Khan Academy Talent Search Finalist at CMS


Congratulations to CMS teacher Ron Maxwell for being one of the top 10 finalists in the 2016 Khan Academy Talent Search.   Out of the 1300+ videos submitted, Mr. Maxwell’s was selected for its conversational tone, clarity, and depth.   Mr. Maxwell will be featured on the Khan Academy blog and receive a cash prize of $300 dollars.

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South China boy’s breakthrough moment shines light on little-understood disorder

Updated July 4101_0432.JPG

When Hunter Praul took the stage at his middle school recognition ceremony, it marked a milestone after years of effort by him and his parents to conquer selective mutism.
By Madeline St. Amour Staff Writer

Hunter Praul speaks at the China Middle School recognition ceremony on June 9. The eighth-grader, who has selective mutism, asked to speak at the ceremony to thank his teachers. Contributed photo

When Hunter Praul walked onto the stage at China Middle School’s Eighth Grade Recognition Ceremony on June 9, his mother was so overcome by emotion she felt sick. Erika Praul hadn’t known her son was going to speak.

After Hunter made a short speech to the more than 500 people packed into the gym, they erupted into applause and cheers.

His parents, Darryl and Erika Praul, were in tears.

The moment was a culmination of years of work by Hunter and his parents.

On a recent afternoon at his house in South China, Hunter worked at his woodworking bench, chipping away at a piece of wood with a small metal tool called a gouge. After a few minutes of striking down on the wood and carving off layers, a pile of thin wood chips lay at his feet.

“I think it helps relieve tension,” said Erika, 47, as she sat nearby.

As Hunter worked, his mother reflected on what brought them to that moment in the auditorium.

Hunter, 13, has selective mutism, a childhood disorder rooted in anxiety that makes it difficult or impossible to talk in certain social situations. The intense anxiety is caused by hormones activating the adrenal system, the one that signals a person’s fight, flight or freeze instincts.

Hunter’s parents first mentioned to a pediatrician that he wasn’t speaking in school when he was in first grade. The pediatrician diagnosed Hunter with selective mutism, Darryl said.

She said he’s a good pediatrician, “but I wish he hadn’t been so casual” about the diagnosis.

Erika also had selective mutism, she believes, although she was never diagnosed. She started to talk in school in second grade, so the Prauls, along with some of their doctors, thought Hunter might grow out of it to an extent, although Erika knew the anxiety would never completely go away. Their two other children, Jacob, who’s older than Hunter, and Sarah, who is younger, don’t have the disorder.

Annie DiVello, a speech-language pathologist at New England Pediatric Services, of Bedford, New Hampshire, said the anxiety “derails the entire language process.”

The fight, flight or freeze response, she said, is what we used to have when a saber-toothed tiger attacked us in prehistoric times, for example. This is how people feel when they’re alarmed, and it can lead to a slower heart rate, slower respiration and a drop in blood pressure, which causes the blood to coagulate to prepare for an attack.

“These children are feeling this over and over again all day,” she said.


Hunter’s parents had seen several local doctors and psychologists, but none had enough expertise in the disorder to help the Prauls.

The closest experts for those who live in Maine are in New Hampshire, a few hours away, and make up a team of therapists and psychologists with whom DiVello works.

The Prauls eventually took Hunter to New Hampshire to get more in-depth help with his diagnosis.

The disorder “remains one of the most mistreated and misunderstood” even now, DiVello said during a phone conference Wednesday. If caught early enough, a child can learn compensatory strategies to deal with the anxiety and prevent going mute when nervous, she said.

Selective mutism is explained by a diathesis-stress model, which is a psychological theory that the behavior stems from both a predisposed vulnerability and life stresses.

“There’s a real physiological component to the anxiety,” said Beth Doppler-Bourassa, a clinical psychologist at The Village Counsel PLLC, in Dover, New Hampshire, who works with DiVello’s team to help children with the disorder.

