PARIS — This school year, the SAD 17’s Board of Directors includes two student representatives, invited to join by Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School Principal Ted Moccia. Senior Bram Dustin and junior Elizabeth Dunn began attending school board meetings last November. They recently talked with the Advertiser Democrat via Zoom Conferencing about their educational experiences during COVID-19.

Dustin’s first school board meeting was not in an official capacity, but as a speaker lobbying for fall sports to take place last year. He was one of several students accompanying parents and Oxford Hills’ Athletic Director Scott Ryan to address directors last September about the importance of holding the season. Dustin was a member of OHCHS’ boys’ soccer team. The board ultimately voted in favor of allowing it, although not without interruption.

Eilzabeth Dunn, a junior at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School serves as student representative to the school board. supplied photo

Dunn was already familiar with the workings of the school board, as her father is a long-time SAD 17 director who recently resigned from the board when her mother took a position at the high school.

Dustin and Dunn began serving in their roles in late fall by which time the board had returned to Zoom meetings from in-person. As an OHCHS varsity field hockey player, she participated from quarantine after she and her teammates were exposed to an opposing athlete who had COVID-19.

Like distance learning, distance meeting has taken adjustment for all who participate.

“I thought I would give reports on what school was like and my own input,” said Dunn. “The girl who did it before me [Catrina Wilson] told me about what it was like for her so I had her insight, and also from my dad.

“But there really hasn’t been a lot going on that I feel I can really speak about, it’s hard when meetings are not in person. But I feel like in the future I’ll be able to bring things to touch upon.”

Dustin agreed.

“Going off what Liz said,” he said. “It’s been hard to express our views on school issues. There are more complicated and pressing issues with COVID. There isn’t as much room for some of what we might have trouble with. Most of the meetings I’ve been to have been discussing things like COVID funds. That’s not really an area where we can have huge input.

“It is harder to be heard in a Zoom meeting than in person. But I think we’ll be able to bring things up going forward.”

“Yeah,” said Dunn. “The things that we would speak on are things that are pretty much restricted because of COVID. We don’t have control of that, it’s not a time to make changes.”

With plans to study economics in his college career, Dustin was struck by the complications of COVID funding and how the school board debated it. The gridlock caused by a stopgap loan over COVID relief surprised him.

“Listening to how the school deals with funds has been interesting,” he said. “Some of the policies are strange, like the fact that they had to spend the money by a certain date, which put the school in a tough spot. The politics of how the school district and process for decision-making works are interesting. It’s a valuable insight to have.”

The students also talked about how much things have changed in school since last March and the adjustments everyone had to make when it closed and shifted to distance learning.

Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School senior Bram Dustin represents the school on the SAD 17 Board of Directors. Supplied photo

“No school system was prepared for any of this,” Dustin said. “But I think we’ve adapted and the schools have done the best they could to handle it. Last year it was all over the place. Teachers had different policies about meetings, there wasn’t a core system in place.

“This year it is certainly different. The school has had to make a lot of accommodations and they’ve done a good job.”

One of the most difficult things Dustin faced last spring was the need to deal with three major tests he needed to take at the end of his junior year. He had to keep pushing himself, even though the classes were inconsistent due technology challenges and shifting curriculum. Some students never showed up to Zoom class, which was frustrating.

His mom helped him keep going by making sure he was communicating with his teachers and doing the work he needed to. But it wasn’t always clear what the work was.

“It was sad. A lot of kids gave up and considered it vacation,” he said. “I had Zoom classes that weren’t technically mandatory because some didn’t have internet or working laptops or whatever. It was hard to get everyone online at one time. Sometimes I’d be the only one showing up in a class of 15.”

“A lot of kids couldn’t attend [online],” Dunn said. “It was messy and hard mentally for some of my peers, just not knowing what was going on. But the teachers worked to keep us in check, daily and weekly emails to let us know there were there for us. They were there emotionally for us more than academically.

“It’s much different this year. Our classes are all scheduled. If class starts at 8:30 am in person, it starts at 8:30 am online too. They take attendance, but there have been some problems with Infinite Campus. It showed I had 14 absences even though I went to every single meeting. There was a glitch with it but they’ve worked on it, but they understand that your internet might go out and there are reasons why you are late.”

Despite the ongoing school interruptions caused by the pandemic, Dunn and Dustin are still focused on their learning and working towards life after high school, just like students from any other year.

Dustin is applying to schools in and outside of Maine. Dunn, with a year to go, looks forward to spending the spring quarter at Camp Chewonki in Wiscasset and preparing for a career in outdoor leadership and guiding.

“It’s been postponed a bit,” said Dunn, clearly ready for it to start. “I’ll quarantine for 10 days and I’ll stay at Chewonki for about two and a half months, and take my classes there remotely until the end of the school year.”

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