Raise Your Voice!

Credit Hamza Aden

We want to know what matters to young people today. We've all got an issue, a belief, an idea that drives us forward, something that really matters. Raise Your Voice! is Maine Public's online platform for ideas and perspectives from students across the state. We reach a broad audience interested in education, supporting young people, and especially, in hearing what today's youth have to say.

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.

A Safe Space? Schools Have to Stay Vigilant

Oct 19, 2017

In today's society, school is regarded as a “safe space.” It prides itself on being a place where people can share their ideas freely. The surface is seen as sheltered. More often than not, parents will send their children off knowing that they will be “safe.” Is this really true though?  

From personal experience, it depends on the setting. I attend Traip Academy, a small school of about 300 kids in Kittery. Being transgender, I am greatly in the minority. Last year there were just three transgender kids at my school, just one of every 100. But does this mean that we are targeted? Not necessarily. 

From what I have seen, my school is such a tight knit community where everyone has history with everyone. And although sometimes people have had their differences, from my experience, there has never been an unhealthy degree of harassment. I have heard stories from other schools; friends have been assaulted, even physically, because of their choices. 

Video: Internships Offer Path Beyond School

Oct 18, 2017

What's the value of an internship? Mid-Maine Technical Center student Sydney Orcutt and Brayden Paine, a graduate of the school's Mass Media Communications program, looked at how one Waterville employer's partnership with a local school gives young people a chance to gain professional proficiency, as well as valuable workplace skills. Their work was screened nationwide on the 2017 American Graduate Day broadcast.

American Graduate Champion: Mentorships from Maine Public Video Production on Vimeo.

I came to the United States from Africa in December of 2016. I’ve noticed how hard it was for me to travel alone, but luckily I knew how to speak English. At first, I didn’t want to learn the language, but I later changed my mind. 

I learned English because you never know where life is going to take you. I had taken English conversation summer classes for two months before coming to the United States. I had a tutor who used to live in the U.S. and who would work with me every morning. I didn’t think I could learn English in two months, but I didn’t want to stay in my country, so I worked hard and practiced even without my tutor.

In December, I got on an airplane for the first time, and when I landed in Washington, D.C., I didn’t know where to go. I was alone without someone who could help me, and I wanted to go back to Africa because I didn’t know where to go. But I asked someone who worked there because I knew how to speak English, and he helped me. I asked myself after, if I didn’t know how to speak English, would I have missed the plane? I’m sure I would have missed it.

I’m sure everywhere in the world, in each country, there are English summer classes available for students who don’t speak English. I think students should learn other languages, because I’ve noticed how helpful learning English has been for me, and I think it could be helpful for others too.

Alternative Option Might Be The Wrong Path Out of School

Oct 12, 2017

High school is the time that many consider the best of their lives. There are football games and homecomings and nights when the stars shine brighter than ever and everyone feels alive. However, high school is also made up of rumors and cliques that run through school, clogging the ideally smooth system.

Almost everyone in any school somehow fits into a clique, whether it be the jocks or the drama nerds or the smart kids. Some fit into more than one while others feel as though they don’t fit into any. Those kids are seen as the outcasts. They have always been separate from the rest of the school, whether it be because of backed up learning or problems with other students.

This separation starts early on and by the time high school rolls around an indestructible wall has been placed around them. These kids become the “troublemakers” that are sent to alternative education programs that do not necessarily give help for the better. Alternative education groups need reform because they are not as effective as they appear to be due to the separation of students from their classes. 

During a writing workshop this summer I had the chance to walk around Portland and talk with people about how high school influenced their lives, and many had similar answers. They agreed that the habits they made during that point stuck with them.

One woman said, “High school is very impressionable . . . you know there will always be a very important part of me that was made during high school.” High school is a time of making decisions and creating habits that will greatly affect future paths, and that is why this early separation of students is probably not the best choice for dealing some students. 

Looking for a Renewed Focus on the Purpose of Education

Oct 12, 2017

As a high school senior, I have noticed a lot about learning and education.  The biggest issue I am seeing today is that there is a change in perspective on the purpose of education and the way students approach learning.  

Instead of pursuing learning as a valuable, enriching experience, many students think only to the future and disregard the present. This mindset is hurting education and making it a competitive sport. Students only take classes to look good for colleges, and one-up each other in grades.  Instead of finding their passions and enriching their minds with what they love, students are thinking only about financial security and college reputation.  These students see failure as unacceptable and set ridiculous standards for themselves, leading to inevitable stress. This issue is why we must re-evaluate the question: What is the purpose of education?

To find out more about how people feel about this issue, I headed to the streets of Portland this summer.  The first answer I got lined up with the competitive mindset: a woman responded with: “to make people smarter and allow them to get a good job.” Financial success is very important and education absolutely sets many people up for college and careers. 

Students Learn When They're at the Center

Oct 11, 2017

When I ask people what values and skills they think should be instilled into children by the education system, I find that an overwhelming number think critical thinking and passion are the most important. 

They want to have a generation of learners who ask “Why?”  A generation that asks it when they don’t understand, when they disagree, when they want to understand someone different than themselves.   

This implies that somewhere along the way, despite their best intentions, schools are failing to give students these skills.  How?  

I think the answer is in the way classes are taught.  Most of my high school classes, especially those with more material, are lecture-based.  A lecture format leaves no room for interaction between students, or between students and teachers.  Questions and discussions are seen as distractions, and if the teacher allows them to develop, they won’t get through the lecture.  The kids will be missing material.  In a lecture classroom, some will indeed learn the material, and the rest will be able to focus enough to understand varying degrees of it.  But none will interact with the material.  None of them will develop those critical thinking skills.

