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$100K Award Would Help Create Technology-Based Maine Workforce

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$100K Award Would Help Create Technology-Based Maine Workforce
Posted on 09/18/2015
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If Pious Ali, a youth and community engagement specialist with Portland Empowered and a Portland school board member, wins the Larry O’Toole Award, he’d use the money to create a summer camp to help kids learn vital computer-coding skills. The winner of the award is chosen by online voters (the deadline is noon on Wednesday, Sept. 30) and Ali is hoping to generate support – not for himself but for underserved youth in Portland.

(To learn more about Pious Ali and vote for him, click here.)

Ali is competing with nominees from five other New England states for the award, which includes a $100,000 grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. Regarding his nomination, Ali said, “Yes, it’s my face and my work, but it’s really about our students, our city and our state.”

He noted that the jobs of the future in Maine will require knowledge of technology. “By teaching our students how to code, we are creating our own future innovators and technology-based workforce. We are also equipping our students with a skill that will make them ready for college and competent for the challenges they’ll face in the workforce.”

Ali, who works for the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, said the camp would be for youngsters from economically challenged backgrounds who are transitioning from middle school to high school. “I call it the ‘transition summer,’” he said.

He said he hopes innovative Portland businesses will partner with the camp to provide campers with opportunities for field trips and other learning experiences.

The Lawrence O’Toole Award – also known as the Larry O’Toole award – is given out by Nellie Mae, a private foundation focused on school transformation in New England. The award was established to honor the legacy of Nellie Mae’s founding president.

Each year, Nellie Mae uses the award to recognize an individual, organization, school or district exhibiting great leadership through innovation or courage in moving student-centered approaches to learning forward. There are six nominees, each from a different New England state. The winner receives a $100,000 grant for their school, district, or organization.

Nellie Mae’s website page on the nominees for the award describes Ali in this way: “Ali is helping the Portland community rethink what schooling looks like.”

It continues: “As a leader with the community group Portland Empowered, and a member of the Portland School District’s Board of Public Education, Pious is a respected champion for authentic youth, parent and community engagement across race, gender, class and faith in the Portland community. Through his work with Portland Empowered, Pious is working with parents and students from the Portland Public Schools to get them involved in the district’s transition to a student-centered system, ensuring that students and parents have a voice in the school system.”

Portland Empowered, which is supported by Nellie Mae, champions student and parent voices across Deering, Casco Bay and Portland high schools so that schools reflect what and how students want to learn, parents and community are partners in students’ education, and all young people have opportunities for educational and career success within and beyond high school.