Lincoln County school districts are taking a variety of approaches to distance learning while school is out due to the coronavirus.
Due to the health crisis, Gov. Janet Mills has ordered classroom instruction to cease until at least May 1. More recently, Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin has said schools should plan to continue distance learning through the end of the school year.
According to the Department of Education, each school district will decide whether to grade work during the period of distance learning. The districts that responded to requests for information are opting out of grading for elementary students.
For families without internet access, Nobleboro’s Tidewater Telecom Inc. is offering two months of free service to any family in its service area with a student at home, from kindergarten through college.
The provider will hook up service for families without any internet service and upgrade service for customers who want faster speeds. Tidewater staff will only do installation work outside a house, but will provide instructions to set up internet access inside.
According to Marketing and Sales Director Alan Hinsey, about 150 families have received either new connections or upgrades. There was a “tremendous surge” when Tidewater announced the offer, he said. For more information, call 563-9911 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information on each Lincoln County school district’s approach to distance learning follows:
According to AOS 98 Superintendent Keith Laser, the district began sending home learning packets the first week of school closures, March 16-20. Boothbay Region High School started online classes March 23.
“If parents or students are having trouble, they should reach out first to their teachers, and if they don’t get a response, they should contact their school principals,” Laser said.
Boothbay Region High School requires students to complete their work.
Teachers were to instruct and assess students through the third quarter, which was extended to Tuesday, April 7, Laser said. However, students can learn on their own schedule and are not expected to complete assigned lessons during school hours.
Boothbay Region Elementary School and Edgecomb Eddy School are not grading the fourth quarter of school.
According to Shawna Kurr, principal of Boothbay Region Elementary School, the school is distributing “genius bags” filled with learning activities for younger grades.
The older grades are using Google Classroom to engage with students, Kurr said.
Although there are challenges, Penny Harmon, an Edgecomb resident and guardian of three Edgecomb Eddy School students, has figured out a homeschooling schedule that works for her and the children.
Harmon is acting as teacher for a kindergartner, second grader, and fourth grader, ages 5, 8, and 10, respectively.
“I’ve got three in three different grades – that’s the hardest thing,” Harmon said. From her experience, teaching the youngest child can be the most challenging.
“I ordered Hooked on Phonics for my 5-year-old because I’m not a teacher, so me trying to teach how to read, it’s different (from) what an actual teacher would do,” she said.
The children follow materials distributed by their teachers, both packets and online materials.
“We start out with reading for 45 minutes, take a little break, do art or music, then we do math,” Harmon said. “We try to break it up between the mundane things, like writing and math, with the fun things.”
When the children do not want to focus on one subject, she allows them to watch an educational show. She also plans to have them go on free online museum tours.
Edgecomb Eddy School’s Facebook page features videos of staff members reading books for students. The school is planning a virtual spirit week.
Harmon is a writer working on a book; however, due to homeschooling, she has put this on hold.
“They are going above and beyond what I expected,” she said of the school staff, citing their communication in particular.
The school is a “support system” for the family, Harmon said. She suggested that other parents and guardians should take advantage of the help available from the staff.
The AOS 98 school websites have resources and tips for children and families to use while distance learning. The district’s website is aos98schools.org.
RSU 40 is offering both high- and low-tech distance learning, according to Assistant Superintendent Christina Wotton.
“Teachers are using several methods of communication with students and families, such as ParentSquare (our district messenger system), Google Classroom, Google Meets, and creating YouTube videos to reach out and connect to their students,” Wotton said. “Many staff are learning along with the students, as this type of technology is new to them, too.”
The district uploads learning materials to its website on a regular basis and distributes packets as necessary, Wotton said.
If students or families need help with distance learning, they can contact their teacher or the school. According to Wotton, the district has staff ready to help students by phone or online. For more information, go to rsu40.org.
“Families should know (these are) uncharted waters for us all. We want students and families to realize that learning can come in many forms, even though we may not be in the school setting,” Wotton said. “Let’s be creative and support each other!”
