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Transforming rural education
As teachers face the challenge of providing safe and engaging educational experiences amid a pandemic, we were excited to read Aislinn Sarnacki’s article “Maine schools are building outdoor classrooms as safer alternatives.” Our ongoing project, Transforming Rural Experience in Education (TREE), has been partnering with the Cobscook Institute in Trescott and the Maine Outdoor School in Milbridge for the past four years, not only because learning outdoors offers space, fresh air and inspiration, but also because the opportunity to explore and learn in Maine’s abundant, beautiful landscape is a key part of trauma-responsive practice.
Our focus on outdoor education began long before the pandemic hit our schools and communities. In addition to improving physical health and well-being, outdoor learning calms and de-stresses students, increases their motivation, decreases attention fatigue and focuses their energy. Rural schools have less access to resources that mitigate trauma, such as accessible mental health and medical services. Rural communities also have fewer educational enrichment opportunities, such as after-school programs, museums and other community science or arts-based programs.
What we do have in abundance, however, are the mental and physical health and educational benefits of the beautiful Maine outdoors, a wide-open space to observe, explore, problem-solve, and develop social and emotional skills. In Milbridge, as a result of TREE and MOS programming, and documented by researchers from the Rural Vitality Lab, we have seen absentee rates drop, test scores increase, school climate improve and, well, just a lot more creativity and joy during the school day.
More relief for students
More COVID-19 student debt relief must be passed. With $1.6 trillion in national student debt, university students like myself face a future controlled by debt until death.
Maine universities have approved tuition hikes as high as 3 percent to account for COVID-19 losses. Meanwhile, students across the country are demanding refunds for changes in their education and housing. Students face being kicked out of dorms, unreliable online courses, job loss, food insecurity and threat of illness.
According to the College and University Food Bank Alliance, 30 percent of college students were food insecure before COVID-19. According to a 2018 Georgetown study, 70 percent of full-time students work at least one job, and one out of five college students do not have health insurance.
Recognizing this, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong and 27 other attorneys general are uniting to urge the Senate to create a COVID-19 relief bill for all federal student loan borrowers. Unlike the CARES Act, this relief would assist the 8 million students who have loans owned by private entities.
Tuition cannot continue to rise in the United States without a living wage. Maine universities may usher in a future where there are no students to squeeze for their non-existent cash, in a state where young people rarely stay. More debt relief needs to be passed nationally and statewide.
As a graduate student I can honestly say that if the first day of my undergrad was tomorrow, I’d be seriously considering other opportunities.
I spend half my time in Los Angeles, and half my time on Swan’s Island in Maine. When I am in Los Angeles, I subscribe to the paper edition of the Los Angeles Times, and when I am here in Maine, I get the paper edition of the Bangor Daily News.
I want to commend the BDN for the editorial that was published on Sept. 1. All of the points were on target, especially the need to listen to stories of people of color. I am not a sports fan, but thanks for quoting Red Sox coach Ron Roenicke about parents talking to their children. It was right on!
Thank you for your sensitivity to the other pandemic that is going on in the midst of COVID-19!
UMaine locker rooms need attention
Based on what I’ve observed personally, many of the athletic facilities at the University of Maine are in very poor condition. I have two grandchildren on the men’s swimming team, and I would describe the conditions that I have seen in that locker room as deplorable to say the least. I have personally talked to the president and chancellor about these problems so I know they are aware of them. Division I athletes should not have to be exposed to the terrible conditions I saw.
In my opinion, the football field is in such a terrible condition that I doubt it is safely usable. If you feel that the University of Maine athletes deserve good, clean and safe facilities I would recommend that you contact the athletic director and ask about the facilities and even view them as I did. I think you will find that there is indeed a serious problem that needs immediate attention.
Planning to vote
We have an election happening that has an importance unlike any we have seen for decades. The changeable and volatile pandemic makes waiting in long lines on Election Day uncomfortable for many. But luckily we have options.
There has been a great deal of discussion about absentee voting by mail. For some this is clearly the best choice whether due to health concerns, scheduling difficulties, lack of transportation on election day or living a distance from the polls. But there is another option: voting early and in-person.
Maine allows for absentee voting about 30 days prior to election day. A ballot can be obtained by mail or by going directly to the town hall. Indeed, the entire process can be done at the town hall in the same manner as voting at the polls.
An advantage to getting ballots by applying for an absentee process is that someone can bring in the ballots of close family members, such as elderly parents, as long as the family member puts their ballot in the secured envelope they must sign.
The division that is tearing our country apart, the incendiary rhetoric of a president determined to cast doubts on the mail-in voting process and the pandemic means we must have other options on how we vote. As President Barack Obama said, we must have a plan.