Parents often have an “ah-ha moment” when learning about a child’s diagnosis, she said, because they realize they were affected with the same disorder but never diagnosed. While it’s not characterized as a genetic disorder, it can be inherited.

Children with the disorder are very layered, DiVello said, which is why she pairs families with a team of two speech-language pathologists, an occupational therapist and a clinical psychologist. More than 80 percent of children with selective mutism have a co-existing condition.

In 1980, the disorder was called elective mutism in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but its name was changed in 1994 to reflect the fact that the affected children can’t speak, rather than won’t. Studies have shown that those affected experience a significant tightening in their larynx when their anxiety response begins, DiVello said. On average, affected children miss 100 or more social opportunities each day.

“To put it simply, imagine being locked in a world of social invisibility,” Doppler-Bourassa said.

Some experts say that selective mutism is likely more prevalent than autism, but it’s often not diagnosed, or misdiagnosed as autism or developmental delay, she said.

While up to date numbers are not completely clear because of a lack of awareness and research, 1 in 143 children are diagnosed with selective mutism, according to research from 2002, DiVello said. Today 1 in 83 children are diagnosed with autism.


Most people realize their children have selective mutism when they enter school or daycare, DiVello said. Before then, the children can talk to their family and people they see often because they feel comfortable, but once they transition into a new social setting, the anxiety will start to appear.

The New England Pediatric Services, where DiVello works, sees 4- to 6-year-olds for selective mutism most often.

While early intervention is better, it is never too late to put supports in place and help a child cope with the disorder, DiVello said. Once children reach high school age, though, she recommends medication in addition to therapy. Without intervention, the disorder remains the same or grows stronger.

After an initial phone call and meeting, a number of surveys and tests for children, parents and teachers are completed to give the team at New England Pediatric Services an idea of the child’s ability. The occupational therapist, Erica Brown, will look at sensory integration in the child. First, she’ll get the child moving — in a ball pit, for example — to help ease the child out of fight, flight or freeze mode to a more regulated state. Without movement, DiVello said, children can get stuck in a “frozen” state where they can’t access the cerebellum.

Once the child gains more access to communication, Brown will progress the child up a “verbal ladder” from a thumbs up to one word or some variation. This lets her know how far along the child is in coping with the anxiety.

Brown sends therapy instructions home for children to do with parents, which can be especially helpful for “transitions” — before a big trip, after the school day or when arriving at a restaurant.

This physical component is what separates NEPS from other centers in the country that focus on selective mutism.

“We’re really treating the whole child,” she said.

The children DiVello and her team see are typically on the high end of the intelligence scale. They test children with the fourth edition of the Pearson Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, where the average score is between 85 and 115. Most of their children score in the higher end of this range or above it, she said.

Research shows that people who tend to be anxious also tend to have a higher verbal IQ, according to Doppler-Bourassa, so children with selective mutism might have a lot to say, but are just unable to say any of it.

“These children suffer,” DiVello said. “They truly suffer in a world of silence.”


While Hunter chipped away at the wood on his porch, the wind carried a smell around to the porch from the yard.

It’s roadkill that he’s breaking down to get the bones to look at with his teacher, his mother said.

His science teacher, Ron Maxwell, started working at China Middle School in 1998 and said he’d never taught a student with selective mutism before. He conceded in an interview he was anxious about how he would communicate with Hunter when he found out the student had trouble speaking with some people.

But while Hunter never verbally communicated with him during class time, Maxwell said he didn’t feel like they lacked communication at all.

“I never once thought I didn’t know him like the other (students),” he said. “The communication link was there.”

Whether it was through a thumbs up or down, a written answer or a “fist to five” rating how well he understood material, Hunter got his point across.

“I never really wanted for any other communication,” Maxwell said. “He’s got a full range of direct answers to direct questions.”

Hunter has expression-filled eyes and Maxwell can read him “just like any other kid,” Maxwell said.

One day, Hunter brought in a dead squirrel his father had helped him put in a bag — both of Hunter’s parents are veterinarians at Windsor Veterinary Clinic.

