Friday, April 21, 2017

Community Day embraces new learning style by Michelle Libby

Every year Manchester School in Windham hosts a Community Day, a celebration of projects the students do to support the community and non-profits that they want to support. This year’s theme was, “Hands and Hearts Caring for our Community.” 
“This is the most special day we have during the school year,” said Principal Danielle Donnini. Fifth graders learn about culture and civilizations, she said. That means common values, ideas and goals. Common celebrations and traditions are a part of culture. “This is the one day we take a break to celebrate them.”

Donnini thanked the volunteers, parents, AmeriCorps volunteers, PTA and school board who had helped with the projects.“It’s pretty awesome, the projects and the celebration,” said Superintendent Sandy Prince. “The work is really important. Every year it gets better and better. The projects are relevant, meaningful and make a difference. It raises their awareness of the community.” 

Special guest speakers, on Wednesday morning, were Windham High School Principal Chris Howell and Windham Middle School Principal Drew Patin. “I was absolutely impressed with the work you’ve done this year,” said Howell. “You have the opportunity to grow up in a very special place. When you help another person you get more enjoyment, more excitement than the person receiving the help,” he said.  

The projects the students worked on this year mirror what will happen when they are in the high school with a Capstone Project, which is an individual project in an area of interest. Students will explore with a mentor from the community and help make career decisions, said Howell. These projects were a taste of what’s to come for the students. 

Last Wednesday began with breakfast for 400 people. Guests were invited to visit each display and table set up in the gym at the school. During the presentation, students and teachers presented checks and gifts to recipients.

“Last year there were 20 projects. This year we can’t capture all the projects,” said Donnini. “As teachers, we learned how to make learning more real, more engaging.” 

Teacher Carol Otley has spent 15 years helping her students build bird houses to share with people all over the State of Maine; with over 200 bird houses created by the students over the years. The bird houses have been placed from New York City to Katahdin, Aroostook County and all over New England. Many birds have been sheltered. This year bird houses were given to: Game wardens, Windham Police Officers Gene Gallant and Steve Stubbs and K9 Vader, a VFW veteran and Survivor winner Bob Crowley to name a few. 

“All of you are from Maine. Be proud to be from Maine,” said Crowley, who owns Maine Forest Yurts. “I’m almost 70 and I’m still giving back to the community.” 

Other teachers and their classes were recognized. Otley was recognized as VFW Teacher of the Year at the local and district levels. Sabrina Nickerson and Stacey Sanborn were honored with the Garden of the Month Award from Maine School Garden Network. Environmental educator Katrina Venhuizen from EcoMaine recognized Jen Ocean’s class with an Eco-Excellence Award 2017 for recycling. The class applied for and received a grant from EcoMaine to work on food waste and recycling at Manchester School. The school went from making nine bags of trash per day to one.
“The class saw a problem, which led to some research, but it takes all of you to make it work,” said Donnini. 

The experiential learning that happens with the projects is hands-on. “The projects give the students choice and voice. It’s not the teacher saying I want to do this,” said Donnini. “Students have their own voice and passion, which leads their learning.”

Judy Taudvin’s class each chose individual projects to work on, allowing the students to develop their own interests. 

Adam Beal’s class raised $400 to donate to Chelsea’s MS Walk. Another class made 21 pet beds out of old sweaters to donate to Harvest Hills. One held an Iditarod Read-a-Thon and another will hold a Color Run on May 20, at 9 a.m. One class sold Pok√©mon cards and has raised over $400 for the Preble Street Resource Center. 

Paton closed the assembly. “I haven’t always been a Windham Eagle. I have pride to be a Windham Eagle.” He is excited to have the students in his school next year. He said he was proud of their, “willingness to be creative, to be problem solvers.” Patton stated that he liked their creativity, perseverance and grit; and their willingness to make a difference in somebody else’s life.

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