Lewiston is getting another public park, thanks to the good efforts of Friends of Pettingill, the city council and Mayor Robert Macdonald.

In 2008, the Pettingill Elementary School was closed and students were moved to Geiger Elementary. That left the Pettingill property vacant but, since the playground remained, the neighborhood made the most of this outdoor space.

The school building was taken down in 2013, which made the space even more attractive for neighborhood recreation.

The City Council has often discussed what to do with the property, and seemed to be leaning toward subdividing the land and selling off house lots for $40,000 apiece.

Friends of Pettingill banded together to do two things: Convince the council to establish a public park instead, and start raising money to help the conversion.

On Wednesday, with “Friends” and neighbors in the audience, councilors were moved to grant their wish and voted to establish a city park.

In its vote, the council made it clear no city funds would be spent for development. The estimated cost is $55,000 for fencing, landscaping and basic site work, so it is now up to the Friends to continue fundraising to make their dream a reality.

This neighborhood joined together to preserve the space, and must now keep their energy up to develop the property. The council has given them a tremendous opportunity to shape the park into a space they want for their families and visitors, and the entire city will benefit from their work.

The concept of any city park is to build community and the Friends have clearly demonstrated community action works. We look forward to seeing the project move forward, and to the continued efforts to maintain the park’s value to Lewiston.

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On Monday, we reported on a student effort at the Buckfield Junior-Senior High School to launch a $1 million, three-stage rocket to the moon by 2016. That’s 238,855 miles and 22 months from now.

Talk about aiming high.

On the surface, it appears to be an impossible task. But, then, many great accomplishments are the result of impassioned people working to figure out the impossible.

The students, who are members of the Buckfield Aeronautical Exploration Association, are being advised by teacher Gretchen Kimball, a woman of boundless energy and optimism. Asked about the likelihood of her students’ success, she said, “when kids are smart, passionate, responsible, hard-working and inspirational, who knows what’s possible?”

That’s a line that should be pasted on the front of every child’s school locker so they see it often enough to believe it.

If these teens learn nothing more from this project, they will learn from this can-do teacher that passion, thought and confidence matter.

The would-be rocket scientists, Chris Martin and Nathan Cyr, are middle-schoolers. They hatched the rocket idea, and then visited every science class in the school to recruit a half-dozen other students to help. They’ve gotten sponsors for their project, and have been in contact with NASA to learn the science.

While there will be plenty of math and science to figure out as they progress, these students aren’t just mastering the academics, they’re learning that critical life skill of how to get things done.

We wish them well, and offer a wise thought from Walt Disney: “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

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We reported another innovative, challenging and educational project at Oak Hill High School this week, a project translating the language of Shakespeare into the art of debate.

English teacher Tony Luchini assigned 120 freshmen to read Romeo & Juliet, a standard reading assignment in just about every American high school.

But, he made the words on the page real by having the students act out the narrative and then matching each student with another person to debate who among the story characters was most responsible for the star-crossed lovers’ deaths: a member of Juliet Capulet’s family, or that of Romeo Montague.

The innovation is here: the students did not know who they were paired with, and debated the merits of their respective arguments anonymously and in writing.

The exercise required a firm grasp of reading comprehension, organized reasoning and compelling writing, adding in the allure of competition as each debater attempted to “win” their argument.

On Thursday, the students were gathered together for the big reveal, and some learned they had been debating a best friend, a mother, a grandfather, a teacher, or a member of the business community. And, in some cases, the students won the debate against their elders.

That’s a confidence builder, and a lesson in clear reasoning and goal orientation. Good lessons all.

Next year, Luchini hopes to get more community members involved in this project, and we encourage people to get involved.

The debate may be about fictional characters, but the lesson in the value of thought is very real.

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The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.


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