Over the past six months or so, Maxwell and Hunter have gone through the process of reclaiming bones from dead animals using different treatments, like bleach or Listerine. A porcupine was in the bucket in the yard.

Maxwell’s favorite part of teaching Hunter is that they get to “play with dead things” together, which he hasn’t gotten to do since college.

“There are students who do exactly what you tell them to, those you have to move to do something … and then there are students who learn in spite of me,” Maxwell said. “Hunter will learn in spite of me.”


Erika and Darryl Praul wish they’d gotten Hunter more help when he was younger.

They felt his pediatrician, while liked by both parents, was too casual about the issue.

“Since kindergarten, I thought, ‘He’s just so close,’” Erika said.

Darryl encouraged Hunter to try to be more social and confident. He always felt Hunter could do it.

Both parents were concerned, as Hunter got older, about his progress. It’s rare for selective mutism to continue into middle school and high school, Erika said, so they decided to get more proactive.

Hunter started medication about 10 months ago, during the summer, so it could be a transition time before school started, Darryl, 47, said.

While the first medication didn’t seem to work, fluoxetine, an antidepressant, did. Hunter still takes it and has made great progress over the past school year, according to Darryl. Hunter has also been working with an occupational therapist to learn relaxation techniques and coping mechanisms.

This year Hunter met his goal of talking to a teacher for a couple minutes in between classes or during lunch. Last year, he would communicate with his teachers solely through writing.

He’s also been talking to his Boy Scout leaders one-on-one for the past few months, which he didn’t do before. At a meeting to move up in the rankings, Hunter also answered questions from multiple leaders at once, which was a big step, Darryl said.

In December, he talked over the public announcements system at school before the morning announcements were made.

“He screws up his courage and boom — does something,” Darryl said.

There can also be setbacks, like a recent trip to a restaurant with one of Hunter’s friends, where he wasn’t able to order for himself in front of the table.

To help Hunter deal with transitions, like moving from China Middle School to Erskine Academy in South China, the parents prepare ahead. Darryl said he introduced Hunter to all of his teachers at Erskine and met his school adviser.

China Middle School was a good place for Hunter too, his parents said. He was never ostracized, and most of the other children and all of the staff were supportive.

Outside of school, Hunter said he likes to go fishing with his friends at the China boat landing. He said he’d like to be a biologist when he grows up. He also catches frogs, which are his favorite animals. The next woodcarving piece he plans to make will be of a frog, he said.

“(The wall) will always be there,” Erika said.

“It’s like poking a tin foil wall with a toothpick,” Darryl said.


The biggest accomplishment came when Hunter took center stage at last month’s school recognition ceremony.

“That was so insanely out of the blue that he did that,” Darryl said. No one in their family was expecting him to speak.

But Hunter’s older brother, Jacob, was getting a pet parakeet that weekend, and Hunter wanted one, too. When he asked his father what he could do to get a parakeet, Darryl joked that he’d have to give a speech at graduation.

Before the ceremony began, Hunter showed his father that he’d written a short speech and asked if he could talk. His father asked Meg Childs, a teacher at the school, who said they’d let him speak before the slideshow.

When the ceremony started, the teachers and the student speaker — and Hunter — walked onto the stage in front of the gym filled with eighth graders and their families.

Erika didn’t know that Hunter was planning on speaking, and she felt emotional and nauseated when he went to the microphone. Most people in the audience were emotional, too, and some were crying, she said.

Hunter walked up to the podium with his speech in hand.

He said hello to the crowd of more than 500, thanked the teachers for a great year and introduced the slideshow.

When he finished and walked back to his seat, the gym erupted in applause and cheers.

Hunter said last week he felt proud when he finished his speech.

And while he didn’t get a parakeet, he did get the new computer he’d been working toward the whole year.

Darryl, who worried about what Hunter’s adult life might look like if he didn’t keep progressing, felt relief.

“Him doing this — now I know he’s gonna be OK,” he said.

