East Grand School students braved river rapids with new principal

8 months ago

DANFORTH, Maine — East Grand School new principal Patricia Metta braved the Penobscot River’s white water rapids in a small play boat just hours after meeting some of her students and teachers a few weeks ago.

“I saw those rapids coming and thought ‘what have I done’,” Metta said.

The camping trip at Big Eddy Campground along the West Shore of the Penobscot River was part of the school’s outdoor education program and the first time Metta met several of her students. 

“It really helped me see what a family this school is and I really believe that this outdoor education program is what has pulled them all together,” she said. 

Prior to Metta’s recent arrival, Superintendent Margaret White was the East Grand School  principal for seven years and principal and superintendent for five years. 

In January, White told the school board that she planned to retire in the next few years. 

“We discussed how best to transition people into those two positions, and we decided to fill the principal position this year while I would continue as a part-time superintendent,” White said. “The School Board, staff, and I all feel extremely fortunate to have found an applicant with the rich educational background that Pat brings.”

Metta was born in Canada, but has been in Baileyville most of her life. After college in Farmington, she returned to Washington County and taught at the Indian Reservation for seven years, taught at Baileyville schools for 10 years and then became their athletic director and principal for 12 years. After a move to Chelsea, Metta was principal for four years before returning to Baileyville as superintendent for three years, she said. 

Last year Metta thought about retiring, but by the time she realized she didn’t want to retire she had already resigned from her position as superintendent and the school had hired a new superintendent.

“I said, ‘OK I’m going to go back to what I love, being a principal,’” she said. 

And it was the interview process at East Grand that really hooked her, she said.

“When they talked about their kids and the things they do for their kids, you just could see that love of their school,” Metta said. 

Additionally, teachers talked about all the different jobs they have and all the different things they do, she said, adding that in today’s world that’s unusual. 

And when she learned about the school’s outdoor education program while on a tour, she appreciated their outdoor space and all the gardening that is being done at the school, she said. 

“Pat is familiar with rural education in Washington County, both the benefits and the struggles that can bring,” White said. “The students find her positive energy engaging, which makes her a natural leader for a PK-12 school.  “

This year Metta said they are focusing on making the kids feel welcome, safe and happy at the school.

This summer Metta and a few others attended educational sessions on responsive classrooms and how to help students feel more like they belong, she said. 

It’s all about being direct, having empathy, using a correct tone of voice and other things they know about but want to put in the forefront. When students feel like they belong, it builds academic efficacy, she said.

One thing that helps is doing a lot of brain breaks. Kids who have to sit for a long time get edgy and fun brain breaks like rock paper scissors and cheers until the final winner really helps. 

All it takes is between one and three minutes to get a student out of a mindset that they are bored or want to be somewhere else, she said. 

“I didn’t make a mistake coming here. It’s a wonderful place to work and I’ve never seen staff so engaged and so 100 percent ready to do whatever it takes for students to be successful and happy,” she said.