without an appreciation for the environment around you. At the same time, it is impossible to say that the effects of human pollution are invisible in this state. The Gulf of Maine has one of the most rapidly warming coasts.  Our coast has been prone to red tides, or algal blooms, and our gulf is most literally browning

That F Will Make You Smarter!

Jan 25, 2018

Since an early age my parents have told me that any grade I get on a test, a project, or a report card is not reflective of my intelligence. They know it will only hold me back and confine my identity to whether or not I can demonstrate my knowledge in a medium that so often devalues the importance of being a learner before a test taker.

I had translated this academic mentality into thinking tests could never be of value to my personal pool of knowledge, and grades could only be useful for the education system to “put me in my place.” That conclusion allowed me to become more aware of our construct of education, thus giving me the desire to be involved in its reformation. 

But I was wrong. There will always be a need to track understanding and the expansion and evaluation of that understanding. So tests will always have value; they are the ability to quantify a piece of academic growth. But it’s not the tests that were my issue, it’s how we treat the answers. How are we to grow when we aren’t allowed to be wrong without penalty? 

It's Time to Rethink Classroom Light Designs

Jan 13, 2018

At the end of my sophomore year in high school, it was time to take the AP U.S. History Exam. Everyone in my class was told to arrive early in the morning in order to get on a bus to be taken to the University of Southern Maine campus in Gorham where the test would be given. When we got there, the teachers split us up alphabetically and put us in different classrooms. The room I was in had no windows. If it weren’t for the tables in the shape of a horseshoe, a desk at the front of the room, and the chalkboard on the wall, I could have sworn it was a jail cell. Okay, maybe not a jail cell with the amount of artificial lighting, but since we were there for a test it wasn’t far off from an interrogation room.

When the test was over, the light outside was an exquisite sight. Being in that room for a few hours straight made me think I might never see the sun again. I was pleased to find that I was not going to be trapped forever in a room with incredibly harsh lighting.

My high school also uses those cool-white fluorescent bulbs. I understand that there are schools around the world that do not have access to electricity, and that this is considered a first-world problem. 

Route To the Dream Doesn't Follow an Equal Path

Jan 11, 2018

The American Dream is built on the belief that as long as you work hard, you will achieve your dreams. It also gives people the thought that we are all created equal and have equal opportunities. Although, as time goes on, you hear people say, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

Hard work is no longer all you need to succeed. The college admissions process is the first time in many people’s lives that they realize what the American Dream has become. 

The admissions process can be stressful for any student. However, the challenges that each student faces are not the same. I want to shine a light on a topic that does not get discussed nearly enough: the struggles and challenges that low-income minority students face when applying to college. 

When I was 16, I went to a TED Talk in Derry, New Hampshire. One of the speakers was Maribel Duran. Maribel is a teen mom from the south side of Chicago and her parents are Mexican immigrants. She became the chief of staff in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education. One the statements she made that stuck with me was that it is hard for kids to become someone who they do not see.

Student-Focused Teaching Leads To Engagement, Learning

Jan 5, 2018

Picture a classroom environment. Size, atmosphere, peer-to-peer and student-to-teacher relationships, consider anything to create an image incorporative of a student's thought, emotion and physical self. Now, what rules and guidelines must be adhered to have this classroom function as planned? Would they require strict vigilance, forgiving leniency or some mix of methods to be enforced? What determines effective classroom boundaries, and how does one go about enforcing them?

I ask this because boundaries in some classrooms are negligent, disengaging or harmful. Whether there’s an absence of boundaries or they exist ineffectively, students will be unable to perform to their full capacity.

