Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Mt. Blue Football

For years, the gridiron of Mount Blue High School has been a gathering place for the people of Farmington, Maine. “The field is simply the grass roots analogy where when the community comes together and nurtures its growth and develops into sheer beauty!” says Mount Blue Alumn, Kawika Thompson. Kawika was a graduate from Mount Blue in the year 1987, and still has a passion for what the football program was able to do for not only him, but the community around him. In a recent interview, Kawika stated that the football games on Friday nights serve as a “pillar” for bringing numerous communities together, and there was nothing like hearing the roar from the crowd at kickoff, and feeling the support not only from students, but the support from the entire community.

The sports of Farmington, Maine are the town’s culture, and football is its backbone. The accomplishments of the program give the community a sense of pride, and when the team wins, the whole community wins. It’s almost like the lights of Caldwell field attract town members like moths, and they feed on the competitive environment. As the game approaches the start, the bleachers fill, the cowbells come out, and the mothers of the athletes are already screaming. Kawika states, “The lights on the field, the cool Maine air and the clicking of the cleats across the parking lot set the tone for any Friday night game.”

People seem to notice a decline in attendance at games, but no one has seen a decline in the intensity of the fans and players. After the State Championship win in 2012, the community has been expecting another perfect season just like that one, but have been disappointed. No season from there has been perfect, but the program is definitely on the rise, and the community is starting to take notice. Kawika states that the “love for the game” will overcome any boundaries that the team is faced with. With a playoff run in the 2015 season, a new coaching staff, and a promising group of seniors, the town of Farmington is hopeful to see what comes next for Mount Blue Football.

FTC Automotives

The Mt. Blue Foster Tech program is an exceptional opportunity for students from Mt. Blue and the surrounding schools to learn in a hands on environment. Many of these students bring their passion to the classroom, working on very intriguing projects. Chase, a senior and a member of the metal fabrication vocational program, is very passionate about what he does on his 1955 Willy’s Jeep.
Like any Mainer worth his salt, Chase got a bargain on his project vehicle. He bartered with a friend of his dad, cutting five cord of wood for the Jeep. From there he began to address the issues. He Started by freeing the motor and cleaning sixty years of grime off of it. Soon after, Chase brought the jeep in to repair the decrepit floorboards of the body layered with various paint tones.

Every day in the shop, Chase uses his knowledge to work on his Jeep, he picks it apart little by little, if he becomes confused or stuck he just asks his teacher and then returns to his learning through experience. He said, “ I’m glad to accomplish something that relates to my life.”
That passion is what drives many of the tech students to usually succeed and often exceed expectations here at Mt. Blue. The students like to get school credit at the same time as they make progress on their own personal project. Students bring in their own vehicles in automotives class, build carbon fiber hoods in composites class, and create their own clothes in graphic arts.

Chase is very enthusiastic about getting his Jeep in working order. He hopes to be on the road soon and thanks to his work in metal fabrications class he just might be able to.

Nordic Ski Team: Raising Skiers and Community Members

The Mount Blue High School nordic ski team has always had a “pretty dominant profile,” according to assistant coach Patty Veayo, who has been involved with the team since around 2009-10. In the recent past the team has won the Class A State title for years on end, and in the 2015-16 season the boys and girls both walked away with the trophy. Also in the 2015-16 season, the girls nordic team won the Sportsmanship Award. Grace Andrews, a captain of the 2015-16 team, says, “Girls and boys both won the Class A State Championships but personally I'm most proud of the girls winning the sportsmanship banner.” 

