December 19, 2019
More than 200 middle school students from across Maine recently came to UNE’s Biddeford Campus to learn leadership skills.
This was the first year that UNE hosted the Middle School Leadership Summit. The summit was held at Biddeford Middle School the past two years.
“We out grew our space,” stated Jennifer Vitiello, assistant principal at Biddeford Middle School. “By connecting with UNE’s Education Department, we were able to provide opportunities for many more students. We went from 95 students to more than 200, and from seven schools participating to 16.”
Students from various schools mingled together and engaged in hands-on activities designed to help them gain leadership skills.
“We took them through three different sessions on leadership, with each session taking a different view of how we cultivate leaders,” said Audrey Bartholomew, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Education Department.
Bartholomew says middle school students have a special place in her heart. Before coming to UNE she was a middle school teacher for five years.
“At their age, there is still some molding that can happen,” Bartholomew explained. “So, it's a really exciting age.”
It is also a challenging age, which can sometimes deter potential teachers from looking into careers in middle schools.
“Because the developmental stage of middle-schoolers is different from elementary and high school students, middle school gets overlooked as a possible area to teach,” Bartholomew stated.
Bartholomew and other faculty members in the Education Department involved their students in facilitating some of the leadership sessions as way to familiarize them with middle school students and, perhaps, open their minds to a career option they had not considered before.
“Middle school is a really challenging time in a kid's life because that's when a lot of stuff is happening for them, and that turns a lot of people away from working with them,” said Anthony Meloniates (Secondary Education, ’20). “But I think that means that it is a time in their life when we can make the most impact in their lives.”
Meloniates is currently a student teacher at Biddeford Middle School. He says he has relished every opportunity provided to him while he has been a student in UNE’s Education Department.
“At a lot of other colleges, you don't get to go into classrooms until senior year,” Meloniates commented. “At UNE we’re already in classrooms, already learning, already watching teachers and figuring out different techniques and strategies, when we’re freshmen. When looking for a teaching job, it really helps when you can say that you've had field work for four years straight and you've constantly been in classrooms learning new things.”
The goal of the summit is to give students new ideas and skills to bring back to their schools. Meloniates says seeing that when he returns to the Biddeford Middle School classrooms is very gratifying.
“That's my favorite part of being involved in the summit,” he said. “Being able to see them using the skills that we taught them is the best.”