Maine Department of Education: MEDIA RELEASE: WAVES Initiative Begins to Build Connections

Wilderness Activities and Virtual Engagement for Students- WAVES

Latest initiative of the #ConnectKidsNow! Campaign focused on building networks of safe social connection opportunities for Maine students

AUGUSTA–  Today Governor Janet Mills and her administration announced the launch of a new initiative to support the mental health and wellbeing of Maine youth. Wilderness Activities and Virtual Engagement for Students- WAVES is the latest project in the #ConnectKidsNow! campaign and will build a statewide network of online and outdoor opportunities, provided by multiple state agencies and community organizations, for Maine students to interact safely.

The new initiative, directed by the Maine Department of Education (DOE), will deliver on the vision, “Every week every Maine teen safely engages socially with a community of peers,” and is the latest effort to ensure Maine youth have the connections needed for their academic and social-emotional growth.

Using the hashtag #WAVESMaine, the campaign will engage youth through a series of social media challenges and other virtual and outdoor opportunities to connect with peers.  A website of resources and activities, as well as a WAVES Instagram account and Facebook page, will go live on February 1, 2021, providing all youth throughout Maine with diverse opportunities to safely build their social network. Resources and activities will include: access to safe online communities, regular meetings around shared interests, and a searchable and dynamic database of the State of Maine where teens can find current outdoor engagement opportunities in their region or community, such as ice fishing derbies or hiking clubs, for example.

“The Department of Education has provided additional resources and supports for school staff, students and their families since March, and has been focused on ensuring that the nutritional, educational and social-emotional needs of every student are being met,” said Education Commissioner Pender Makin. “WAVES is an innovative take on the deep connections and collaborative spirit that makes Maine both a united and diverse community. Keeping Maine students socially connected to one another, and to the resources and opportunities found in our great state, has both immediate and long-term benefits.”

In response to the inequitable access to the human and internet connectivity that some students have faced with the onset of COVID-19, and through the use of federal emergency relief funds, WAVES joins the other projects of the administration’s #ConnectKidsNow! Campaign, which has included the provision of hotspots for students to connect to online learning, the expansion of broadband, and the development of MOOSE!, a free, online and project-based learning platform.

Maine DOE’s 2020-2021 Student Cabinet, during their most recent meeting held on December 8, 2020, raised the issue of social isolation as one of their primary concerns for Maine students. These concerns, similarly raised by educators, school leaders, and community members throughout the State, have accelerated the development of the new project, for which Washington County educator Sarah Woog will serve as Project Director. During a subsequent meeting with Sarah and other DOE staff, Student Cabinet members provided additional ideas and insight for WAVES.

A priority of WAVES is to elevate, celebrate, support, and increase access to the opportunities for safe social engagement that Maine’s communities and organizations are already providing to our youth. The target audience is Maine students in middle school and high school. These students, in addition to all programs and event providers who work with and to serve this demographic, are welcome and encouraged to contact Project Director Sarah Woog ([email protected]) to share current work, programming, activities and ideas aligned with the stated vision.

“I am eager to work collaboratively across State agencies and to elevate and support the individuals and organizations already delivering opportunities for safe social engagement,” said Project Director Sarah Woog. “Through these collaborative efforts, and by accessing, listening, and responding to youth voices from every corner and community of our great State, we will deliver on our promise: ‘Every week every Maine teen safely engages socially with a community of peers.’ I am honored to lead this innovative and important project.”

TODAY, ALL Maine teens are encouraged to enjoy the winter weather and enter the first WAVES challenge.

Here’s the challenge:

Using the hashtag “#WAVESMaine” post to Instagram a picture of the Maine outdoors that gives you peace and a sense of gratitude. The winner of the challenge and the first 20 Maine teens who post for the challenge will be awarded a prize, inspired by a group of Maine hikers, a onesie of their choice! The winner of the photo contest will be announced February 1, and will have the opportunity to meet virtually with Senator Angus King.