Hannah Bitjoka believes school board members should be as diverse as the community they serve, and says that is why she declared her candidacy for South Portland School Board District 3. Born in Indiana, adopted in Maine, Bitjoka grew up in a mixed race family in Poland Springs. As a child, she spent several years living in Kenya and Uganda. “Being a stranger in a foreign culture gave me deep appreciation and respect for cultural differences. I’m excited to bring my perspective to bear on the educational challenge of this diverse community. I believe we must offer every student a range of opportunities that challenge them to develop their creativity and their ability to think independently and problem-solve to prepare them for adult life.”
Bitjoka became aware of areas of weakness in the South Portland education system while her children were growing up. One of the biggest blind spots she noted was history class. “The history lessons only talk about American history. But they don’t even learn the history of the U.S. properly. Children have very minimal knowledge of the civil rights movement, many don’t even know why we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But it’s not just about Black history, it’s Indigenous history too. With the way our world is going right now, it’s even more important to learn about each other and teach our kids about different cultures in order to raise them to be more tolerant, open-minded, and unprejudiced adults. And it has nothing to do with politics; this is purely about the education of our children. It’s about teaching them the history of our country.”
She believes schools should do more to equip kids for what lies ahead in their lives as adults. “I grew up having home economics classes, where we learned to sew and bake, and technical education classes like woodworking,” she said. She also laments the lack of financial literacy skills. “I’ve seen children graduate school that have no idea how to do their taxes, write out a check, or even address an envelope.” Bitjoka wants to get parents more involved with their kids’ studies and believes they should be more aware of what their children are doing in class, and have more say in what they’re learning about. She also thinks it’s important to involve the students themselves in direct conversation about what they want to be doing, and what subjects interest them the most.