The Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor Community School District school committee approved plans Aug. 12 to reopen Boothbay Region Elementary and High Schools. BRHS Principal Tricia Campbell and BRES Principal Shawna Kurr explained both plans will be hybrids of in-person and distance learning and both will be different, given needs, building layouts and class sizes. Both schools reopen Tuesday, Sept. 8.
Said Kurr, “When we talk about the developments of the framework, we're looking at all the different pieces … physical health and safety conditions, the academic programming of students and learning considerations, we're looking at the social-emotional and behavioral/mental health considerations as well as the expectations of hybrid and remote and remote learning models.”
BRHS will be splitting classes into two cohorts for in-person learning on a semester-based school year: Cohort #1 will attend Mondays and Thursdays, Cohort #2 Tuesdays and Fridays, all students will attend remotely on Wednesdays and each cohort will attend through distance learning on its off days. The academic calendar will be split into semesters with the first ending Jan. 22.
BRES will provide pre-k students with Monday through Friday in-school learning only with a noon dismissal Wednesdays. Kindergarten through eighth grade will attend four days a week and remotely on Wednesdays. The academic calendar will be split into quarters with the first ending Nov. 6.
Wednesdays are reserved for teachers to prepare for the week’s distance learning and keep office hours, and for professional development and for staff to provide additional sanitization of the building, said Kurr. “At BRES, we expect that we're going to adjust this … and hold 100% of our kids in the building as soon as possible … This is part of a 'going slow' plan. We're not saying that Wednesdays are a distance learning day for the rest of the year. We're saying we need this to get our professional development, to monitor how things are going, to see how the cleaning routine is going and as soon as we can get back to that in-person day … We will do that as soon as possible.”
Campbell and Kurr said the schools will be strictly adhering to the six requirements from Maine Center for Disease Control and Maine Department of Education: Daily screening for symptoms for students and staff, strict physical distancing in school facilities, use of masks or face coverings, regular hand hygiene practice, upkeep of personal protective equipment (PPE) and measures outlined for return to school after an illness.
“Nurse Kate (Schwehm) and Dr. Dechenes will be guiding us and it's very situational. Once there is a concern, we reach out and connect with them and they monitor and guide us and, depending in the scenario, we do contact tracing … Safety and precaution will lead.”
Students opting for distance learning will have the support of multiple programs provided free through the schools: Google Classroom will be a tool for all students as in the past and Edmentum programs Calvert Learning and Courseware will provide the foundation for BRES’s virtual academy. BRHS students will also use Courseware.
Said Campbell, “We are really excited about this platform … As we're looking at this online curriculum, we're still offering our traditional learning, our traditional mode of delivering instruction using Google Classroom … Our teachers have total autonomy over this online instructional platform just as they do in their classroom and just as they did in the spring.”
Plans for the return to school are largely based on response from household, staff and student surveys from the past several weeks. Half of all households (182 respondents) said they were comfortable sending their children back to school under current Maine Center for Disease Control and Department of Education guidelines; two-thirds of staff (92 respondents) supported a return to school under current CSD plans; about a quarter overall are unsure; and nine staff said they do not feel comfortable returning under current plans.
Of those who are unsure or do not feel comfortable sending their children back to school under current Maine CDC ad DOE guidelines (80 respondents), about two-thirds said they would engage in distance learning through the school. Nearly one-third were unsure and three responded they will unenroll their children and opt for homeschooling or a private institution.
The principals stressed that an absolute plan will reflect parents’ overall plans for the school year and will ultimately be determined by any changes in Maine CDC and MDOE’s guidelines.
Said Kurr, “Teachers were asked to reinvent decades of what education has looked like and they did a great job reinventing their craft. What I'm so excited about is that this meets the needs of what our community is saying. About 50% of people are ready to send their kids back and about 50% are not and this meets both learning groups. As a district we're not committing to saying you're either back or you get no education … We still have a duty to educate them.”
Said Campbell, “This scary time, this challenging time has also pushed us into saying what's education in the future and how can we expect to meet with kids where they're at and work within their world? ... We're excited … I've never been more impressed in hard times. This community has a way of rallying and circling the wagons around each other and holding tight, so we're saying 'Community, we need you.' There's a need and it's for our children. So let's rally.”