Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mr. C.'s latest compositions

 Brad Ciechomski’s latest piece, "The Noise in the Basement" was picked as the "editor's choice" by the JW Pepper Catalog, which means that it's in the top 10% of the music chosen by this catalog!

Please access the link below to hear this amazing composition, "which serves as the soundtrack for those times children find themselves alone in the basement. Noises seem to appear from all kinds of places that somehow make imaginations run wild."

Brad Ciechomski
Stay tuned for the soon to be released "Deep Pockets", and "Riffin the Blues" composed by Brad for jazz bands at the middle school level.

Brad has also written three more pieces this year for a high school/middle school band in Utah; these compositions include one jazz band, and two concert band pieces.

To catch up on the rest of Brad’s work, you can check out his website at:

Congratulations Mr. C!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Amanda Blaine published in Teaching Tolerance magazine

Congratulations to Amanda Blaine, who recently had an article published in the Teaching Tolerance blog! Please read Amanda's inspiring, intriguing piece below entitled "Scrutinize the 'Truth' at Every Turn".

Amanda Blaine-7th grade Social Studies and Language Arts Teacher
Scrutinize the ‘Truth’ at Every Turn

“How could they do that to them?” My students were leaping out of their seats. “Let’s protest this!”

How could it be, these seventh-graders wondered, that in the very state where they have lived their entire lives surrounded by friends and family, many children were taken from their homes and forced to grow up among strangers?

I had shown a video clip about the recently convened Maine Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the first between a state government and a tribal nation. According to the TRC, its purpose is to bring to light “what happened to Wabanaki the  people involved with the Maine child welfare system.” The story could be ancient history, but it’s not. Into the 1990s, the Wabanaki children were removed from their homes at disproportionately higher rates than American Indian children in other states and placed in foster care with nonnative—and, in some cases, abusive—families. This practice continued a legacy of U.S. government-sanctioned breakups of Native American families that included forced-assimilation boarding schools in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In my classroom, I try to be aware of how the "us" and "them" themes are expressed. It shifts. I notice that my mostly white, mostly privileged students, when talking about the colonists in the original 13 Colonies, say, "We did this" or "We did that."

“We declared independence.”

“We won and England lost.”

They identify with the colonists, the writers of the history. Indeed, some of my students point out ancestors’ signatures on the copy of the U.S. Constitution that hangs on our classroom wall.
But when I showed them the TRC video, they screamed, "How could they do that to them!"

They. Them.

Of course, none of my students actually was a perpetrator or a victim in this case. Of course, none of them was a colonist, either. Many students, in fact, have parents or family members who are or have been high up in Maine’s government. Our town is one of the wealthiest in Maine. My students are young people, about the same age that many Wabanaki people were when taken from their families.

I want to challenge who is “us” and who is “them.”

Soon, I will launch a unit on our town's connection to slavery in the United States. The first assignment asks students to interview an adult they know about local history. They can ask whatever questions they want, but they must include the question, “What is our town’s connection to slavery?” In past years, students have returned with a variety of answers:


Or, “The Underground Railroad came through here.”

And sometimes, “There were no slaves here.”

The only person who connected the big, beautiful, former sea captains’ homes so sumptuously restored on Main Street to the Atlantic Triangular Trade was a student who interviewed a local high school teacher who has made history his lifework.

Next, students will visit our historical society and re-enact a debate that actually took place here in the years leading up to the Civil War. Taking on the roles of townspeople, they will debate the question: Shall we abolish slavery or not?

There are enough talking points for both sides: “Our morals tell us it is wrong.” “Our businesses rely on slavery.”

We’ll define us and them.

And we’ll keep asking questions and scrutinizing the stories we hear. We’ll consider the many and varied perspectives. One truth is coming from the Maine Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Let’s reconcile that these are our truths. All of ours.

Blaine is a public school teacher and dialogue facilitator exploring non-violent communication, privilege and power in Maine. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Update from St. Bakhita

Earlier this spring we posted a piece about Harrison Middle School students', staff, and community members' continuing efforts to support St. Bakhita Nursery and Primary School, located in the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement in Uganda. 

We explained that our efforts this spring were focused on collecting T-Shirts for the more than 500 children of the Sudanese refugees. Paula Vicenzi is the driving force behind this project, and the most recent T-Shirt collection. She directed and implemented the collection of over 600 T-Shirts for these children! 

We wanted to share the note and picture below from Anywar Michael, teacher, teacher representative and business manager for the St Bakhita School in Uganda. Our students are thrilled to know that the t-shirts reached their friends in Uganda!


 Dear Harrison Middle School,

The staffs and students of St. Bakhita Nursery and Primary School send you our warm greetings. We are so grateful to the entire school community of Harrison Middle School for the support you have always accorded us. 

Our students are currently out for their three week first team holidays and will report back on the 27/05/2013. They were very excited upon receiving their pen pal letters, and they will respond to them as the new team opens.  The students learn a lot of new things through the letter exchange program which each of them hopes should continue.


St Bakhita School has an enrollment of 581 students. There are 15 teaching staff.  The school has nursery and primary classes.  It takes three years to complete nursery and another seven years in primary for one to join secondary school.   There are three terms in a year for one to be promoted to the next class.


Our primary school children learn always five subjects which include mathematics, science, social study, English and Christian religion education.   The school runs from Monday to Friday stating at 8:30am and ending at 4:30pm, mixed with sport activities. 

Once again we take this opportunity to send our heartfelt appreciation to the students of Harrison Middle School for the tee shirt donation and wooden desk support made to St. Bakhita School going children and for accepting the pen pal letter exchange program with St. Bakhita students

Your sincerely,

Anywar Michael, Teacher Representative 

St. Bakhita N/P School

Makerspace Comes To HMS!

