The Samantha Smith Challenge

Samantha Smith Portrait by Robert Shetterly


Educating Curious, Courageous, and Engaged Citizens

Interested in our 2019-20 Program? Go here to contact us.


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 sump and defy policy makers, politicians, and adults. ... In classrooms throughout Maine, students are selecting issues that resonate with them, engagin in research, becoming experts, identifying reasonabl eand sustainabilt solutions, and finally sharing these solutions with others." 

Sarah Rubin, Gorham Middle School (2017): "Our kids worked so hard to do something positive for their communities and to learn about a topic they didn't really know about before. They also reached out to people in the community and had to be super self-motivated. It was soooo good for them! It's also wonderful to have a "challenge" to support this work. Many of us want to implement service learning or community based learning and being a part of a statewide initiative helps to legitimize what we're doing!" 

From a Maranacook Middle School Student: "This project has taught us so much about ourselves, our peers and has given us something to look forward to in our school day. While doing this project we found something more than just dull old school, we found something we were passionate about. It amazed us to think that people in our world could be living in such a drastically different situation."

From a Mt. Ararat Middle School Student: “This was a truly great experience; it taught me that anyone can change the world. 

From a Bruce Whittier Middle School Student: “I thought that I knew a lot about mental disorders but I learned so much. The Samantha Smith challenge program made me dig deeper and care more.”

Watch Senator Angus King’s comments at the first Samantha Smith Challenge Celebration. 


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.

In 2003, Americans Who Tell the Truth (AWTT) honored Samantha by painting her portrait. In 2014, AWTT partnered with the Maine Association of Middle Level Education (MAMLE) to continue to honor Samantha with the Samantha Smith Challenge.

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 30 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.”


An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

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

Download a PDF of the guidelines by clicking 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.

Click to download the SSC guide to educational standards

SSC Calendar

Check back. SSC 2019-20 Calendar will be posted in the fall. 

SSC Registration

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