2012-12-14 / Front Page

InspiriTED

TEDx event tainted with pot cookies
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


Cape Elizabeth High School senior Piper Otterbein gave a TED talk to her classmates about her lifelong struggle with dyslexia. “The creative brain is the one that suits me best,” Otterbein said. She will attend Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta this fall. (Jack Flagler photo) Cape Elizabeth High School senior Piper Otterbein gave a TED talk to her classmates about her lifelong struggle with dyslexia. “The creative brain is the one that suits me best,” Otterbein said. She will attend Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta this fall. (Jack Flagler photo) CAPE ELIZABETH – Nine students have been suspended from Cape Elizabeth High School and police have begun an investigation into an incident involving marijuana cookies on school grounds.

Superintendent Meredith Nadeau said school staff became aware the students had eaten the cookies Dec. 7 when a student became ill during the TEDxYouth event in which a dozen guests spoke to juniors and seniors at the school in a day-long event.

About two hours before police were called to the school, Matthew Braun, a 2008 Cape Elizabeth High School graduate, gave his TED talk to students about his experiences with drug addiction.

Capt. Brent Sinclair of the Cape Elizabeth Police Department said police received a call around 1:50 p.m. about possible drug use on school grounds. Because some or all of the students are juveniles, Sinclair said he could provide few details of the investigation.

Sinclair did, however, say charges will likely be filed once police finish their investigation.

During his talk, Braun said he began smoking marijuana and taking painkillers to cope with issues of fear and anxiety he experienced throughout high school. Braun said he broke into homes and faced felony convictions at the age of 19 before he found a way to stop being “paralyzed” by fear and instead turn it into an engine for positive growth. The audience gave Braun a standing ovation after his speech.

Nadeau said all the students are serving their suspensions the week of Monday, Dec. 10. School policy calls for students who possess or use drugs to serve a four-day suspension that can be reduced to two days should the student agree to see a social worker and perform community service on the days he or she is suspended.

School policy also states that any student found to have furnished or trafficked drugs on school grounds can be suspended for 10 days and possibly expelled. Nadeau said no student has been referred to her for expulsion.

The suspensions dampened an event that most students, faculty and speakers agreed was largely a positive experience. It was the first TED event in Maine held specifically for a high school audience. TED subjects range from poetry to science to education and have been viewed more than a billion times online.

TEDxDirigo is a local organization founded by Cape Elizabeth resident Adam Burke. When school board Chairman Mary Townsend and former town council Chairman Sara Lennon attended one of TEDxDirigo’s conferences in September 2011, they began working with Burke and high school students to bring an event to Cape.

Townsend said she found herself continually telling Lennon, “The kids need to hear this,” at the TEDx event, and that she saw an opportunity to help students “take the pause you need to think about what you want to do with your life.”

A student committee met weekly every Tuesday starting last spring, cultivating some of their favorite videos and formulating the list of speakers for the first TEDxYouth event in Maine. The committee made sure to find speakers who could touch on topics relevant to high school students.

One of those speakers was Claire Hirschmann, who cofounded The Field Academy in Portland, which organizes educational summer trips for students.

Hirschmann questioned the idea that learning had to happen in a classroom.

“I think that we have failed you,” she said.

She went on to explain that her time on a dude ranch in Colorado after her official schooling was done taught her as much as she ever learned in a classroom at Yale University.

One student committee member even gave her own TED talk. Piper Otterbein, a senior, was the surprise student speaker, who spoke last and told her classmates and teachers for the first time about her lifelong struggle with dyslexia.

“All I wanted to do was be in normal classes with you,” Otterbein said.

She described the effort it took her to recognize the letters that spelled her name in first grade. Her struggles to sing “the dollar song” when learning about money later in grade school, and the painstaking process she had to go through to write a oneparagraph letter to a college admissions office.

Among the guests at the event were Biddeford High School senior Elise Oliver and English teacher Dawn Pendergrass, who have been working with students and faculty to bring a similar TEDxYouth event to Biddeford. The theme for their event, Oliver said, will be “Making Waves,” and will focus on both the figurative idea of change and the literal subject of marine science.

The Biddeford committee is currently working to secure sponsors for the event, which will be held Friday, March 29.

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