This year, with the help of a YEF grant, Ms. Agell, Ms. Smith and Ms. Stuhr piloted Makerspace for the 5th graders at the middle school. Students had the opportunity to make, create, tinker, craft, build, play and collaborate with a variety of loose parts and tools. Students had one full Makerspace session in the library this spring, followed by additional opportunities to extend the Makerspace experience.
Reflections from this first year of Makerspace include:
  • EVERY child was engaged, involved, and curious!
  • everyone can find success in Makerspace
  • kids took risks
  • kids collaborated
  • they were excited to try new things
  • kids asked lots of questions
  • they were motivated to find out the answers to their questions
  • kids naturally modified their work by trying different materials and other improvements
  • kids fluidly shifted from Plan A to Plan B, C, D, etc.
  • kids were really excited to use real tools and such a variety of materials
 We found this to be a wonderful way of supporting the work we are all doing with kids to immerse them in the Inquiry Process of natural learning. 
Take a look at the photographs and videos of the experience through a link on the HMS Makerspace web page!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Charlotte Agell is featured in Maine Magazine

Charlotte Agell

Q+A-May 2013
By Sophie Nelson
Photographs by Greta Tucker
Add caption
NAME: Charlotte Agell
AGE: 53
OCCUPATION: Writer, illustrator, middle school teacher
Charlotte Agell is a writer, illustrator, and teacher living in Brunswick. Since 1991, she's published numerous works of young adult fiction, chapter books, and picture books, including Welcome Home or Someplace Like It, and The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister.

Where did you grow up?
I was born in Sweden, really far north in Sweden, the part of Sweden that even Swedish people never knew about until the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. But my family left Sweden to move to Montreal, Canada. That's where I learned English, when I was a toddler, essentially. I still remember learning it; "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" was my first song in English. When I was 11 we moved to Hong Kong and I went to an international school. I think in a way it positioned me to become a writer, because every day there was something astonishing to think about and question. And you're always the outsider, which is of course a great writing mode, to be the observer.

How did you find your way to Maine?
Both my Anglo-Canadian friends and Franco-Canadian friends spoke of Maine as if it were this paradise lost. I never went there because we went back to Sweden in the summers, but it always stayed on my mind. I remember as a kid writing a story set in Halibut, Maine, a place I totally made up. It was almost like I was writing myself into Maine. When it came time to apply to college I decided I wanted a liberal arts experience. I really wanted to hitchhike around the universe with my boyfriend, but my mother was not in favor of that, so I made a compromise with her. I'd apply to one school and if they took me early decision, I'd go. I was still in touch with my Canadian friends in that old-fashioned letter-writing way that existed in the 70s, and they had mentioned this place called Bowdoin College. Thank goodness I did end up going there. I remember arriving at the Portland Jetport. The minute we hit Stroudwater I had this bizarre sense that I was home.

Where have you lived since?
I've lived in a lot of different Maine towns. But when our kids were three and six my husband and I decided that we wanted to come back to Brunswick where we had both gone to school. I love the community. I taught at Portland High School in the early days of the multilingual, multicultural program. Now I work in the Yarmouth school district, teaching middle school. I've really found my tribe with middle-schoolers.
I think what you learn at that age is incredibly formative.
Exactly. It's A Wrinkle in Time! It's life and death, existentialism. It's "who am I?" and it's reading to explore. I have written so many different books and one of them was a dystopian novel my mother distinctly didn't like—until, actually, the Theater Project in Brunswick decided to make a play out of it, which was so amazing.

What other kinds of books do you write?
I'm all over the map. I think it's because I just like to explore. I have written many picture books but more recently I've been writing middle-grade and young adult books. Maine is almost always the hero in my stories.

What's your writing process like?
One of my tenets is to honor ideas. I need to write them down in the purest form. A very silly but typical example is when my husband Peter and I were seizing a weekend up north in Baxter State Park. So we're hiking along and every 20 minutes or so I just got hit with a book idea. Scenes were flying at me. And I couldn't ignore them. It's a little bit like a form of madness, but I don't mind. Otherwise the ideas go stale or transmogrify into their boring cousins; they just aren't what they were when they hit you. So I always have notebooks. My students know that. I just always have something to write on wherever I go.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

7/8 Grade Bands play at the State House

The 7/8 grade band was invited to play at the State House in Augusta on Tuesday, 4/30. Mr. C. organized this trip for our students.

The students played a concert in the rotunda area; passersby stopped, listened, and offered their applause and appreciation. The band then moved into the the Gallery to play the national anthem. Representatives rose to their feet to applaud at the completion of the anthem.

Our students used their talent and love of music to demonstrate positive, civic duty at the state capitol. They were proud of making this contribution, and they played extremely well. Our thanks to Mr. C., and these students, who did a stellar job of representing HMS and Yarmouth!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Poetry KaBaam!

HMS Students celebrated Poetry Month at the 2nd Annual HMS Poetry KaBaam on Tuesday, April 23. Fifth through eighth grade students, selected by their language arts teachers, poured into the library for this event, many with poems to read. A fair number of these poems were student written. 

Amelia French, Jordan Brown, and Samantha Mangino, Poetry Out Loud participants from YHS, came down to kick off the reading. After each poem, audience members were invited to write down on a slip of paper how the poem made them feel. The resulting reactions echoed each recitation. The PTO provided snacks, for which everyone was very grateful. The mood was joyous, respectful, and thoughtful!