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Maine needs more mentoring

In 1994, 4th grade students in Maine scored first in the nation on the National Assessments of Education Progress in both reading and math, yet went on to college at a rate perilously close to the bottom of the nation. I explored this gap in my dissertation Working Memory: The Influence of Culture on Aspirations, based on my fieldwork on Mount Desert Island.

In 2019, Maine’s 4th Graders ranked 22nd in the nation in math, and 20th in reading on the NAEP, and remained in the lower quartile of attendance at college. Why has the performance of our 4th grade students dropped so precipitously?

The causes are as complex as the solutions. In 1994, most Maine students attended small schools close to their families and communities, and many worked with and for their parents. Now, I think, too many attend large and distant consolidated schools that separate them from their families and communities, and make it hard for teachers to be good mentors.

Though mentoring such as suggested in a  July 13 column in the Bangor Daily News certainly helps, I think it starts too late. To reverse the decline, we need to support mentoring for and by parents, grandparents, community members, and teachers that starts when a child is very young, perhaps even before birth. There are good precedents and programs to provide models. Working with and for one’s own parents also gave children a sense of value and accountability that seem damaged now. Small schools and close communities work because children are known and nurtured and, yes, mentored.

Barbara Kent Lawrence

Former professor and teacher


Tall ship could have been teachable moment

A federal appeals court ruled again that the Penobscot Nation does not have authority over 60 miles of the Penobscot River near their reservation. However, a replica of the Santa Maria, which the foundation involved with the ship calls ” one of the most famous ships of mankind,” will not be sailing the Penobscot River this year as Christopher Columbus has been described as too “controversial” and one who performed “atrocities” on the natives in the Caribbean. There are those in this country who could easily wear the same descriptions.

With all due respect to the Penobscot Nation, I saw this ship as a teachable moment. How was this ship built in the 1400s with no weather channel, Home Depot, DeWalt, electronic charts, etc.? By people with an idea working together to accomplish what was only a concept, very much like walking on the moon. Perhaps there will be another time, another place when we can view the craftsmanship of this magnificent vessel.

Suzanne McCurdy


Cape Elizabeth should embrace affordable housing

Growing up in Whitefield, an inland and rural section of Lincoln County, I remembered family members, friends and neighbors commuting to jobs mostly located in affluent areas along the coastline. Because of prohibitive coastal housing costs, however, few of these workers could relocate closer to their jobs. Dynamics of spatial inequality define southern Maine too.

Restrictive zoning in affluent suburbs constrains regional housing supply, inflating prices and rents. In turn, these same locales have built few subsidized, rent-restricted units to house lower-income families, largely leaving Portland to pick up the slack. Intentions notwithstanding, communities like Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth have become islands of exclusion.

Cape Elizabeth now has an opportunity to chart an alternative path forward. The Dunham Court affordable housing project will allow working families, seniors and younger adults to reside in the center of Cape Elizabeth, within walking distance to excellent public schools, grocery stores and services. Constructing multifamily affordable housing within high-amenity neighborhoods is crucial to both break patterns of segregation and encourage car-lite, ecological lifestyles.

I urge the Cape Elizabeth Town Council to approve this development. But Dunham Court should only be the beginning. Cape Elizabeth ought to explore housing options offering even deeper affordability than Dunham Court.

I understand Cape Elizabeth to be a bastion of liberal politics. Unfortunately, in wealthy, suburban contexts, liberalism tends to devolve into conservatism whenever change is proposed in one’s own backyard. I am confident Cape Elizabeth can buck this trend.

Robert Gorrill

New York, New York