PORTLAND – Imagine a future where every Maine child is prepared for college, technical training, career and active citizenship in a rapidly changing world.

Think about what it would mean if a growing pipeline of Maine students interested in pursuing science, technology, engineering and math careers fed Maine’s future work force. Think about how a generation trained as critical thinkers, problem solvers, collaborators and communicators would contribute to civic and cultural affairs across the state.

Over the next decade, Maine can and should aspire to emerge as the nation’s most science-literate state.

This might seem like an audacious goal at a time when our schools are struggling. Budgets are tightening and pressures on our teachers are intense. The challenge of meeting reading and math standards leaves little time for science in our classrooms. Nonetheless, the time is ripe for Maine’s education, scientific, political, philanthropic and business leaders to articulate a clear vision for science literacy and pursue it.

MAJOR MILESTONE

Maine’s science literacy train has already left the station. On Oct. 5, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute celebrated a major milestone. During the past five years, 50,000 Maine children have participated in our LabVenture! program. More kids visit our lab every day. This unforgettable hands-on research experience redefines science as an exciting, personally meaningful, future career.

Delivered to fifth- or sixth-graders from every county in Maine, LabVenture! sets the stage for lifelong learning. Students work in teams to investigate the Gulf of Maine ecosystem using authentic science tools and techniques. They learn to learn through the process of analyzing, reasoning and sharing.

This 50,000-student milestone was achieved thanks to the incredible community that stands behind the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in making LabVenture! available to schools free of charge — including transportation. The experience takes place in our Sam L. Cohen Center for Interactive Learning and extends back into the classroom through our teacher professional development programs. Maine’s corporate and philanthropic community has been the driving force behind our success with LabVenture! — sharing the burden to provide approximately $1 million of funding each year and make it possible for students all over Maine to do hands-on research and aspire to science and technology futures.

We have been honored to work with Poland Spring as the lead corporate partner since launching the program in 2006. Hannaford, Unum, Central Maine Power, and Country Kitchen/Barowsky’s Organic Bread have all made significant investments to ensure the program’s success.

Countless other businesses and family foundations across the state generously contribute by sponsoring student participation from their local communities. The result is a national-caliber learning experience that is accessible to all Maine children, regardless of where they live or their personal circumstances.

We all hear that science literacy underpins our nation’s economy and democracy and that the United States must be restored as the world’s engine for scientific discovery. Yet decades of education reform have failed to significantly advance science achievement anywhere.

LabVenture! has become a testament to the power of uniting Maine’s leaders behind a common purpose. In supporting LabVenture!, Poland Spring and other employers around the state are embracing the challenge of ensuring that Maine’s next generation acquires the science knowledge, skills and habits of mind to succeed in the 21st century.

CHANCE TO LEARN

They recognize the extraordinary potential of giving students a chance to learn in a way that engages them with the practice of science in all its messiness, rather than memorizing right answers; of connecting science learning to Maine’s rich natural resources and locally relevant science policy issues; and of introducing students to compelling career role models.

Thanks to the generosity of our many supporters, Maine is the only state in the country where students have such a profound personal experience with science, but I would challenge us all to think even bigger.

The statewide transformation we could achieve by creating similar peak science learning experiences at other grade levels, and supporting our teachers with robust professional development and curriculum resources, would be extraordinary.

Imagine the opportunities our children would have if they came from the nation’s most science-literate state! Imagine Maine’s ability to grow and recruit technology companies if our work force was known as the nation’s most science-literate work force!

Maine has an extraordinary opportunity. Let’s work together to ignite the curiosity, ambition and problem-solving potential of our next generation. Let’s stop wringing our hands about the state of Maine’s education system and focus on how we emerge as a national leader.

 

– Special to the Telegram