OUT Maine and Sweetser EIRs 2020

OUT Maine’s Educator in Residence: Claire

This winter I’ve had the privilege of working with OUT Maine, a non-profit LGBTQ organization based in Rockland. OUT Maine focuses primarily on youth development and programming, with a special attention to rural youth who typically have a harder time accessing resources and community. I was lucky enough that my EIR start date coincided with the start date for OUT Maine’s new Youth Engagement Coordinator, Matea, and the two of us have been getting oriented to the space and the job over the last couple months. 

My primary role at OUT Maine has been to help plan and run the organization’s various youth programs such as Youth Group and the Youth Policy Board. OUT Maine’s Youth Group meets weekly on Wednesday afternoons, and provides a place for LGBTQ youth to connect and hang out in a safe and affirming environment. Recently we’ve been working to bring more structure to the group, which has so far included activities such as a Chopped-like cooking challenge, an outdoor fire (s’mores included), and a trip to an art museum! The Youth Policy Board meets once a month on a Sunday, and continues to work on a long-term project that centers around improving sex education in Maine public schools. At the last meeting, board members finalized their survey about inclusive sex education in schools, and are planning to send it out to their schools as soon as possible! Matea and I have also been tag-teaming several visits to GSTAs (Gay Straight Transgender Alliance) at local middle and high school. When I am not helping out with youth programming, I’ve been tasked with the continuous project of drafting a best practice’s guide for working with LGBTQ youth in residential programming. The BPG addresses topics such as bathrooms, sleeping arrangements, and registration forms, and provides knowledge and guidance for those looking to make their residential youth program more welcoming for LGBTQ kids and adults.

As the Spring draws closer, the focus of the office shifts towards preparation for this year’s iteration of the Rainbow Ball Weekend. Hosted at Wavus, the Rainbow Ball Weekend will bring together close to 200 LGBTQ youth and advisors from around the state. The main event of the weekend is the dance that takes place on Saturday night, and the rest of the weekend is filled with team building exercises, and various LGBTQ panels and workshops. The opportunity to help organize and coordinate this event has been exciting, and I am looking forward to seeing the culmination of everyone’s hard work in May! Overall, the newly developed partnership between Kieve-Wavus Education and OUT Maine has been encouraging, and will hopefully lead to better LGBTQ visibility and inclusivity within KWE in the future.  

Sweetser’s Educator in Residence: Harry

This is my first winter as an EIR, and Sweetser’s first year in the program. The Sweetser School in Saco is a special-purpose private residential school providing special education programs to support students with social, emotional, and academic challenges. The school’s many social workers and youth family counselors work constantly with families and students to prepare students to return home and to public school if possible. A major focus of this process is the use of cognitive behavioral therapy and structural family therapy to support students in managing themselves and supporting families in positively changing patterns of behavior. Many students also undergo therapeutic treatment for trauma history and mental health challenges. The school has a trauma-informed and empowering approach to helping students succeed. Students make individual goals with an assigned clinician and teachers track these goals on ‘target sheets’ that they bring with them throughout their day. They have the opportunity to earn points and receive rewards for meeting their goals each day.

Front entrance of the Sweetser School in Saco

This has been an incredible place to contribute to. The staff are supportive, capable, and care deeply about the students they work with and each other. They have welcomed me and given me many opportunities to jump in and do experiential programming across the school. I currently spend most of my time running experiential groups for classrooms (K-12), residences and a few staff training groups. The remainder of my time is split between attending staff meetings, milieu treatment at the on-campus animal farm, intake interviews with prospective students, family sessions, and being a floating support in the hallways.

Portland Cottage

In the background of all this is that many of these students come from or will go into the foster care system. The Department of Health and Human Services is deeply involved with the school and their caseworkers frequently come to the school for treatment plan meetings and family sessions. Sweetser staff are always working towards reuniting students and families or finding students a safe home, but some students will live at the school until they turn 18, at which point they either qualify for adult services through the Office of Aging and Disability Services or make a plan with clinicians to continue their success when they discharge, which might include signing guardianship back over to their parents/guardians.

The residences I work with are Portland Cottage with teenage boys referred for problematic sexual behaviors, Belfast Cottage with teenage boys referred for aggressive behaviors, and East Cottage for students ages 6-10, known affectionately on campus as the ‘Littles’. The goals of many of these groups have been to build community, encourage participation in group activities, and having safe physical boundaries with others. On top of that we’ve had a lot of fun, which is a pleasure because many of the students spend much of their day in more serious environments and to just relax and play together and be kids can be hugely important and healing.

Common room of Portland Cottage

The highlights of my time at Sweetser have been working with the Portland Cottage, of which my site mentor Jess Macomber is the head clinician. There is an amazing structure and support system at this cottage that gives these boys the chance to be in a safe place to grow and build themselves up. I’ve spent the most time with these boys and gotten to know them the best. I run two team building activities with them per week and spend time at the cottage after school playing board games (they love Magic the Gathering and Monopoly) and observing their regular group therapy sessions, run by Jess. 

EIR Harry (left) and site mentor Jess Macomber (right) in the Sweetser Library

I will truly miss this school and the amazing staff and students I have worked with here. I’ll keep them in my thoughts as the work continues here.