To show appreciation for its staff, RSU 40 bought thank you banners for display in each of the district’s five towns.
According to RSU 12 Director of Curriculum and Technology Deb Taylor, the district sends educational packets home by bus every Friday. Families have the choice to pick up packets at the schools if they prefer.
Teachers are connecting with students by email, phone, and mail to provide support, Taylor said.
“I am so impressed by the compassion, commitment, and creativity RSU 12 educators are showing for their students and families,” Taylor said.
Many teachers are using online options, such as Google Classroom, educational apps, social media posts, and video to help with distance learning. Taylor said some teachers are posting videos of themselves reading to students.
“Our teachers are encouraging students through written and video feedback, but there is no requirement that work be completed and turned back in,” Taylor said. “Some districts are doing this differently, but many are taking the approach we are taking in RSU 12.”
Families should direct general questions to their schools and specific questions about the content of their packets to their child’s teacher, Taylor said.
“There are many resources and suggestions out there for families, so much so that it can be overwhelming,” she said.
Taylor gave some tips for families: create daily schedules to maintain a sense of normalcy and predictability for children, play games that help children think critically, and be active inside and out.
For updates from RSU 12, go to svrsu.org.
Wiscasset School Department
Wiscasset School Department Superintendent Terry Wood said buses are delivering schoolwork packets to students’ homes.
Wood said teachers are in contact with students and parents via email, phone calls, and ClassDojo, an educational app.
Prema Long, who teaches science at Wiscasset Middle High School, has set up a daily schedule for herself to dedicate time to each of her classes.
She leads synchronous virtual classes, where all students learn at once. She provides links to videos of each class, in case a student cannot participate during the class time. For students without internet access, packets are available.
According to Long, students are expected to keep in contact with her through videoconferencing and email.
Since some of Long’s classes, such as chemistry and physics, require her to show equations and calculations, she uses a pad of paper tacked to her wall as a whiteboard.
She uses Google Classroom to upload information and links. She hands out a weekly syllabus to her students with expectations for the week. WMHS continues to grade students’ work.
For Long, the challenges of distance learning have changed over the last few weeks.
“The biggest challenge for the first couple of weeks was about all this unknown. Are the students going to buy in? Are they actually going to do this?” Long said.
“None of us have this training and we didn’t have a lot of planning time for this,” she said.
Now, the hardest part is teaching the rigorous content remotely, without in-classroom check-ins.
Long thanked parents for encouraging their students to participate and engage with the material.
“Solving this physics problem or chemistry problem — that’s not as important as encouraging them to continue to work hard,” Long said.
“Thank you, parents, for helping us out and being our allies,” she said.
Students or parents with questions can contact WMHS at 882-7722 or Wiscasset Elementary School at 882-7767.
For a list of resources for families, including contact information for school social workers and numbers for emergency services, go to wiscassetschools.org.
AOS 93 schools are not sending out work packets; instead, each school and its teachers decide various learning activities for their students, according to Superintendent Craig Jurgensen.
“Our common goals are to provide supportive learning activities, to foster a sense of community and connectedness with our students and families, to provide students (and) families with timely communication, and to be a model of flexibility, creativity, and openness,” he said.
According to Jurgensen, families and teachers communicate frequently via email, text, online learning platforms, videoconferencing, and telephone. Families in need of help can contact school principals and district specialists.
Jurgensen said the district recommends that families establish a regular schedule for their children, stay engaged in their children’s learning, create a space devoted to learning in the home, and encourage physical activity.
“While we hope that off-site learning will keep students academically engaged, students who cannot complete the work will not be penalized,” Jurgensen said. “For students with special education needs, educators are checking in with families to support keeping our students engaged during this closure.”
“There is no substitute for classroom learning, but our teachers are working hard to maintain productive and developmentally appropriate learning using a broad range of resources, approaches, and methodologies,” he said.
Families with general questions should call the AOS 93 central office at 563-3044.