The Samantha Smith Challenge - Social Justice Through the Arts

Samantha Smith Portrait by Robert Shetterly

Educating Curious, Courageous, and Engaged Citizens

Maine Teachers can register now for the 4th annual, 2017/18 Samantha Smith Challenge! (Scroll to the bottom of this page to register.)


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.


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.


SEP 15, 2017 - JAN 15, 2018:     4th Annual SSC Registration. Complete “Get to Know AWTT” activity before submitting registration form. 
OCTOBER 19-20, 2017: Launch 4th Annual SSC at MAMLE Conference. 
MARCH/APRIL 2018: SSC workshops/school visits. 
MAY 15, 2018:SSC project reports submitted to AWTT. 
JUNE 4, 2018:   All attend Samantha Smith Day celebration @ Thomas College! 



Teachers do not have to be sure what the classroom issue or issues will be to register. However, before registering, they should get to know Americans Who Tell the Truth with their students by completing the "Getting to Know AWTT: Connecting with Changemakers" exercise. This activity will help students choose a meaningful issue where they can make a difference!

e.g. 4th grade, 5th grade, etc.
e.g., How can our school/town reduce its carbon footprint?
Yes or No