Madeline St. Amour – 861-9239

Twitter: @madelinestamour


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The Power of Words

Our Civil Rights’ Team and Advisor, Ryan Reed, recently hosted a “No Name Calling Week” at China Middle School.  The event ended with a culminating school-wide assembly “The Power of Words” led by Maine Civil Rights Team Project Program Manager Brandon Baldwin. The focus was specifically on bias-based name calling.  This important message was a reminder of how we should ALWAYS be kind to each other, not just on “No Name Calling Week”.IMG_0498-1

I recently received the monthly newsletter that Jennifer McGee, RSU #18 Administrator, snet to her parents at Atwood Primary School.  She is an extremely gifted writer.  I received permission from her to share her personal experiences, thoughts and research based advice.  This message applies to all ages!  Enjoy reading!

From the Principal’s Pen

March 2016

I was bullied in school. At first she made fun of my height. Next she made fun of my clothes. She made fun of my laugh. Made fun of my grades and on and on and on. Made fun of my glasses. Made fun of my braces. Finally, I thought the grand finale…she jumped up on a table during school lunch and announced to everyone, the fact that I hadn’t been asked to the prom. But, it didn’t stop there. The last straw, when I finally told my parents, she kept running into the back of my car with her car.

 I take bullying seriously. I have been there and know what it feels like to be the victim of someone’s hatred…not really knowing why, and being afraid day after day of what would be next.

 Research tells us bullies behave the way they do for the following reasons:

  • hurt, anger and difficulty at home  
  • lack of attention from friends, parents or teachers
  • trying to feel popular or tough or cool
  • they are victims of bullying themselves
  • in-sensitive to others and unable to empathize due to difficult up bringing
  • exposure to violent films, violent video games

 Obviously, children who are bullied at school do not feel safe or secure. Schools are obligated to respond swiftly and aggressively to ensure bullying STOPS. However, schools also have the unique challenge of caring for the victim and simultaneously caring for the bully. You see, research tells us, “Young bullies tend to remain bullies without appropriate interventions.” (Olweus bullying study)

We have some bullying here at Atwood. Truthfully, not a lot. We work very hard to create an environment where children care about one another and treat one another with kindness. With that said; however, occasionally, we do have bullying. When that happens, I use research to respond. Research does not say that PUNISHMENT is the key to stopping a bully from bullying.

 As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite. Punishment works for people who are able to respect and respond to rules…you know, for those children who quake in fear at the thought of being sent to the principal’s office or for that child who cries when spoken to sternly by an adult. But for the typical bully, punishment is not the key. I subscribe to the author Ross Greene’s philosophy, as articulated in the book: Lost at School. Ross Greene teaches us that some children have lagging skills, and in order to change their behavior, you have to actively teach those skills. I believe this is especially essential in elementary schools…when children are still malleable and eager to learn.

 In the fall, during our Atwood town meetings, the children were taught about bullying, bullying prevention, and what to do if you are being bullied or see somebody being bullied. Each Thursday, Mr. Sean from the Family Violence Program brought in his puppet: Rusty (the children love Rusty) to teach us in a gentle and fun manner. The children are very familiar with the terms up-stander and by-stander and M.O.O. (Mean, Over and Over and On Purpose).

 Although we are well educated, there are still times when children are unkind to one another. I always say, “It takes a village to raise a child.” We are part of the village and so are all of you. Here are some suggestions if your child is being bullied:

  1. Talk to your children, really talk to them about their day. When they tell you their problems, offer suggestions for helping them solve their problems. Talk about different strategies for problem solving, and also tell them to report their problems to adults here at school.
  2. Remember at school, it isn’t helpful to tell your children to “fight back”. Fighting at school is never allowed, and retaliation is not the answer. They can sternly and firmly tell a child to STOP, they can walk (or run) away, they can get an adult to help, but “fighting back” isn’t helpful.
  3. Listen to your children and remain calm. Sometimes it is difficult to get the WHOLE story…children are sometimes hesitant to tell their role in a situation. Don’t be too quick to step in. Having children attempt to solve their own problems and work out their own struggles is healthy! Keep a close eye and ear but don’t jump in too quickly.
  4. Work together with our school. Sometimes it is difficult to hear that your child may be a part of the problem. (Believe me when I say, I have been there.)

