Prototype Gnome Homes created by the class from their construction kits. Courtesy of Sari Greene

South Portland High School’s JMG class has been hard at work creating gnomes for this season’s SpringFest.

The SpringFest Community Celebration is scheduled for May 19-20 in Mill Creek Park in South Portland. The festival carries the theme of gnomes, and will feature that motif in a Discovery Search, cornhole, and more. The JMG class has been involved with SpringFest’s Community Art Project, a large gnome village.

The students from the JMG class have been building gnomes, figuring out materials, and creating nearly 1,000 gnome home construction starter kits for distribution throughout the city. The kits are available free of charge and can be picked up at the South Portland Community Center.

Jobs for Maine Graduates is initially a program contracted by various schools that focuses on connecting students with a pathway after high school.

“My program brings in guest speakers from business, from the military, and different other sectors,” Jeff Kozaka, Jobs for Maine Graduates specialist and teacher of the class said. “We’ve taken college tours at Southern Maine Community College and we’ve brought in folks from Thomas College and other local colleges to talk about different pathways after (the students) get their high school diploma.”

He explained that the focus is on connecting students with either the military, post-secondary education, or full-time job employment. The employment of which has the capacity for promotion that doesn’t leave one subjected to a dead-end job or a glass ceiling.


Kozaka introduced the project to his students after February break and gave them a more tactile project than the usual online work.

“I wanted to get off the iPad and give them some hands-on projects, and I actually really wanted to make a product,” Kozaka said. “So we really went all in on gnome kits, and we spent a couple weeks designing different kits, looking at prices and how much each kit would cost — so we kind of went through the economics of it as well. To see, you know, what kind of items or ingredients we need in the kit, but also knowing that we needed to make close to a thousand, and we couldn’t break the bank as well. So that was one of the factors.

“We started to research different gnome villages, and there’s not much out there, from what we found out. We had to go across the pond to Europe where they actually have gnome villages and we used some of their items and pictures to help kind of build what our version of a gnome village would look like. And students grabbed onto it as well and jumped in and added paint and all different elements to their gnome villages.”

Atticus LaRou, an 11th grader in the class, is one of the students working on the project. She has spent some of her workshop time developing gnome houses and will help out on May 20. “It’s like a challenge almost, because you are trying to make something that’s kind of mythological, but still realistic,” she said.

Talon Fitch, a senior in the class, is doing a job shadowing program with local access TV that will film at the event on May 20.

“Allowing kids younger than we have is a good way to expand in what our community is,” Fitch said, on creating gnome kits for distribution. “And allowing them to be completely free in their creative mind with the little kits that we’ve made for them, and seeing what they got and what they’ve made and seeing that work put to use in this big project over at the park.”


Working on the gnome project for the town has also provided a community service experience for the students.

“The other aspect that I felt was really important for this program and this school in general is to bring back community service,” Kozaka said. “At one point not too long ago, community service was required for graduation. In order to get your diploma, you had to do at least 10 hours of community service. That kind of went away prior to the pandemic and a lot of these students, really, this is their first foray into community service of this level where they are working not just for a couple hours, but months at a time working on a very big project.”

SpringFest is a reimagined version of South Portland’s WinterFest. South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Rotary is working on the event with the city’s partnership and it is supported by many businesses.

“We are absolutely thrilled, absolutely thrilled (to be working with the high school),” said Sari Greene, the South Portland SpringFest ’23 Rotary chair. “The Rotary has a very close relationship with the entire South Portland School District but part of our mission on this is to have all aspects of our community be involved. So having the high school students bring their talent and their creativity to this has just been outstanding.”

Bags of Gnome Home kits, awaiting distribution. Courtesy of Sari Greene

One of the gnome home kits. Maxen Ryder

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