Back-to-school season is always a little nerve-wracking for students and their families, as they wonder what their new teachers will be like and shop for long lists of supplies. This year, that anxiety was amplified as schools had to rethink their usual routines to keep students and staff safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
Throughout the summer, administrators made difficult decisions about whether to have classes in person or online, how to feed students, and how to ensure everyone had internet access. Many were uncertain how the beginning of the school year would go.
So far, at Wiscasset Middle High School, things are running smoothly.
According to WMHS Principal Charles Lomonte, students and staff have come to school with positive attitudes and a commitment to making the changes work.
Only half of the students attend school at one time to enable social distancing in the building. Group A students attend school in person on Monday and Tuesday, while Group B students attend on Thursday and Friday. Everyone participates in remote instruction Wednesday and on the days they are not present in person. Lomonte said a typical class period has eight to 10 students.
After each class period, teachers disinfect their classrooms while students transition between rooms. The school is also using three outdoor classrooms. Students are spaced 3 feet apart in class and 6 feet apart during lunch, when they cannot wear masks.
“It’s going beautifully,” said guidance secretary Marion Mundy. “The administration has just been spectacular. The kids have a wonderful attitude about being back at school. They’re really happy, and they’re following rules.”
“It’s a juggling act from the teacher’s perspective, but I think overall the mood is positive and we’re glad to be back,” said Michelle Fraser, who teaches English language arts to the high schoolers.
Despite challenges, teachers are glad to have face-to-face interactions with students again. “It’s so necessary to see the kids,” said math teacher Chris Hammond. “It’s been very nice. It feels like a lot of the things we were concerned about were well thought out.”
Health teacher and senior class adviser Liz Hemdal said she is already seeing students help each other out. She said one senior who is familiar with the College Board — the organization that runs Advanced Placement and SAT exams — has been teaching classmates through Zoom about navigating its website and the Common App, an online tool students can use to submit college applications.
“Students and teachers have been very nervous,” Hemdal said. “It’s been different, but everyone is positive.”
The one part of a normal school year that students are missing out on is interscholastic sports. Instead, fall sports are taking place entirely at WMHS to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, consisting primarily of skills development.
“We’re just so blessed with the kids we have,” said Assistant Principal Warren Cossette. “We couldn’t have asked for a better group.”