The Samantha Smith Challenge

Samantha Smith Portrait by Robert Shetterly


Educating Curious, Courageous, and Engaged Citizens

September 15. 2020 NOTICE:  Thinking about participating in the Samantha Smith Challenge this year? Guidelines for the 2020/21 will be posted soon.

For reference, find 2019-20 Guidelines here (or download printer-friendly .pdf version here). 



The Samantha Smith Challenge (SSC) is a dynamic educational program for Maine middle school students designed to build a bridge between the classroom and the world and to create curious, courageous, and engaged citizens. SSC projects teach students that, no matter what age, they can be part of solving the challenges and problems they see around them.

Americans Who Tell the Truth relies on partnerships with MAMLE (The Maine Association for Middle Level Education), Thomas College, and the Center for Innovation in Education at Thomas College to bring the SSC to Maine schools and to honor Samantha Smith by encouraging students to act in her spirit.


Journal of Maine Education (2018) features the SSC in "The Synergy of Change: Children and Adults Inspiring Each Other," by Beth Schultz. "Imagine a classroom where children are solving real world problems, including those that stump and defy policy makers, politicians, and adults. ...In classrooms throughout Maine, students are selecting issues that resonate with them, engaging in research, becoming experts, identifying reasonable and sustainable solutions, and finally sharing these solutions with others." 

"We were able to connect with two truth tellers this year. These interviews really made a huge difference for the students who were able to participate in them."  (Teacher, 2019 SSC)

“This project changed our lives!” (Students, 2019 SSC)


The SSC is a program created by AWTT and designed to honor Samantha Smith by encouraging students to act in her spirit.

In December 1982, Samantha Smith of Manchester, Maine, asked her mother “[Who] would start a war and why. She showed me a news magazine with a story about America and Russia, one that had a picture of the new Russian leader, Yuri Andropov, on the cover. We read it together. It seemed that the people in both Russia and America were worried that the other country would start a nuclear war. It all seemed so dumb to me. I had learned about the awful things that had happened during World War II, so I thought that nobody would ever want to have another war. I told Mom that she should write to Mr. Andropov to find out who was causing all the trouble. She said, ‘Why don't you write to him?’ So I did."

From that one question, a peace-making venture unfolded that brought Russian and American students together to build understanding and appreciation of one another and to focus on building connections instead of armies. Sadly, in August 1985, both Samantha and her father were killed in a plane crash.

The Samantha Smith Challenge encourages every Maine middle level student and classroom to start making a difference in the world today, just as Samantha Smith did nearly 40 years ago when she wrote a letter to Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov asking him, “Please tell me how you are going to help to not have war.”


A recent article in Edutopia provides a succinct recap of AWWT's belief in the value of arts education. The article highlights a failing school in Alameda, California that turned itself around by focusing on an arts-focused curriculum. 

“The arts provide an access point for everyone,” Caitlin Gordon, a...third grade teacher [reported]. “I think it allows children to learn about how the process of something is just as important, if not more important, than the product. I think it just really helps create more of that well-balanced, critical-thinking person that we want for our future.”

Read full Edutopia article here



Mary Ellen Tracy
I teach at one of the schools which Samantha Smith attended. Because of this, when I heard about thisSamantha Smith Challenge (click to sign up your students)I was excited to learn more.
David Hilton
I know my time with my students will have been worthwhile if, at the end of our class, each child has grown as a citizen. I want my students to learn to be aware, empathetic, and active. The Samantha Smith Challengefits right into this approach.
Adele Drake
Robert Shetterly's portraits cut to the chase in a compelling way. Students could access the profound sentiments that these portraits represent.
Dr. Elisa Díaz-Martínez
Robert’s Americans Who Tell the Truth has become a distinctive and profound way of teaching American History and American Thought...His work will help us advance towards common understanding and tolerance.
Karyn Field
During the 2013/2014 school year, teachers Karyn Field and Sharyn Hastings used the AWTT portraits and resources to help students analyze "themes related to scapegoating, intolerance and social strife." Students wrote poems, orchestrated press conference
Laurie Solchenberger
I am a special and regular educator in Madison, WI. My students used your images to discuss how some people choose to do amazing things with their lives: some in big ways, some in small ways, but always by finding something they believe in.
Kristen Zoeller
Finally, I was shown people of all backgrounds who had made a difference; finally, I found people who were so normal, who I could relate to, and yet were so profound. Suddenly, there was no more excuse.

SSC Guidelines

Teacher Guidelines: Includes resources, classroom activities, and a detailed step-by-step guide to participating in the SSC

View the Guidelines here

Download a printer-friendly PDF of the Guidelines here

SSC Standards

Many teachers want to know how the SSC fits with standards. Nancy Doda, PhD, has compiled a list of "Power Standards" addressed by SSC activities.

Download the SSC guide to educational standards

SSC Calendar

  • OCTOBER 1, 2019: SSC Guidelines Available - 5th Annual SSC Registration Opens
  • OCTOBER 1, 2019- FEBRUARY 14, 2020: Complete “Get to Know AWTT” activity and submit SSC registration form.
  • MARCH/APRIL 2020: SSC workshops/school visits.
  • MAY 15, 2020: SSC project reports submitted to AWTT.
  • JUNE 1, 2020: Sorry. SSC Day cancelled for this year. You will share your work virtually. 

SSC Registration

E.g. Jane Doe
E.g. 4th grade, 5th grade, etc.
Approximate number of students participating
If you see this, leave this form field blank.