Board learns about outdoor opportunities for students, discusses emergency evacuation plan

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STRONG — Young people are spending more time in front of the computer, television and other entertainment media and less time learning about their environment, RSU 58 directors were told Thursday night.

Directors, who met at the Strong Elementary School, learned about opportunities for students to learn about wildlife, to master survival skills and to get away from the digital world.

“There’s research that kids are not getting outdoors enough,” Maine Huts and Trails representative Mary Woodman said.

Some children don’t know what adventures are available in their own backyard, she said. The district can take advantage of some of the youth-oriented programs, led by expert instructors, she added.

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The goal of Maine Huts and Trails is to offer a total of 12 huts and 120 miles of recreational trails from Moosehead Lake to Bethel. Leaders teach students wildlife biology, wilderness first aid and self-sufficiency in the outdoors. Students aren’t allowed to bring electronic gear, and for some kids, packing their hiking gear is a learning experience in itself, Woodman said.

“We’ve been fortunate to have generous business sponsors to have some of these programs,” Woodman said. She suggested that the district could partner with Maine Huts and Trails to create some adventure opportunities.

In other business, Carol Timberlake, administrator of the Edgewood Rehabilitation & Living Center in Farmington, presented an emergency evacuation plan that could allow residents to come to a school in the district in an emergency.

The agreement has been in place at least since 2004, Timberlake said, and has been renewed every few years with the current superintendents of RSU 9 and RSU 58.

Timberlake said a flood, chemical spill or similar emergency situation could cause an evacuation to a location where residents would have a single floor, a place to eat meals and a way to communicate with staff, family members, local emergency health facilities and related resources.

Timberlake said both Edgewood and Sandy River facilities are prepared with their own equipment, meals and most of their transportation needs. Even so, she said, the two facilities might have to request use of school buses. The district would be reimbursed for any costs, she said.

The board authorized Superintendent Erica Brouillet to work with Timberlake to continue the agreement.

Special Education Director Laureen Olson told the board she needed to change the funding plan to pay a social worker for four days a week. The school psychologist comes to the district one day a week, and the social worker can do many of the same services as the psychologist, but some services can only be provided by the licensed psychologist, she said. The social worker can bill for her services, which Olson said is another important reason for her request.

Olsen has struggled to find candidates to fill the two positions, but she is comfortable with the social worker candidate she recently interviewed, she said. The total expenditure of $45,000 would not change, she said, but the original budget allocation for wages for the two staff members would. 

Directors approved the option to reallocate the money. In addition, they agreed to her request to hire Karen Compton, who has a master’s degree in social work from University of New England, to work four days a week. The board also approved her recommendations for three highly-qualified education technicians.

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