How has the team grown to be so strong? 
One of the key things that defines the Mt. Blue High School nordic team is the community and resources available to skiers. “This team has a great community and a pretty impressive history,” says Tucker Barber, top skier for the 2015-16 team, “From Bill Koch, to middle school skiing, and into high school, nordic (and alpine) skiing at the mighty Titcomb mountain are huge staples of the Farmington area.” Starting from the age of five, kids from the Farmington area have the opportunity to nordic ski. Skiing is “part of the town's identity,” says Grace Andrews. Year round access to over 16 kilometers of nordic trail, 2.3 km of which is lighted for nighttime activity, all at the very centralized Titcomb Mountain, makes it easy to produce fast skiers. “If you look at our feeder program it’s huge,” says Coach Veayo. All of these great opportunities add to the reason why Mt. Blue has been so successful. “What I think is just swell is that we have a bunch of great skiers who have been doing the ski thing for a while, as well as a bunch of also great skiers who just kind of show up and learn on the spot,” says Barber. The team has a tremendous mix of new and old skiers, and the spirit of the team is what counts. 

The atmosphere amongst a team is vital to the success of the skiers. Head coach Claire Polfus says, “We try to be positive, and emphasize enjoying and having fun as well as skiing fast. Those are my goals.” This positivity really shines through as it is something not all teams have. The team is for people who “want to learn how to have a passion for something for an entire lifetime,” says Coach Veayo, “You can nordic ski until you die.” 

The goal is to produce life long athletes, and the positive attitude is what helps students develop the love for the sport. As Welly Ramsey, a 2009 Mt. Blue High School graduate and ski team alumnus, thinks back on his time with MBHS nordic ski team he says, “The team atmosphere was always really positive, which I think is important, especially from a developmental perspective. We were fortunate to have such a great crew, all striving to preserve Mt. Blue skiing’s legacy of success.” Ramsey continued on from the MBHS nordic team to train professionally, and is now aiming to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang for nordic skiing. The atmosphere of the Mt. Blue team, competitive and uplifting, as well as support from the Farmington community, added to his desire to pursue nordic skiing. 

To coach Claire and Patty, the team is really about the skiers and everything they’re learning. “I really like it when [the skiers] come up to me after a race and have to tell me something that they’re really excited about like, ‘that was the best classic race of my life, like I finally felt good!’” says Coach Claire. “The smile that you see on a skier's face when they know, they just know, that they’ve had the ski of their life,” is what Coach Patty loves, “and that happens every single race someone has that moment.” 
That is what this team is all about: learning more about the athlete, both individually and as a team. Although everyone races individually, the entire team is important to the success of each person. “Working together for one common goal is very satisfying,” says Nolan Rogers, another top scorer on the 2015-16 team. The team is a family. “Everyone is looking out for everybody else,” says Coach Patty, “[the athletes] work really hard” and “push and support each other,” adds Coach Claire. 
The numerous plaques, medals, banners, and trophies show that this team is fast, but the team’s attitude represents Mt. Blue, and the surrounding community, as a whole. “I think the ski team represents how our community can really come together and work as a team to accomplish something,” says Andrews. As a captain this year Andrews says, “The team has inspired me to be an example for younger kids.” 
For decades this team has set a strong example by producing caring, active, and determined community members. Patty Veayo concludes, “If you want to have an activity where you can be yourself at any time in the winter” then nordic skiing is for you.

(photos courtesy of Heather Huish)

Youth Expedition to Ignite (Y.E.T.I.)

Youth Expedition to Ignite (YETI), is a non-school sponsored club that emphasizes the importance of spending time outdoors, “unplugging” from technology, and building relationships within the school. YETI has been known to take in students going through tough times and giving them a happy environment to interact with others. A small group usually consisting of anywhere from 20 - 50 students joins together every Monday night to play games, connect with peers, and share experiences. YETI aims to create an environment where students who share a love for the outdoors and adventuring, can come together and make friends and memories with those that they may not usually hang around in school.

YETI facilitators Travis Tierney, an English teacher here at MBHS, and former Mt. Blue teacher Karen Cyr, help to guide the students, or “Yetians” of the group. “YETI always has been and always will be led by students,” said Travis Tierney. “Karen and I are here in facilitating and mentoring roles.”

