In a closing circle activity led by co-teacher Hipai Pamba, shown here, former President Barack Obama said the conversation with Telling Room students made him feel hopeful. Contributed / The Telling Room

Obama drops in to The Telling Room

A group of 26 Maine high school students were left astonished and inspired after former President Barack Obama dropped in on a late-January session of The Telling Room’s Young Writers & Leaders program, a creative writing and leadership program for students with international and multicultural backgrounds.

The 44th president of the United States conversed over Zoom with YWL students who represent seven high schools in greater Portland, as well as 11 different nations, including Angola, Burundi, Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Iraq, Jordan, Kurdistan, Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan.

Obama, author of the critically acclaimed memoir “A Promised Land,” shared insights on writing, reading, his taste in music and the experience of growing up between cultures.

Obama – who was born in Hawaii, had a Kenyan father and spent part of his childhood in Indonesia – spoke about the value of knowing different cultures.

“He specifically encouraged students to embrace all the different parts of their identities and not to box themselves in by picking just one,” co-teacher Hipai Pamba said. “He said that it makes you a better writer to have all those experiences to draw from.”

Simona Ickia Ngaullo, a South Portland High School senior, felt grateful for the former president’s advice.

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“You can’t change the world by yourself,” she said. “You need other people trying to do the same thing as you to make it happen.”

Acknowledging that writing can sometimes be difficult, the former president encouraged students to stay positive. This landed with Alia Usanase, a junior at Deering High School.

“I’m not in this alone,” she said following the conversation. “I’m going to get better with time. You just have to keep going.”

Among those touched by Obama’s words was Khalil Kilani, a senior at Waynflete who immigrated to Maine from Iraq in 2011.

“This is just another person. He was in our shoes at one time,” Kilani said. “Your path isn’t always clear, and look at him, he became president, and he’s here talking to us. It gave me inspiration. I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up, but anything is possible and he made that very clear.”

Morse High School students Isabel Strelneck, Thomas Ferolano and Isaac Ensel have undergone a project to preserve the school’s history. Contributed / City of Bath

Morse students chronicle Bath school’s history

Three students have taken on the task of honoring the memory of Morse High School as they transition from the old building to a new school.

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Isaac Ensel, Isabel Strelneck and Thomas Ferolano have been interviewing students, staff and alumni about Morse history.

“The whole premise started with the realization that a lot of Morse’s history is in text, not visuals,” Ensel said. “Last year, (English teacher) Mr. Ingmundson suggested that we do a project focused on that.”

When Morse High School students returned from winter break this week, they arrived on the doorstep of a new building.

But before going on vacation, students and staff said goodbye to the historic halls of the Bath high school.

“The Morse community are nostalgic to say goodbye to the building that has housed our students and staff for nearly a century,” Principal Eric Varney said. “However, it is time to leave the building for its next chapter.”

Strelneck said the documentary will focus on three themes: how MHS and the Morse community have changed over time, what sets Morse apart from other schools and how traditions will be carried forward into the new school.

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The team anticipates they will have hours of extra footage from their interviews, which they will donate to Morse for archiving.

“As an outsider, you can really see what makes Morse different,” Ferolano said. “There is a lot of love in this community, and we want to put a lot of love into this project.”

Ensel, Strelneck and Ferolano aren’t strangers to videography. Ensel and Strelneck produced a music video in May 2020 that drew statewide attention for its uplifting message to “Carry On” in the face of the pandemic. When Ferolano moved to Bath in July, he helped them produce another community film, “Dear Bath,” in September.

The self-taught videographers said they are constantly learning from each other as they work on their projects. Ensel described their process as “building a car while we’re driving it.”

“Isabel and I had always wanted to make a music video,” Ensel said. “The pandemic actually opened up our passion for telling stories through film. Before that, we’d always said, ‘We’ll do it when we have time.’ Well, (during lockdown) we had time.”

The team hopes to release a trailer in the next few weeks, which will be available on their YouTube page, KillerFerns Productions.