 Years later, after I graduated from high school and went to college, I had a chance to reflect on the situation I faced in high school…to think about the person who bullied me. When I think back, she really had nothing. I was the “principal’s daughter” (my father was the principal of my high school), and if she had a father, he was never in her life. Her life was filled with violence and crime and arrests and substance abuse. I am certain she fell into the bullying category because she had only been treated unkindly herself. Things may have been different if someone had reached out to her with kindness at a very young age.

 As hard as it is, part of the anti-bullying campaign lies with our school families. When you have parties and you send out invitations, rather than leaving out the child who “bullies”, maybe invite the child and extend kindness. It may be the only kindness that child is shown. I know it is tempting to avoid doing so, but you may, in fact, be “the break of day” for that child, “when the edge of darkness rolls away”.

 Educationally Yours,
Jennifer McGee, Principal

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Celebrating Student Success

Posted December 16
Updated December 16

China Middle School honor roll

Students earn academic recognition.

CHINA — China Middle School has announced its honor roll for the first trimester for the 2015-16 academic year.

Dean’s list: Jay Austin, Alec Baker, Alyssha Gil, Samantha Golden, Alyssa Hale, Elizabeth Hardy, Piper Mann, Ian Oliphant, Hunter Praul, Sarah Praul, Mackenzie Roderick and Richard Winn.

High honors: Kathryn Bailey, Julia Basham, Derek Beaulieu, Nicholas Choate, Emily Clark, Jasmine Crommett, Cailee Elsasser, Jacob Fisher, Jada Fredette, Annika Gil, Reiana Gonzalez, Nathan Howell, Ashley Huntley, Emma Jefferson, Beck Jorgensen, Kaiden Kelley, Ben Lee, Eleena Lee, Lili Lefebvre, Madison Lully, Lily Matthews, Wes McGlew, Alonzo Michaud, Rebecca Morton, Courtney Paine, Kayla Peaslee, Gabriel Pelletier, Noah Rushing and Logan Tenney.

Honors: Molly Anderson, Julia Barber, Paris Bedsaul, Abigail Beyor, Angel Bonilla, Trevor Brockway, Kathleen Burgess, Aiden Clark, Liberty Crockett, Colby Cunningham, Alivia Gower, Gwen Lockhart, Kolby Maxim, Madeline Pacholski, Alexis Rancourt, Samantha Reynolds, Sammantha Stafford and Sophie Steeves.

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35 Years and Still Going Strong!

On November 5, 2015, FullSizeRender-17.jpgTimothy Roddy, custodian in R.S.U. # 18, received recognition for his 35 years of service in the China Schools.  Mr. Roddy continues to work as a day time Head Custodian at China Middle School.  Most of his career, he worked as an evening custodian.  He was very happy to switch to the day time custodian position when it became available.  Mr. Roddy especially loves working during the school day when the students are in the building.  Mr. Roddy is very committed to his job.  He takes pride in his work and is diligent  about keeping the building cleaned and maintained.   China Middle School is very fortunate to have such a dedicated employee!


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Intramural Program at CMS

China Middle School has started a before school intramural program, implemented by Mr. Josh Lambert, where students can play an organized sport from 7:35 to 7:55.  Mr. Lambert’s fondest memories of his Middle School years centered around participating in an Intramural Sports Program.

The first intramural session is volleyball for 7th and 8th grade students.  There has been a great turnout with 43 students signing up to play.  The students were split into four teams, the Sharks, Sting Rays, Whales, and Featured imageDolphins.  The teams follow a schedule of games that are played on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.  After the volleyball season there will be a 5th and 6th grade intramural season.

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CMS students make the front page of The Morning Sentinel !

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