Nellie, a senior at Mt. Ararat High School, wishes her classes were more functional. “In my, not-titled-as-advanced classes, I’m just mixed in with the kids who are at school because they have to be. It’s so hard for the teacher to control the kids when there's so many, because when one starts then everybody has to start. I think they’ve tried to just teach the kids what to do, or just send them to the office, give them an in-house, do detention, suspension…”

To deconstruct this dynamic: the only reinforcement for bad behavior is reprimanding,  then punishment, and if this fails, then there is no further intervention. The message given by the teacher is one of severity, then apathy; at least this is how I have perceived situations like this in the past. With so many students disengaged from their whole school, being in a classroom that combats negative with negative furthers that disengagement.

Standards Matter When You're Looking for Your Best

Dec 29, 2017

For someone like me who has high standards, doing something well once, like writing a really good essay, is almost a bad thing because I can never lower the bar for myself again. It’s not that it needs to be the best paper either, it’s just that it has to be my best.

It’s not easy to always have such high standards, especially when you’re at a place in your life where everything and everyone around you might not fit those standards. Obviously it isn’t especially healthy too, when you set your standards so high that if it isn’t great, it’s just not worth it. That’s the trouble with trying to do something I find meaning in because I have that constant pressure of performing poorly. But I still think that we should have high expectations and high standards. 

It’s hard to pinpoint where or how anyone picks up their opinions, ideas, and above all standards. Logically, my brain goes to my upbringing. I had a lovely childhood.  It all really wasn’t that bad and it was all just adventures with lots of toys and love. I suppose the thing that really woke me up and made me have such high standards was after the most traumatic experience (I’ve had so far that is) when in the same year, my family had our house burn down and my dog run over, respectively.

I’ve been bullied and harassed for most of my school career, from about third grade onward. I encountered mean girls and guys who obviously needed some kind of help, whether counseling or a different outlet for their anger. I’ve been threatened with loss of friends, the destruction of my reputation, and retaliation.

The worst part of it started in sixth grade and briefly ended for a year in the eighth. That was until it picked up with a harsher intensity freshman year of high school. It was a battle I fought through blood, sweat, and tears, which I would eventually lose.

Though I’m not writing this for you to hear some sob story. 

The purpose of this is to not be silenced. I refuse to be silenced by anyone, including myself, anymore. There is still a problem with how high schools handle incidents of bullying or harassment in any capacity, whether it’s outside of school or not. 

The law signed in 2012 by Governor LePage, is meant to give schools more implementable punishments for the perpetrator, allows schools to punish actions that happen off campus as well as on, and it gives a universal definition for bullying, which can also work for harassment.

The document defines bullying as any “written, oral or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof directed at a student or students.” The law goes on to specify that it’s bullying and or harassment of any kind if it physically harms the student(s), puts them in fear of physical harm or retaliation, disrupts any and all ability to participate in their academics, or is based on discrimination of a certain characteristic.

Magnet Schools Give Students the Route to Engage, Achieve

Nov 20, 2017

I was bored the entirety of my pre-high school academic life. I moved from grade to grade, unchallenged. One of my earliest memories of this was in first grade. I had known my classmates for two years, and I had begun to notice something. Those who didn't enjoy their time at school were an unlikely duo of schoolyard demographics. Both students with outstandingly good grades, and those with outstandingly bad ones disliked going to school. From this, I came to the conclusion that school was too easy for the top, and too difficult for the bottom.

At this point, my grade had three classes, so I suggested that we break it up into a 1st-tier class, a 2nd-tier class, and a 3rd-tier class. This, obviously, was not hailed with jubilation declaring that I had “solved” education. I was told that it would be unfair. First-grade me did not see how, but now I hope I can shed light onto both sides of what I thought of as tiered classes.

Luckily, my perceived misery ended. In sixth grade, I found my holy grail. Not just a 1st-tier class, or grade, but an entire 1st-tier high school, the Maine School of Science and Mathematics

Learning to Advocate Starts in the Classroom

Nov 17, 2017

Sitting down with my dad, I put on a pleading face and told him my dire situation. “It’s nearly the end of the school year and my grades are slipping! I just took my last test and I’m afraid it won’t help my average. What do I do?” 

