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Bath, ME (February 23, 2022) - When Morse High School became one of four Maine schools to receive National Banner recognition from the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program in 2020, they didn’t stop to rest on their laurels. The school launched a new class this semester: The Unified Literacy Program.
Much of MHS’s work with the Special Olympics began with the implementation of unified sports teams, which fostered an environment of inclusivity and youth leadership both on and off the court. MHS Librarian Dawn Lee and Functional Life Skills Teacher Jonathan Fisk were inspired by the success of unified athletics and began brainstorming ways to foster similar student relationships in the classroom. They decided on a literary mentorship program which promotes a love of reading, fosters literacy skills, and cultivates positive social relationships: The Unified Literacy Program.
Three times a week, six Literacy Mentors meet one-on-one with six students involved in the Morse Function Life Skills program for an hour. The class is structed in three parts: Book Buddies (1-to-1 book selection and reading), small group discussions, and games/puzzles or art integration.
Senior Lily Clifford is one of the seven students who successfully applied to become a Literacy Mentor.
“I did unified basketball last year and unified P.E. this fall, so I had already met a lot of the kids that are in the Unified Literacy Program,” Clifford said. “I like making one-on-one connections, and I think it’s great that the class meets in the library where we can be seen by the rest of the student body. Visibility is super important.”
“So much of our day is spent in the Life Skills classroom,” said Fisk. “It’s nice for the students to be seen, both physically and emotionally.”
Each week the program focuses on a different topic; last week, students learned about black inventors in honor of Black History Month. Mentors and mentees read together, shared facts with other pairs, then presented their findings in front of the class. Next week, they’ll learn about the Iditarod.
Students are also treated to biweekly visits from senior Kaitlyn Schutt, who is enrolled in the Bath Tech Early Childhood Education program and aspires to become an art educator. Last week, Schutt lead the class in an exercise drawing tigers in celebration of the Chinese New Year.
“When it comes to developing this program, we’re building the plane as we’re flying it,” said Lee, “but we’ve been getting great feedback. Teachers have said that they are going to start recruiting students to mentor next year. Jonathan and I are also modeling team teaching, which I wish more teachers would try. It’s been so helpful to bounce ideas off each other.”
Fisk and Lee said they will call the program a success if they can provide mentors with the guidance and tools to build positive relationships with their mentees that carry beyond the walls of the library.
“What I love is when our mentors see their mentees in the hall and wave hi,” said Lee, who was particularly moved when she saw one of the Literacy Mentors take time to introduce her sister to her mentee. “Building these relationships builds a stronger community in our school.”
Photo: Student artwork for the Chinese New Year as facilitated by Student Literacy Mentor/Art Integrator Kaitlyn Schutt