Melea Nalli is the interim co-superintendent of Portland Public Schools and can be reached at

March is National Youth Art Month, as well as National Music in our Schools Month, so we’re using our column this month to shine a spotlight on recent art and music accomplishments of our students and the dedicated educators who teach them.

In just one example, PPS High School Orchestra students helped make the 39th Citizenship Ceremony at U.S. District Court in Portland even more momentous by playing beautiful music as dozens of new Americans were sworn in as citizens. Music the orchestra performed at the February event included “Simple Gifts,” a Shaker hymn, “Over the Rainbow,” “Finale,” from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and Mozart’s “Exsultate Jubilate.”

“The ceremonies are profoundly moving events and the PPS High School Orchestra has been performing in the ceremonies twice a year since 2002,” said orchestra conductor and Music Director Julianne Eberl. “I am so proud of our students from PHS, the first group to perform since the pandemic suspended the ceremony.”

An upcoming opportunity to hear the results of music teaching and learning in our schools is at the PPS All-City Concert at 4 p.m., Wednesday, March 15, at Deering High School. The free event is a decades-long tradition that showcases the hard work and talent of our high school and middle school students in vocal and instrumental music.

Aaron Townsend is the interim co-superintendent of Portland Public Schools and can be reached at

These examples are illustrative of the mission of the music department, which includes setting high academic standards in music literacy and performance and encouraging students to be productive citizens of the world as musicians and community members.

March also provides an opportunity to view the results of PPS art teaching and learning at the Portland Museum of Art’s annual Youth Art Month exhibition. After being virtual during the pandemic, Youth Art Month has returned to the walls of the PMA this year. Creative works from PPS students are among the more than 80 pieces of artwork on display.


Each March, in collaboration with the Maine Art Education Association, the PMA presents artwork from Maine students statewide in kindergarten through grade 12. The work of students from East End, Ocean Avenue, Reiche and Talbot elementary schools and from Portland, Deering and Portland Arts and Technology high schools is included in the show, open until April 2.

Chad Hart, art teacher at Talbot Community School and PPS art coordinator, says that “the arts help students make connections to other areas of academics in ways that no other content area can do.”

A recent art project at Talbot, inspired by the book “Beautiful Blackbird” by Ashley Bryan, a Coretta Scott King Award winner, is an example of that. This book is about appreciating one’s heritage and discovering the beauty within. The book tells of Blackbird, whose shiny black feathers earn him the title of the most beautiful bird in the forest. Differently colored birds begged Blackbird to paint their feathers with a touch of black so they could be beautiful too. Although Blackbird warns that true beauty comes from within, the other birds persist and each is given a ring of black around their neck or a dot of black on their wings – markings birds have today. In art class, the students looked closely at the illustrations in the book to deepen their understanding of the true meaning of the story, then made their own shiny and reflective blackbirds using cut-paper collage and gloss medium.

“The skills developed in arts education are profoundly important for students’ learning in academics and in their lives beyond school,” Hart says.

See more examples of PPS arts teaching and learning on the district’s website.

Comments are not available on this story.