Central Aroostook high school seniors prepare for the research groups in the school's library in Mars Hill for the Listen to ME project with the Cortico AI deep listening and machine learning program on Feb. 15. Credit: Paul Bagnall / The Star-Herald


MARS HILL, Maine — Local students are taking advantage of an artificial intelligence platform to propose educational changes at their school.

Central Aroostook Junior/Senior High School in Mars Hill started a student-led research project last month with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The results will be presented to the school board in the spring.

Students want to see a change in how classwork is given because they feel overwhelmed and that their voices aren’t being heard, according to high school senior Riley Prince. But an artificial intelligence listening program called Cortico will allow students to have a say in their education and their school environment.

“We did some data collection earlier this month and we recognize that a lot of kids are looking for someone to talk to when they are struggling,” Prince said. “A lot of kids are really tired and overwhelmed with work, and also a lot of kids want to see some change in our food options here.”

The school is the first in Aroostook County to participate in the Listen to ME research project, a partnership with MIT and connected with The Source School, an educational collaborative founded in Portland in 2020, according to Principal Kay York.

The project not only gives kids experience with communication, deep listening and technology, but gives them a voice for their education, she said.

To cap off the semester, students will be invited to the MIT campus to meet engineers and researchers, tour the lab, and give feedback on technology currently in development that is aimed at connecting young people in meaningful ways, the principal said.

York heard about the Listen to ME project through the Central Aroostook Education Committee and reached out to Education Action Forum of Maine for information.

Last spring the school started working with forum director Jennifer Chace, and in January, Chace met with students to create a survey that was distributed schoolwide to pinpoint issues of concern, York said.  

During the project, a group of six to eight volunteers in grades 7 to 12, with permission from parents, will have their voices recorded by a deep listening and machine learning program called Cortico AI in 40-minute sessions. Participants will be kept anonymous.


MIT engineers work with the Listen to Me project to help kids make sense of the statistics and data research. Cortico AI is attached to The Local Voices Network and analyzes recordings of student research group conversations to find common concerns students have about their education.

Deep listening in real life is listening with empathy, according to Psychology Today. Cortico AI’s deep listening Local Voice Network studies conversations and narratives from audio recordings, using the data to reflect people’s thoughts and feelings.

For the nine seniors leading the discussions, the process will test everything they have learned during the school year, York said. Students will experience data collection and analysis, use of technology, how to listen deeply to others and how to collaborate with peers, teachers and administrators.

The artificial intelligence program will pick out keywords, phrases and tone of voice in recorded student conversations, and will look at the data over February break, said Natasha Brewer, senior English and gifted and talented program teacher who also serves as the school’s librarian.

“From an educational standpoint, I think this is a good opportunity for them to build skills in speaking, listening, and of course the data analysis from a schoolwide community,” Brewer said.

The students will help create the final proposal of educational changes, and will present their suggestions publicly during a presentation with the school board and community, she said.  

Brewer hopes that the student-led research project will lay the groundwork for the students to work again with the Listen to ME project and the Cortico AI next semester.

High school senior Prince hopes it will be an eye-opening experience for administrators, and that other school administrations will go for the unique opportunity.