Maine Army National Guard has provided 3 tents for the Foster Career and Technical Education Center forestry and wood harvesting program. From left Master Sgt. Nathan Williams, Staff Sgt. Austin Plourd and Sgt. Ethan Blake are seen securing one of the tents that will be used for outdoor learning. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

FARMINGTON — When assistance was asked for, the Maine Army National Guard in Waterville provided.

Teaching under new required guidelines due to the coronavirus pandemic is challenging enough for language arts and math classes. The protocols are more challenging for Foster Career and Technical Education Center programs that rely significantly on hands-on learning.

Dean Merrill, assistant instructor for Foster CTE Center’s forestry and wood harvesting program, called Staff Sgt. Austin Plourd of the Maine Army National Guard to seek help. Plourd and other members of the Waterville unit soon arrived with tents, face masks, pens, notebooks and other supplies.

“They were awesome from the word go, willing to help,” Merrill said. “They couldn’t have been more cooperative. Not only are they helping, their great attitude fits in with the role playing we do with the kids.”

The Guard unit has already arranged a visit by Timber Tina for the forestry students, Merrill said. According to her website, Tina Scheer is known for her Maine Lumberjack Show performances and owns a logging sports exhibition/facility in Trenton, Maine.

“I’ve worked with her at her lumberjack show 4 years, all through college,” Sgt. Ethan Blake said. “It’s an absolute blast.”

On Friday, Sept. 11, Master Sgt. Nathan Williams, Plourd and Blake worked to make 3 tents already set up more secure. 2 are 10 feet by 20 feet with the third 10 feet by 10 feet.

Maine Army National Guard has provided 3 tents for the forestry program at Foster CTE Center in Farmington. Master Sgt. Nathan Williams at left and Sgt. Ethan Blake are seen securing one of the tents. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

“We’re looking to get another 10 foot by 20 foot tent,” Plourd said. “Give me a couple weeks, we should have another one up here.”

“We’ll use them for our outside class and labs,” Merrill said. “The first things we do are safety and tree identification.”

“With spacing, we can do some live demonstrations when talking about boring, live notches, directional felling,” forestry instructor Rodney Spiller said.

“Every student we’ve talked to, they’re absolutely joyful that we’re getting them outside. The feeling is mutual,” Merrill said.

The technology programs are having a hard time because of social distancing, Spiller said.

“It’s nearly impossible to teach wood harvesting, felling trees, driving skidders, over the computer,” he said. “It’s not just our program, it’s all programs.

“We’ve been pulling our hair out trying to come up with creative ways on standards students can get without the hands-on piece. That’s been very difficult.”

The recent decisions for fall sports have frustrated Spiller.

“I’m supposed to be teaching my kids how to use chain saws and I have to be 14 feet away from them if I take my mask off, but kids can be on a field with no masks,” he said. “It blew my mind and I was a student athlete.”

Spiller is hoping a good plan is developed for vocational education that will allow students to obtain certifications once they graduate.

“These tents the Guard are allowing us to use will help students meet standards. They wouldn’t be able to unless we can come out, have some sort of shelter, a place where they can sit and watch demonstrations,” Spiller said, “Hopefully we can move into an area where kids can practice hands-on skills under our supervision.”

“We’re willing to help as many schools as we can,” Plourd said. “Currently this is the only one we’re providing tents for. Dean reached out to me, we were able to provide some tents.”

The Waterville unit covers Belfast to Rangeley to Mount Desert Island and all points in between, Plourd said.

“We’re willing to help where we can,” Blake added.

Friday, Sept. 11, Foster CTE Center Director Melissa Williams thanked Staff Sgt. Austin Plourd for tents the National Guard has provided for the forestry program. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

Foster CTE Center Director Melissa Williams came to the field across from Mt. Blue Campus to thank the Guard members for their help.

“Anything we can do to get these kids outside is terrific,” she said. “I might have staff meet out here just to get familiar with where outside locations are, recognize that you’ve come to help us out in this crazy time.

“This is very much appreciated. We want our kids here, they want to be here in the worst way. This is a tremendous help to having more kids be able to come outside.”

“It unties our hands a little bit,” Spiller noted.

“We understand what’s going on. Kids want to go back to school, they can only be cooped up in their house so long,” Plourd said.

“We’ve had a good start. The kids have come in so respectfully,” Williams said. “They’ve proven they just want to be here. They need that socialization, need to be able to be with the people they’ve bonded with. Things are going to be okay, we’re going to be able to get through this.

“This is quite a treat for you to do this for us.”

Students from 4 area school districts participate in Foster CTE Center programs. Those schools are using different hybrid models because of the Maine Centers for Disease Control’s return to school guidelines.

“It’s going to be fine. We’re going to make the plans work for the students and the teachers,” Williams said. “Everything about all of what we’re doing is a bit of a challenge. This is good learning for us, for the kids.

“We’ve said to our kids, ‘We’re all a team.’ We look at them as being adults, partners on our team. They’re going to have some great ideas on how we can do things that some of us might not think of and vice versa.”

“We all learn together. We’re one giant piece with the kids the most important piece,” Williams added. “We’ll figure it out. I’m confident we’ll do the best we can.

“We’ve got the most outstanding staff and outstanding students.”

Schools looking for more information on tent availability should contact Plourd at 207-430-5517 (office) or 207-441-6521 (cell) or [email protected]





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