Heading into the 2020/2021 school year with cautious optimism, Maine’s amazing educators have rolled up their sleeves and worked together to ensure students have access to high quality learning even during a pandemic – and it the outcome is astounding.
Most schools welcomed students back for in-person and remote learning over the past couple weeks. Despite the collective breath holding (across the world), here in Maine it has gone quite well. Administrators, board members, educators, and staff alike have spent the summer working tirelessly to arrange and re-arrange their back-to-school plans this fall to comply with COVID-19 safety requirements and ensure the safety of everyone at school, while at the same time going about the important business of educating their students.
Some schools even went the extra mile to put together safety videos to help families and students understand what school will look in and around their buildings this fall: Brewer School Department Reopening Video (Brewer School Department), How to Go to School in a Pandemic (Lincoln Academy), and Day in the Life of an RSU 23 Student (RSU 23).
Numerous news outlets all over the state reported smooth sailing for the first week of school: a goal that was not an easy feat this year. Check out what re-opening looked like in these news articles from around Maine:
Carolyn Nichols, a biology teacher at Morse High School in Bath, was surprised, but happily so, by how well the first day of school went.
“The kids were respectful and took the coronavirus precautions seriously,” she said. “I haven’t slept in a week, but I’m impressed with how well it went.
Portland students go back to school with lots to learn (Portland Press Herald)
“It’s a good challenge,” said Sam Regios, the [Presumpscot Elementary School] fifth-grade English language arts teacher, reflecting on the start of the school year as her students worked quietly from behind their masks. “I think it challenges the creativity of teachers and school districts. (I’m) accepting it with open arms.”
RSU 24 schools reopen under hybrid model (Ellsworth American)
“I am not nervous about starting,” the longtime educator [Roxanne Renwick of Peninsula School] said late last week. “I have been blessed with a strong administration and team of colleagues working together to be prepared the best we can.
“We may not have all the solutions for every situation, but we are ready to be flexible and team-oriented to do the best for our students and our community.”
“Long-term substitute teacher Amie Frake was among the educators greeting students — and making sure they were walking in the correct direction, wearing their masks properly and staying 6 feet apart.
“The kids are doing really, really well,” she said. “It’s exciting for them to be here again. It’s been six months since most of them have been here, so it’s good to see them.”
Among those in cohort A are Millie Rauch’s three elementary-age children, who will be starting prekindergarten, first grade and third grade. Her older daughter, Hannah, is in sixth grade at the middle school.
Rauch walked with her three elementary schoolers Tuesday morning.
“We are looking forward to it,” she said. “I think they have taken all the right precautions. The classes are smaller, and they have the right hygiene techniques in place. We were a little nervous, but mostly excited to return.”
Maine students return for first day of in-person learning since pandemic shut down schools (Portland Press Herald)
During a walk-through at Bonny Eagle High School Tuesday morning, Buxton-based School Administrative District 6 Superintendent Paul Penna said no major issues had come up at the start of the first day for students.
“It’s pretty organized,” Penna said. “We’ve done a lot of ground work. We’ve been doing Zoom meetings with families all summer. We’ve had ongoing … meetings about what our plan is, what it’s going to look like, what you need to tell your kids when you come to school. None of it is really that new, it’s just a matter of doing it.”
“In a meeting earlier this evening with other administrators, I think that I can speak for all of the elementary school principals in saying that it actually went really well,” Mallett Elementary School Principal Tracy Williams said. “Our kids came to school with masks on, they were happy, there was a lot of laughter seeing their friends, teachers were positive and upbeat. We did all of the things that we usually do everyday except with a lot of cleansing and wearing masks and keeping distances apart.”
Smooth start to the school year in Scarborough, South Portland (Portland Press Herald)
Nearby, Jenny McGillicuddy was seeing her son, Leopold, 8, off as well. She said she was “feeling really calm” about the coronavirus threat, citing information the school shared with parents on how it would be encouraging social distancing, wearing of masks, and other precautions.