“Does that make sense?” my middle school math teacher asked the class, not even really wanting an answer after finishing a lesson. I scrambled to finish writing the notes from the board into my notebook before he took the eraser and ruined my hopes of ever catching up. Usual. “Don’t worry, you can use mine,” my friend whispered to me just before the bell rang.

All my life I have struggled in math. I hated math and math hated me. It was borrowing notes, low homework grades, and late nights studying for tests I knew I would never pass. Every semester when report cards would come home, my math grade would always be significantly lower than all of my other classes. My sister would scold me for doing so poorly in classes she’d already taken that had come easily to her.

In eighth grade I had a teacher who changed everything. Suddenly, tests weren’t an ego killer and for once I actually felt like I knew what I was doing. He had a way of tailoring his teaching style to help each particular student when they needed a bit more explanation, demonstration, or even just a quick recap on the material. Since everyone has a different way of learning, students should be able to request teachers with a specific teaching style in order to ensure their academic success.

Student Stories: A Day in the Life of Portland Schools

Oct 2, 2017

Imagine if schools could take the best of their communities, and use those approaches, facilities, and positive attributes to make education better? During the summer of 2017, a team of Portland students developed that advice, exploring their community and their own lives, and then brought those ideas together in this short documentary.

These young people learned the basics of storytelling through video production during Gateway to Opportunity, a six-week learning and work program run through the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School for Public Service and Goodwill Northern New England.

This team of young documentary filmmakers was sponsored by Maine Public's Maine Education Project and the Communications and Media Studies Department of the University of Southern Maine. They worked with USM Communications graduate James Doyle to produce this documentary on learning and living in Portland.

Filmed, edited, and produced by the Maine Public team of Gateway to Opportunity: Ray Intwari, Dorcus Shambu, Adamo Nitunga, and Akram Ibrahim,  with assistance from Baha Ibrahim.

The New 'Nuclear Family' is Crucial for Teen Support

Sep 30, 2017

The iconic “Nuclear Family” has been chased after and argued over since it was first coined.  This idea of the perfect family is nothing more than the bandage America uses to cover the bullet wound, a mask hastily slapped over the disfigured face, lest anyone know how imperfect we really are.  Despite the forever failing Nuclear Family, families can still be happy.

We all have learned to picture a white picket fence and large yellow house.  The perfect wife and mother, with a minivan and natural talent for cooking.  A father in a suit with plenty of time for family dinners, homework, and sports games.  A son who always wins and a daughter with a perfect smile.  This is what everyone knows as the Nuclear Family.  However, we also all know this is never really the case, nor is it necessary.

When I was ten years old my mother left my father for a woman.  After a few years of confusion, I moved in with my brother, father, and aunt.  For many years, this was my family.  This was my normal.  I was happy living with my aunt as my guardian while my mother learned to breathe again without my father.  Then, when I was fourteen, my father passed away causing my family dynamic to shift again.  Just like that we changed from four to three.  A year after his passing, my brother, freshly graduated from high school, had a full time job.  He was almost never home, and when he was, he was never alone.  His friends would always be hanging around, happily eating my aunt's cooking and trying to give me advice on life I never asked for.  They became just as much a part of our strange, but functional, family as I was.

Climate change is becoming more and more relevant to the state of Maine. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, over the last century, Maine’s temperature has risen by twice as much as the other 48 continental states. Climate change will affect our beaches, the fishing industry, the skiing industry, and many others. In order to solve the problem, people must fully understand it. Therefore, climate change should be emphasized more in the education system.

Right Words Matter When Talking About Mental Illness

Sep 18, 2017

“Don’t freak out on me again,” is the only thing I hear from my (questionable) friend, who is referring to the nervous stream of sentences that sometimes escape when I’m having a panic attack.  And as I walk away, I focus on nothing more than controlling that worry that always seems to befall me at the wrong moments.  Worst of all, I’m trying to be someone that I’m not, simply because my true self isn’t accepted here. “Here,” being school.

Frequently, I’ve heard whispers about people who are making up a mental illness because they want attention.  “Self-diagnosis” is a popular term.  And if they happen to be diagnosed by a medical professional, the hate continues because they are now officially “crazy,” or perhaps “messed-up.”  However, the truth is that anyone with a mental illness is wildly similar to anyone without: they’re just trying to live life and be accepted.  Why is it so unfathomable that these people can have a place in the world without being called out by others?

A mental illness isn’t a path that is chosen by an individual, and it isn’t something that they are making up or can end at any moment, just with their own willpower.  It is a constant struggle that often hurts just as much as physical pain.

Grading Participation Misses the True Picture

Sep 17, 2017

For anyone who is an introvert, you may be familiar with the rush of terror that accompanies being called on by the teacher - the sudden heat in the face, the feeling that your stomach has been flushed and then forced back down your throat.

These physical reactions are part of the introverted body’s fight or flight response to a perceived stress. For an introvert like me, the solution to this discomfort is to sink into my desk and avoid eye contact with the teacher at all costs. However, in American high schools such as my own, a major part of demonstrating knowledge is through class participation, a veritable torture for me and other introverts - an estimated one third to one half of the US population. While the current education system is biased against introverted students, there are methods to ensure our success in the classroom.

CTE Opens the Path for Students to Explore

Sep 17, 2017

There can be few opportunities in high school for students to really have a choice in what they do and how they do it. But career and technical education offers one possibility where young people can try out fields they find interesting, and along the way, build the skills that could lead to a career.

Caitie Collier, a graduate of Mid-Maine Technical Center's program in Mass Media Communications and now a student in Southern Maine Community College, produced this mini-documentary as her senior project, and talked with students working in a variety of fields about why they found career and technical education the right path for them.

Career and Technical Education from Mid-Maine Technical Center on Vimeo.