So what is YETI? What do they do? “Over twenty years ago several Mt. Blue Teachers, including Mr. Bolduc, Mr. Trefethen, and Mr. Bond believed that some alternative methods such as getting students outside might benefit at risk students. That morphed into an all inclusive group of students that share a love of the outdoors, adventure, and shared experiences,” said Tierney. The group joins every Monday night in the Cascade Brook cafetorium from 7- 8:30 where they play group bonding games and partake in meaningful discussions. Some meetings include hiking, snowshoeing, sledding, going for a walk, or playing games outdoors, but the two main trips are a winter camping trip and a summer paddling trip.The longer trips give students the opportunity to bond with each other in the outdoors.

Group member Julia Ramsey, Mt. Blue class of 2017, spoke about what makes her keep attending YETI: “I love that it’s so many different groups together, people that are usually cliquey in school, or you know in school you just break up into different groups and you just have different classes. You don’t see everyone, and then Monday nights, that’s the chance for everyone to come together and just be kinda like a family and just have a lot of fun together.”

She also mentioned how getting to know people through the outdoors is one of her favorite things about YETI. Tierney also shared the reasoning behind his devotion to the group. “It allows me to break down walls with students literally and figuratively. Shared experiences in the wilderness and outdoors have far exceeded the relationships and bonds I can have with students in the classroom. We both become more human to one another and that teacher/student dynamic gets left behind. It's more real.”

Engineering Design: Hands-on Learning that Works

When you walk through the front doors of Mt. Blue, you immediately see the Bjorn Auditorium, above it suspended a beautiful, colorful glass sculpture. This accentuates the school’s phenomenal music and arts programs—which greatly deserve the attention. However, there are many other impressive qualities and programs, both in the facilities and the students at Mt. Blue. One of these programs is a class: Engineering Design.

Jake Bogar is the sole teacher of Engineering Design. All of his other classes are physics classes, and that has certainly had an influence on the fact that students can gain their physics requirement through the class. But perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of the class is how it is steeped in creativity. Bogar says, “It’s a project-based program. You make things. You work with your hands and your mind. The class tries to realize the MIT slogan: “Mens et Manus” —mind and hand.” Just taking a look into the room makes you understand just how project-based the class is. Wires, wood, and bits of metal and plastic are everywhere, and semi-finished assignments and ideas litter the floor and walls.

The class was conceived in 2005 in conjunction with the Foster Tech composites class. Bogar explains, "I always wanted to create a playground for students where they could make their world better through creative and fun purposeful work and exploration.” It certainly is a playground, and one that is perfect for just about everyone.

Not only do students learn concepts of physics, sketching, and many hands-on skills, they figure out the smaller challenges involved with creating something for a specific purpose—and a specific deadline. Materials lists, comparison shopping, evaluating the quality of parts and making trade-offs are all things that occur outside of the classroom, but are commonplace in Engineering Design. According to Bogar, “[Students are] practicing skills and applying knowledge to create something that improves a situation or solves a problem. They have time to dig into a project of their choosing while being supported with tools and materials. They can experience digital and analog fabrication techniques. They take things apart, learn how they work and repurpose components.”

Many classes try to incorporate direct, real world experiences for students to build and maintain a better understanding of the curriculum. With Engineering Design it’s a given: physical and professional applications are incorporated into the class—by design. Bogar strives to make the classroom a welcoming and creative environment. “I draw on my experiences regularly to make class real for students.” It is certainly one of the most genuine classes in the school and allows students to act on their aspirations—really no matter how large or small. An arena for growth and exploration, Engineering Design allows learning through experiences. Students get out what they put in through these experiences, which permits a deeper connection with what they learn.

FTC Certified Nurses Assistant

CNA puts me ahead of other people who are applying for jobs and colleges who are not certified, and anyone interested in a medical career should join.” - Chelsea, class of 2017

The Certified Nurses Assistant (CNA) program is offered at Mt. Blue High Schools as a Foster Technology class. In two years high school students can become certified and start their careers in the medical field. In the first year students work on medical terminology and safety procedures to create a solid background in medical basics.