“From what I’ve heard, I feel confident in the Brown School’s ability to keep kids safe,” she said.
Sometimes it takes a global pandemic to break down the barriers that hold us back from jumping into any situation just to get the job done. From PPE (personal protective equipment) to physical distancing, there is always something to think about to make sure everyone is safe. One solution that many schools have been dabbling with is outside learning: a creative solution that provides students with an environment that is rich with learning opportunities, comfortable, and helps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Many schools have set up everything from outdoor learning experiences to complete outdoor classrooms.
The articles below detail what this looks like in just a few schools, but many more have worked quickly and efficiently to set up outdoor learning spaces prior to opening. Thank you to the countless community partners all over Maine who’ve stepped up to help make this possible.
A different type of learning is taking place at East Grand School in Danforth, one that doesn’t happen within the confines of a traditional classroom.
In a wooded area behind the school, children run around freely and build forts out of logs and planks. Kids in pre-kindergarten enjoy the fresh air while working on coloring projects. Older students sit around an outdoor fireplace and learn about social studies.
Outdoor classrooms taking shape (Times Record)
The [Brunswick] school district is partnering with local organizations like Teens to Trails and the New England Mountain Bike Association to help plan, clear, construct and implement open-air classrooms and gathering spaces in an attempt to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
School opens with a new look (Castine Patriot)
Opening Adams School to face-to-face learning involved much preparation and innovative thinking by faculty and staff. Students were met upon arrival and instructed as to which door to enter to go directly to their classroom. Tented classrooms scattered on campus utilize five Easy-Up tents supplied by the Hatch Fund, which also supplied COVID-responsible physical education games and activities.
We tell our children to look for the helpers in times of crisis, it’s for their physical and mental safety but as adults, we forget that it’s good for us too. Take RSU 14 Superintendent Chris Howell for example. Due to some unforeseen transportation snags during the first week of school, one of his students couldn’t get there one day, so what did Superintendent Howell do? He picked up that student himself. In a world before COVID-19 this may not have been a viable solution, but right now that doesn’t matter. What matters is that everyone is a team player in the effort to get kids to school and learning and this is just one example of the pure heroism happening by school staff around the state.
Along with school staff and educators, community and state partners are also jumping in to help schools, families, and youth complete hybrid assignments remotely, stay connected even when at home, and provide childcare when needed. These selfless acts also help to solidify the relationships that lead to the strong community and state bonds that we take pride in here in Maine, and that we hope to sustain for generations to come.
The clubs, which have been closed for nearly six months, will operate during school hours this fall as remote learning hubs, paid for with federal coronavirus relief funding. They will offer academic support, technology resources, nutritious meals and safe spaces where members can do schoolwork.
School officials in Portland and South Portland sought the remote learning partnerships with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine. Similar agreements are being discussed with the Auburn and Lewiston school systems.
The Maine Department of Education has also focused efforts toward providing not only guidance on safety protocols, in addition to the latest COVID-19 resources for schools, and a responsive, working Framework for returning to school this year, but there has also been an intensive summer-long effort to launch a library of asynchronous learning modules that are aligned to Maine’s Learning Results through a project called MOOSE (Maine Online Opportunities for Sustained Education) and coming soon will be an additional library of social emotional learning (SEL) modules to supplement SEL curriculums statewide.
A lot of time, dedication, and planning went into ensuring students could go back to school in person and learn remotely this fall. We owe these heroes an enormous dept of gratitude for this important work. While this is only the start of an extraordinary year, we trust our school leaders, our educators, our fearless school staff members to keep students and staff safe while providing quality education to Maine students. Thank them today and every day.
Are you thinking of someone in particular that has gone above and beyond in your school district? Nominate them for an award!
Information for this article was gathered through recent news articles, social media posts, and communications with Maine schools. To be featured in future articles of this nature, email stories, pictures, and ideas to Rachel at firstname.lastname@example.org.