Edgecomb Eddy School had a couple days’ head start on distance learning prior to Gov. Janet Mills’ emergency declaration. On March 13, Principal Ira Michaud believed it was only a matter of time before the coronavirus would result in Maine closing public schools. So he directed the school’s pre-kindergarten to grade six staff to help students pack up books, laptops and other materials for an extended school break. On March 15, Mills ordered public schools closed until the end of April.
While classrooms are empty, Edgecomb educators are busy filling students’ minds with reading, writing and arithmetic. Teachers send parents emails with suggested home lessons. School buses also deliver biweekly worksheet packets for students to complete. Teachers are also using the online meeting service Zoom and the school’s interactive Facebook page to maintain weekly student contact. “I perceived where things were going prior to the official closure,” Michaud said. “We did this with an expectation of reaching out through email, phone and online communication. Parents’ first job is keeping the kiddos safe. They also communicate with teachers in doing their best in educating their kids each week.”
For parents, distance learning is a challenging experience. Despite the pandemic, many parents continue working a full schedule so the added responsibility of maintaining a home and teaching their kids is challenging. The school sends out packets with two weeks’ worth of worksheets to guide parents and students in the lessons. First grade teacher Cindy Gosselin sends daily emails for discussing distance learning procedures with parents. At first, Gosselin’s conversations began with parents thanking her, but as the lessons mounted, more calls took a different direction. “Parents are telling us they feeling stressed,” she said. “I reiterate to them these are only suggestions, and remind them to do the best they can.”
Teachers also use Zoom to stay in contact with students. Gosselin reports she contacts her 19 students individually twice a week. “I was a little nervous Zooming with 5-year-olds, but it’s going fine. They send me videos of what they are doing, and it’s a good way to stay in touch or just say hello,” she said. Distance learning has also been an interesting experience for pre-kindergarten teacher Sally Monroe. She shares Zoom with educational technician Sally Grover and guidance counselor Haley Bezon to stay in touch with her students. So far, seven of the 16 pre-kindergarten students and parents stay in regular contact. While education is the primary reason for teacher and parent communication in distance learning, Monroe said one main message is paramount. “I reiterate what Ira tells us,” she said. “I tell parents to remember to take care of their families, first, and learning will follow.”
Special education teacher Tanya Thibault doesn’t use group emails. Her students have individualized plans which require more direct contact with parents and students. She shared concerns with the Edgecomb School Committee on April 6 about what would happen if internet connectivity interrupted distance learning. “There is only so much you can do. Is there a plan if the connectivity goes out?” But overall, her special education classes are running smoothly. “One of my students continues his occupational and physical therapy. So it’s working out great. Another student is doing wonders working on his own and made a paper mâché dinosaur.”
On April 6, the committee approved an Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 98 proposal for distance learning. In Edgecomb, the plans call for one to 2.5 hours of instruction Monday through Friday for pre-kindergarten through grade three students and two to three hours daily per school week for grades four through six. Teachers use social media and Zoom in monitoring student progress twice per week. Parents receive an email with suggestions for keeping their children on task. The remote learning plan recommends 30-minute lessons Monday through Friday for math, writing and reading for pre-kindergarten through grade three and 30-60 minutes five times per week for grades four through six.
Distance learning will temporarily stop during April vacation (April 20-24). It returns April 27, and could continue until May 29.
AOS 98 schools will consider how to end the school year with meeting between April 13-17. The Edgecomb School Committee will conduct an online meeting at 1 p.m. April 17 considering to end distance learning on May 29 and end the school year and meal program on June 12. AOS 98 schools will consider how to end the school year with meetings of the various boards April 16 and 17. During the April 6 meeting, Superintendent Dr. Keith Laser indicated school administrators and staff would likely spend June 1-12 assessing student achievement during the school year and plan for 2020-21.