The second year of Mt. Blue’s CNA class is clinical: the CNA student travels to the local hospital to help and learn from Certified Nurses Assistants. CNA is an extremely helpful class because it prepares students for real life medical experience as well as certifies them to join the workforce.

Chelsea said that she joined CNA because she “wanted to become a nurse” and that this program offers “hands on experience.” Not only will Chelsea be able to work as a CNA after high school but she will also be better prepared for her future in medicine.

Art is Eternal

Roger Bisaillon greets each student as they walk in, in a booming voice that captures everyone’s attention. His favorite thing to say to a new class is “Hello, get out your work.” If it is an older class, he greets with a “It’s time to do school. Ready? Here I go!” Each class is expected to get work done, because in Mr. B’s art classes, there is no messing around. He knows each student by name, and as students approaches him, they are asked about something meaningful that happened since he last saw them. The passion in the room and the relationships between students and Mr. B creates a truly beautiful and unique experience. Mr. B teaches because he thinks that “art is eternal, and it will last forever. That makes it a cool thing to teach.”

Students find Mr. B’s art class to be fun and Brianna says she loves it because “it’s different every day.” Others say that as far as a class goes, “it doesn’t feel like a boring class. It’s fun compared to others.” Their work is often displayed around the school, especially in the school library. At the local college, the University of Maine at Farmington, there is an annual Mt. Blue Art Show that displays the work of all art students of the year. Artwork is displayed on walls reaching up to 40 feet and on the big opening day, over 1000 people go to view the beautiful pieces, as if it were a museum. Mary says that seeing her art up on the big wall makes her feel like a “small part in a big art world” and Adam thinks that “it is just one step to having his art up in a well-known museum.”

Art at Mt. Blue changes students in more ways than just learning how to paint and make a clay pot. It helps a room full of teenagers find themselves and discover who they want to be. It makes artists realize that their art can make an impact, and that living in a small town does not mean that you cannot be great as well.

Orchestra and FCF

Every other weekday morning at Mount Blue High School, music can be heard spilling from the doors of the auditorium and into the halls. Behind those doors is the culmination of one of the best orchestra programs in the entire state. In a school of fewer than 700 students, over 70 of them play in the orchestra, and historically, the numbers have been over 100 students. Additionally, more than 20 members of the orchestra also participate after school in the Franklin County Fiddlers. Steve Muise, who has been the director of the MBRSD orchestra program for 25 years, says that this high participation, along with the hard work that students put in, is what makes this string instrument program unique.

That participation is helped by the fact that most students in the high school orchestra have been playing for years, thanks to the excellent program for younger kids in Mt. Blue Regional School District. The MBHS orchestra meets regularly during school hours, and rental instruments are available for those who don’t want to buy instruments, making it easy for students to work orchestra into their schedules. Student Julia Ramsey, who has played cello in orchestra since fifth grade, commented on the benefits of having a large school orchestra instead of taking only private lessons. “It’s weird when people say they don’t have an orchestra and they just play by themselves,” said Ramsey. “Talking to people from other schools makes me realize how great our program is.”

But there’s more to Mount Blue’s orchestra than just impressive numbers. Muise also leads the “multi-stylistic fiddle band” called the Franklin County Fiddlers that is made up of students enrolled in the MBHS music program. This group can be heard playing traditional music together all around the community or even touring the world, from Ireland to Canada to New Orleans. Onstage, they are a blur of green polo shirts and gleaming instruments, and as they play, there’s not a music stand in sight – all their music is learned by ear. Thomas Marshall, who plays viola in orchestra and guitar in the Franklin County Fiddlers, says that while being first chair viola in orchestra taught him leadership, he enjoys Fiddlers for a different reason. “I like the people. It’s a really good community,” says Marshall. Ramsey, who is also in the Fiddlers, agreed. “There’s not a lot of places to learn to play fiddle music,” she admitted, “But in Fiddlers you learn from Mr. Muise and each other.”

