MSAD 35 Reviews Alabama Sister City Trip

By Mark Pechenik  January 5, 2018

SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — Stating their trip “far exceeded our expectations,” David McDermott of the Common Ground civic group joined school district staff in reporting on their sister city excursion to Tuskegee, Alabama, at Wednesday’s SAD 35 board meeting.

The trip, which took place from Dec. 3-6, 2017, and was funded by the Marshwood Education Foundation, sought to establish a sister city relationship between South Berwick and Tuskegee.

A major focus of the relationship is to reach across racial identities between South Berwick, where 97 percent of the population is white, and Tuskegee, which is 95 percent African American. As part of this effort, Heidi Early-Hersey, director of learning for SAD 35, noted the South Berwick group sought “opportunities to interact with many aspects of (the Tuskegee) community.”

Early-Hersey described how, wherever the group members went, posters were prominently displayed honoring such African American heroes as civil rights leaders Rosa Parks and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as President Barack Obama.

The group was also impressed by a strong commitment to civic involvement. “We met person after person who had care and passion for their community,” Early-Hersey said.

Discussion about race also highlighted the trip. “At one point, a younger college student joined us and indicated that this was her first opportunity to sit down and have conversations with white people,” said Vicki Stewart, the district’s director of communications.

Visits to landmarks enabled group members to better understand Tuskegee’s historical significance. For instance, their tour of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Site demonstrated how the Tuskegee Airmen, the legendary black Army Air Corps unit in World War II, played important roles in the post-war civil rights movement.

SAD 35 staffers who participated in the trip were especially interested in Tuskegee’s schools. “Each classroom displayed African American heroes and emphasized words of strength and pride,” said Grace Jacobs, the district’s Gifted Learning teacher.

At Tuskegee Public School, which educates children in grades 4-6, Early-Hersey was impressed by the “Power of One” display featuring photographs of the school’s teachers and their favorite inspirational quotes.

Meanwhile, at the Macon County Career and Technical EducationCenter, which educates students from grades 7-12, the South Berwick group toured manufacturing, nursing and automobile maintenance programs.

Looking ahead, Early-Hersey described how district educators are already considering ways to build upon the school connection between the two communities. These include setting up pen pals or video conferencing between Tuskegee and SAD 35 students, building stronger curricular connections to black American history and hosting a visit from Tuskegee citizens.

“Their school year ends in mid-May, so they might be able to join us for the Hike Through History at the end of May,” said Early-Hersey, referring to the living history program presented each spring in the district.

“Thank you for your earnestness and the great work you are doing with this Alabama community,” SAD 35 Superintendent Mary Nash told group members.

In other business

Board members commented about the “Developing and Refining Our Vision for the Future” workshop conducted just before their meeting. The workshop sought, in part, to promote greater investment by students in their own education. Board member Joe Long said the district should continue “focusing on how we get students to value their education and, with it, to learn and grow.”

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