REGION — Telstar teachers, much like their students, have had to hurdle the many obstacles COVID-19 has created. One of the biggest challenges for students was not seeing their friends. Dean of Students John Eliot felt the same way about the final months of school.

Before COVID-19, Eliot spent the better part of his day interacting with students face to face. Students were encouraged to speak to Eliot about anything on their mind. From advice about their schedules, futures, and social and personal issues they may be experiencing, Eliot’s office door was always open.

If the conversation turned stressful, Eliot would practice de-escalation techniques with the student. One thing that remained steady, was that he valued each conversation he had. He also acknowledged how vital it is to build a working relationship with students.

Another way Eliot reached out is by having “walk and talks” in the hall. He’d ask a student if it was a good time to talk. Eliot said this approach has led to many “great conversations.”

The sudden and quick shift to remote learning forced Eliot away from those interactions.  Since March, he has done the bulk of his communicating through Zoom, email or by phone. The connections just aren’t the same, but he has heard comments from students that have caught his attention.

“It is amazing how students used to complain about having to go to school, but now that they are working from home, many complain about not being in school,” Eliot said.

A constant among several seniors is that they miss Telstar, the teachers and their friends.

Teachers could be reached throughout the final months of school, but not learning directly from them proved to be another common struggle many seniors expressed.

Among empty rooms and hallways, Eliot remained at Telstar most days, trying to maintain his usual routine and to be available for office hours.

The emails, zoom meetings and phone calls seemed endless.

“I find these forms of communication more exhausting than face to face meetings,” he said.

Many of Eliot’s days lasted long into the evening. Eliot noted other staff members were in the same boat as he.

Within two days all teachers were set up to work from home and students were also equipped with the necessary technology so they could do the same.

The kitchen staff also worked diligently to get meals to any students who needed them. School bus drivers delivered meals to the students who could not come and get them.

The schools Student Assistance Team (SAT), which was re-established this year, met on a weekly basis to discuss student progress, or lack of progress. Often they would focus on students who are struggling and then determine which SAT member has best relationship with that particular student. That member then reached out to the student to figure out what’s happening and then reported it back to the team. From there, the team would decide the proper next step to take in the situation.

Eliot, Principal Mark Kenney, Social Workers Kristen Powell and Jenni Smith, Guidance Counselor Lori Lindsay, Alternative Pathways Coordinator Charles Raymond and Telstar Nurse Chris Cole make up the SAT.

One of the last major events was planning high school graduation, where once again, the Telstar staff was able to work their magic, with the help of others. On top of the many community members who chipped in, Sunday River Ski Resort hosted the ceremony in South Ridge Parking Lot.

Considering there were only 37 graduates, an outside commencement was more than possible. Seniors walked across the stage and received their diploma in hand, something many schools country-wide will not be able to do.

Many people helped pull off the out of the ordinary event, but Eliot singled out Art Teacher Tera Ingraham.

“We joke about how we have given her the title of “Chaos Coordinator,” Eliot said. “She has been the driving force behind all the events.”

With summertime right around the corner, next on the list will be to work out any kinks they had in the remote learning process this spring, in case they find themselves back there in the fall.

For Eliot, it’s safe to say he wants to be back at his second home doing the job he loves.

“I truly enjoy my job, but I really miss the students. Those who know me know that there is never any hidden agenda. My kindness is sincere and I never ask for any recognition for anything I do” Eliot said. “When needed, I can be stern and direct, but I truly care about all the students and staff here at Telstar High School. I have and will continue to always put our students and staff first. I hope they all realize that.”








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