My dad set down his soda with a sigh and looked me straight in the face. “Listen, the end of the year is a stressful time for teachers. Just approach them respectfully, and be the first one to offer help. It’ll pay off.” What he said resonated with me as a key way to advocate for myself, and anything I was passionate about. 

Too often when advocates who seek something from a person holding a position of power, like with me talking to my teacher, we lay out their case and hope for the best instead of getting involved in the process. Many times these will be people the advocates don’t even know. Asking for something without forming a relationship with that person is one of the most ineffective ways to advocate. Personalizing, and presenting yourself as a relatable, emotion-feeling, average person, will go leaps and bounds in your favor. 

I had a moment to do an interview with state Senator Amy Volk, and ask her what the most common way people try to sway her opinion is. 

Documentary on March Gave Student a Political Voice

Nov 12, 2017

As a filmmaker, I work to tell stories with my own artistic twist. Most of my work has been focused on simple stories, such as how I like the sound that rain makes when it falls, but some stories are smaller pieces of a bigger story. Last winter, when my father asked me if I wanted to go to D.C. for the Women's March I got a chance to do just that.

This film was the result of that trip.

The protest was the largest nationwide protest in American history, and as someone who has been making films since fifth grade, how was I not supposed to bring my camera? 

Traveling abroad always forces me to respect my access to education in a much more profound manner. Recently, I took a trip to Ladakh, India, a three-day journey from just about anywhere in the U.S., to volunteer at the Siddhartha School, a private institution that values a strong academic curriculum and a culture of giving and compassion in India.

The school, which encompasses children from early childhood through grade 10, was started by the Buddhist monk, Khen Rinpoche Lobsang Tsetan, in his hometown of Stok, Ladakh, to give area children “access to a rich, thoroughly modern education that is in harmony with their Himalayan heritage and their cultural traditions.”

Siddhartha School itself lays in a shallow valley 11,000 feet above sea level, nestled tight in a ring of massive snow-capped Himalayan mountains, high on the Tibetan plateau. The surrounding land is parched and dusty except for the oases of farmland and trees created by thorough irrigation.

There were no other schools accessible to the children of this mountainous region in 1995 when Khen Rinpoche founded the school. Rinpoche took it upon himself to establish the Siddhartha School, turning down an invitation in 2000 from the Dalai Lama to become the Abbot of Tashi Lhumpo Monastery to instead work with local children.

Science Classes Might Need a Change in Focus

Oct 20, 2017

I’ve heard the internet referred to as the greatest tool for the human mind, or as the greatest assault on cognitive development. I take a far more standard approach to the internet; it is no doubt a tool, but I do not hesitate to suggest it can be misleading, with erroneous information and a tendency to bring out the worst of us (largely due to the ability to remain anonymous).

It’s a promiscuous tool, and one I fear may be largely responsible for the distribution of bad information, especially the spread of bad science. Now the term “bad science” is largely misleading, as much of what I am discussing is not science at all; it is fallacious and does not conform to the processes of science. When I refer to “bad science,” I speak of “anti-vaxxers,” global warming “skeptics,” young earth creationists, and even so-called “flat-earthers,” (do not be fooled; they do exist). These positions are ones which directly conflict with known science.

For a hypothesis to be merely considered in science, it must be put through a rigorous process of peer-review, which can take months and involves the input of the brightest minds in the field.  Most papers submitted will be rejected. But there is no peer-review process with the internet.  Not that there should be; that could be considered a violation of free speech. Blogs or websites which report to write about science need no credentials, and need not be prestigious or even correct; they merely need to be convincing. 

The heart of the matter is that 51 percent of Americans deny human-induced climate change, 34 percent deny evolution, and 6.5 percent of citizens claim vaccines connect to autism, according to multiple polls from the Pew Research Center. Despite our current efforts to better teach these topics in school, people would rather believe politicians and online blogs over the wealth of scientific data and peer-reviewed papers.

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