As orchestra rehearsal wraps up, students pack up their instruments and chat, then disperse to go to their next class with smiles on their faces. Their director grins widely as the students walk past, talking animatedly with them as they file out of the auditorium. He enjoys rehearsal just as much as the students do. According to Muise, “Music is a part of the fabric of the MBRSD community, and it’s really nice to be a part of that.”

Cross Country Goes the Distance

Practice starts off with a warm-up. Within the team there is a significant difference in ability between the fastest and the slowest, but the warm-up sets a jogging pace so everyone can stay together. Laughs, jokes, and occasional groans about the fast approaching workout are tossed around as sneakers jog out of rhythm down the sidewalk. Though many athletes are aware of the pressure of upcoming races and the desire to place well, the friendship and team spirit is what drives their motivation to start the workout.

The runners on the team often form friendships within the team in the form of running buddies. One particular runner stated, “I often have a hard time finding the motivation to run by myself. When I do run with others I usually hear a lot of crazy stories. I mean what else are you going to do on a six mile run?” The time set aside for preparation allow runners to discover more about each other and empathize with the vigorous training they both go through. Each practice remains about the same workout for each, tailored depending on the mileage they wish to achieve. One thing is for sure, everyone’s hard work and determination is surely woven into their runs.

The coach of the team that keeps the family close is Kelley Cullenberg. She began coaching in the 1980’s and ever since has found the true value of the team. “With cross country the family is formed,” Cullenberg noted as she talked about the things she truly loves about the sport. Beyond the connection that is formed between athletes and coaches, she finds great pride in witnessing the achievement of each individual athlete. To her it is more than just a place or a score; to her it doesn’t matter what the ability or goals are, everyone is happy with the obstacles they have overcome. Cullenberg describes the sport with passion. Truly, cross country has touched her heart in a way that surpasses the scoreboard or the team rank.

Whether it be the coach or the athlete or even the spectator watching on the side, cross country impacts those around it, positively influencing them. Connections between athletes make their running stronger, bringing them closer together. Alumni stay in contact well after their high school years have ended, and a lesson – difficult to learn – is taught throughout every high school team: there’s more to life than numbers and there’s more to numbers than winning. The truth of it is is that there is not a clear answer to the question, ‘Why do you run cross country?” and the answer will remain unclear until someone finds the words to sum up the entirety of the sense of belonging and the success.

Mt. Blue Boys Tennis

“He’s done it!” exclaims senior captain Alex Bunnell as a ball is hit right to the far corner of the court. This is a phrase that everyone has been hearing for the past 3 years on the Mt. Blue tennis team, and one that makes everyone look up from their game and smile. Out on the courts during the spring sports season, people always seem to be having a good time, and they enjoy the practices even when the weather is extremely cold, or hot and muggy. “We try and make sure we are practicing every day,” said Zac Conologue, who has been coaching the team for three years. When he started coaching there were nine players on the team; now in his third year there are 18 players—double the amount of when he started. Although the team has grown, it has kept its sense of good team chemistry which allows practices to be enjoyable and productive.

The growth of the team has rounded the team out well: it now has about four students from each grade on the team, just one more reason why the team is so deep and competitive. An important part of the team is bonding. This includes team dinners and other activities, which allow the team to mix and the players to get to know each other. Although Mt. Blue doesn’t practice year round because of the lack of facilities, most members of the team participate in soccer which not only means that they are better team players, but also athletic on the field and the courts. Each year when the spring sports season starts, there is no doubt that the tennis team is out practicing—even if there is still some snow on the courts.

Working hard from the start of the season makes Mt. Blue tennis noticed by the other teams. The Mount Ararat coach says that he is always impressed with the talent and level of play that the Mt. Blue players consistently have despite the lack of year-round facilities. This season, three of the boys on the team made it to the round of 48 which is the 48 best singles players in the state. All three made it to the round of 32, with Evan Backus—a senior and captain—making it to the round of 16. Mt. Blue Tennis has made a name for itself going further into the playoff season each year in the past three years, while last year also being given the sportsmanship award. This achievement is a reminder to everyone that the Mt. Blue tennis team is out there to have fun.

