Third Thought aspires to:
1) create, refine, and sustain a unique set of school-based initiatives that invite youth to reflect on their own experiences, learn from the perspectives of others, and take action on issues that matter to them.
2) share models for civic engagement that schools across the country may adopt.
Click the tabs below to learn more about Third Thought initiatives and background:
About Third Thought
Third Thought Initiatives for Civic Engagement was founded in 2019 with the financial support of a matching grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation. Our work is based on the belief that:
- diversity of thought and experience is a source of wisdom that should be valued rather than feared.
- young people have the desire to be civically engaged members of our communities.
- young people can be trusted to lead conversations that bridge the divides on the most pressing issues of our day.
- young people have the capacity to work creatively and collaboratively across differences.
As of 2022, our ability to maintain and expand our initiatives relies on generous corporate and private donations. If you would like to make a financial donation to support the work of Third Thought, please contact John Holdridge (Director, Third Thought Initiatives for Civic Engagement) by email or at 207.774.7863, ext. 1370.
The New England Youth Identity Summit
In partnership with Seeds of Peace, The New England Youth Identity Summit brings together students and educators from across New England to connect and learn from each other, to challenge their own ideas and perspectives, and to collectively find ways to create meaningful change in their communities.
- Visit the 2022 website for an inside look at the Summit experience
- Read attendee reflections and a blog post from the 2022 Summit
- Visit the website for the seventh annual Summit (April 1, 2023)
- View a selection of previous keynote speakers: Deqa Dhalac • Corey Hinton • Richard Blanco
- Join the Summit email list
The Can We? Project
An experiment in revitalizing democracy centered on developing the capacity of high school students to engage in dialogue across differences. Partners include The Maine Policy Institute, Narrative 4, Camp Sunshine, and a wide range of high schools.
- Read about the roots of The Can We? Project
- Read a 2022 Portland Press Herald op-ed on Can We? by former Upper School director Lowell Libby
- Read a 2022 Portland Press Herald op-ed on Can We? by school administrators John Suttie and Philip Rossetti
- Watch a video about the 2018 Can We? retreat
- Watch a video about the 2019 Can We? retreat
- Read a Maine Department of Education article about Windham High School’s involvement in Can We?
- Listen to a Harvard podcast featuring Waynflete faculty discussing youth, dialogue, and The Can We? Project
Interested in keeping up to date with The Can We? Project? Join our email list.
The Essential Question Behind The Can We? Project:
While our nation faces many urgent challenges, including promoting anti-racism, economic opportunity and equality, environmental sustainability, and social justice for all, arguably none is as urgent as the need to strengthen our democratic institutions so that we can meet these pressing challenges thoughtfully, effectively, and fairly. At the root of our great American dysfunction are our growing divisions along lines of identity and viewpoint—paralyzing rifts that have raised an essential question on which our future as a society depends:
Can we harness the wisdom, compassion, and power inherent in the great diversity of the American people to revitalize our democracy, mend the social fabric, and live out the true meaning of the American promise of liberty and justice for all?
In 2018, a team of Waynflete faculty, staff, and community members developed a cross-community response to this challenge. Drawing its name from this essential question, The Can We? Project aspired to engage high school youth as the seekers of answers. In partnership with the Maine Policy Institute, the initial project brought together 29 students from seven high schools across Maine who represented a diverse range of backgrounds, political viewpoints, and life experiences. Beginning with a three-day weekend retreat, and followed by occasional collaborative sessions over the course of five months, students worked with experienced facilitators to learn how to talk across deep divides, develop a shared vision of a better Maine, and design an interactive forum with political leadership. Students were asked to question their own ideas, challenge each other, and collaborate. In the process, they developed basic democratic skills that seem lost in this divisive moment: valuing dialogue, mediating differences, holding elected officials accountable, and working collectively for a higher purpose.
Following the success of the original 2018 program, Waynflete was awarded a $250,000 matching grant from The Edward E. Ford Foundation. The grant supported the founding of Third Thought Initiatives for Civic Engagement and further development of The Can We? Project and its unique approach to political dialogue and civic engagement through the lenses of self-examination, empathy, mediation, and collaboration.
We believe that this model can and should be replicated in schools and communities across the country. Our work since 2018 has been dedicated to developing and disseminating the model to our collaborative partners at both independent and public schools.
In 2019 we invited seven independent schools from across the country—all of which shared commitment to public service and an interest in dialogue across difference—to collaborate by sending students to our second retreat and by sending faculty and administrators to a four-day summer professional development institute at Waynflete.
Can We? In the Classroom:
To better connect with a growing number of interested students, teachers, and schools, we’re expanding beyond the successful weekend retreat model and working in Maine schools to facilitate a year-round “Can We? In the Classroom” curriculum.
Our new focus on in-school and cross-school programming will increase the number of students, teachers, and school districts that will be affected by our work. We’re excited to be focusing our energies here in Maine; we believe that we have the potential to bridge the divide between “the two Maines” and to provide an inspiration for our divided nation.
Interested in becoming a Can We? Project partner school? Contact Project Director John Holdridge at
You can join us in this effort by making a donation to Third Thought Initiatives for Civic Engagement. Click here to make a gift to Third Thought.
The Dialogue Project
Waynflete launched the Dialogue Project in 2016 with the intention of making dialogue a keystone habit among Upper School students. In addition to teaching students discrete skills, Waynflete has provided numerous opportunities for students to practice the art of dialogue, including advisory and whole-school dialogue sessions, The New England Youth Identity Summit, The Can We? Project, The Defamation Experience, and an Upper School-wide story exchange led by student facilitators trained by Narrative 4.
The focus on approaches to dialogue continued in fall 2021 as Waynflete embarked on a multi-year initiative to use restorative circles as a format for building community, listening to learn, and repairing harm when necessary.
The Perspective Project
The Perspective Project is a student-led initiative whose primary goal is to bring new perspectives to our campus, enabling community members to think in new ways and better understand their own beliefs and those of others. Intrigued, inspired, and concerned by current events in the United States, The Perspective Project was founded by students who felt it necessary to create this initiative in order to hold conversations with leaders of our community and of the country.
Visit The Perspective Project website
Watch recordings of past events
Save the date for upcoming events
Read about The Perspective Project Leadership Team