Math Team

 The Mt. Blue Math Team, named the Radicals, has just finished their first season of competitions as they established the group in the winter of 2016. Chelsea Arnold, a math teacher at Mt. Blue High School, is the overseer and founder of the team. Ms. Arnold was surprised Mt. Blue didn’t have a math team when she first started teaching at the high school, and when she finally had the time after completing her masters program at UMF, she decided to start one up. The team meets three times a week after school to prepare for the various math topics that students are tested on at each competition. One member of the team, Ethan Winters, became the second-place freshman in the entire state. Practices are relaxed where students say they have plenty of fun and snacks. The members feel no pressure to be prodigies in every single math subject because it is all patiently taught and learned at practices. The team is open to all high school students without any prerequisite math courses. They welcome and encourage any who are interested in refining their math skills to come to practices and join the group.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Blue Crew Robotics

It has been a quite a breakout year for Blue Crew Robotics, but the team is still looking toward the future. As a team of First Robotics Competition, or FRC, the Blue Crew did very well at all four events they competed in, the last of which being the World Championships.

The team came into existence at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, brought forth by a Mount Blue student’s own vision. Mitch, a senior, who had been a member of the local FIRST Lego League team, was introduced to FRC through other Maine teams such as SMART of Spruce Mountain and Infinite Loop of Messalonskee. During his senior year, Mitch decided that Mount Blue could use a robotics team of their own. “I met some kids from 2648 [of Messalonskee] over the summer, and they led me to a lot of resources that made starting a team easier,” said Mitch. However upon initially bringing the idea to Computer Technology teacher Richard Wilde, some concerns were raised about how the program would be funded. “I liked the idea,” Wilde remarked, “I just didn’t think we could afford it.” From there, Mitch drew up a comprehensive plan to fund the team and returned with it. Finally, Blue Crew Robotics became a reality, with Richard Wilde as the lead mentor, and Mitch as a captain.

Soon after, other members joined, such as Thomas, the now-junior-captain of the team. Thomas had also participated in Lego League, and was quick to join. “I’m glad that Mitch started the team,” Thomas stated. The team spent an intense six weeks cutting metal and soldering wires until their bot had to be “bagged and tagged”, signifying that no additional changes could be made until the competitions.

Originally, the team had planned to only go to two events their rookie year, but those plans changed. After unexpectedly taking home a District Winner and a “Rookie All-Star” banner from the first, and earning a high placing in the second along with a Judge’s Award, the decision was made to compete in another event, the New England Championships in Hartford, Connecticut. There the team had another excellent showing, placing as the highest seeded rookie and once again winning the Rookie All-Star, this time out of the entire New England District. With that, the team qualified for the FIRST World Championship in St. Louis, Missouri. After some lengthy discussion, it was decided that going to Worlds as a Rookie team was an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up on, and the decision was made to attend one more event. By hitching a ride with Messalonskee, the Blue Crew made it to St. Louis and had a successful performance.

After that wild ride, the team has had a chance to catch their breath and begin to plan for upcoming year. “I would really like to see it continue to grow and improve. We accomplished a great deal this year, but we still left some stuff on the table,” commented Wilde. “I would like to expand into an even better team. But it’s ultimately up to the students. If they come together as a strong team, then we’ll have a strong team.” Being a beginner team this past year, the Blue Crew still has some room for improvement. “While we did have some dedicated members this year, some other teams are much bigger, sometimes having upwards of thirty or forty members. We’re going to be looking to get more numbers for next year.”

During the offseason, the team is going to be hard at work fundraising, growing the team and training the members. To any prospective members that are interested by the idea of joining a robotics team, but afraid they might not have enough technical skill, Mitch offered some advice: “Students shouldn't worry about not having any technical skills or knowledge. Many of the kids I've talked to have said they don't know anything about robots. That's okay! Neither did any of us when we started. If you're a creative thinker and problem solver, there's a place for you on the Blue Crew, in building, brand marketing, programming, or even driving the robot.”