REGION — Regional School Unit 9 faced its first district-wide closure this week after 34 staff members and 11 students were identified as close contacts to an individual who tested positive for COVID-19. With plans already in place for such a scenario, teachers conducted coursework virtually but school closures led to some inevitable ripple effects.

“We had a plan because we figured it was only a matter of time,” LeeAnn Crockett, Cascade Brook School Special Education teacher in Farmington, said during a phone interview. 

Just last week, the RSU 9 Board of Directors approved an emergency remote learning plan for elementary schools which maintains the 9:30 a.m. to 3:12 p.m. schedule with a minimum of one-hour, direct instruction. The schedule includes three and a half hours of independent learning and a one-hour lunch break.

“I was thankful too because the administration reached out and asked us — had meetings with us — what did we need? What was going to work for us? So they really listened,” Crockett said. “We definitely made the plan, we all had input on that plan.” 

Crocket has 17 in-person students and 3 fully-remote, spanning across grades 3-5. The school has a total of 40 students enrolled in the special education program and they all have specialized lesson plans. This means Crockett, her co-worker and the two educational technicians meet with students virtually on an individual basis.

“So it leads to a full back-to-back day. My co-worker has to eat lunch during one of her Zooms,” Crockett said.

Adding to these extra strains is the district’s shortage of ed. techs with 22 positions currently vacant

It’s been a little tough. We’re down two positions for our room and these ed. techs are working way above and beyond their pay in my opinion, but they’re doing the same things as us,” Crockett said.

The district is also in short supply of substitute teachers which ultimately resulted in the closure of all RSU 9 schools with so many staff members identified as close contacts.

“As far as the substitute situation, per the posting on Facebook on Saturday evening, 34 staff members were identified as close contacts, and we were unable to fill all positions with qualified substitutes,” Interim Superintendent Monique Poulin said in an email. 

Courtney Schools, who teaches kindergarten at Cape Cod Hill Elementary School in New Sharon emphasized the importance of not introducing any new material during a full-remote week as it poses a risk to equity.

“My lesson plans for this week look nothing like what I had originally intended. It was a complete shift,” Schools said in an email. “I also know that not all my students can access technology (for various reasons), so I opted to not teach any new content as I didn’t want to create inequity amongst my students. We will begin our new content next week.”

Elementary school teachers utilized the storm packet that was sent home with students in November which includes worksheets, games and links to lessons and videos on Seesaw.

“We want our students to have choice in how they demonstrate their learning and to make this as stress-free as possible. We are asking for students to complete a certain amount of work a day, but it can be from Seesaw, the games, and/or the packet of work,” Schools said.

With more teachers developing content over virtual platforms, parent involvement during remote days becomes even more vital. Music Coordinator Ethan Wright records instructional videos for elementary students and posts them on Seesaw to be viewed when a student can get to them.

I think parents are helping a lot. I’ve noticed a lot when I send videos home to second graders the parents are helping with it a little bit, but sometimes the kids are really independent,” Wright said in a phone interview. “But when you get to kindergarten or first grade, parents are helping a lot obviously.”

This poses a challenge for parents who work full-time and may not have the ability to monitor their children during the school day. This is the case for Tricia Johnston who is self-employed and has a second, seasonal job from January to April that she is transitioning out of in response to school closures.

“I had to tell the employer that I could not work this week. I also had to make the very difficult decision to let them know to start looking for a replacement for me – which I have been asked to train and will gladly do so,” Johnston wrote in an email. “It’s so likely that full remote will happen again and it’s not only employers that are affected if an employee is unable to come in – but clients of that employer that have appointments for services are also affected.”

Johnston has two elementary-aged children that were home this week in addition to her 8th grader who switched to homeschooling during the pandemic.

Wilton resident Tiffany Tuttle gave up her job last August as a mail carrier to homeschool her three children aged 8, 12 and 14 during the pandemic. Now she is helping other parents by starting a daycare focused on remote learning.

“I realized there are tons of parents struggling that don’t have the luxury of being able to stay home and not work like I do,” Tuttle said. “So I just reached out there, I am close with my community.”

Tuttle can take on three additional students a day while she waits for her license from the state. This week, she took on a toddler after receiving a call from a single mother who needed to work. She said that she wants to focus on school-aged children, but she is willing to branch out to help those in need.

As families adjusted to this remote week, teachers had some freedom to provide accommodations to those who were unable to follow a traditional school day so long as there was communication.

“If it is a special circumstance, I would hope the student/parent would communicate that to the teacher and alternative plans could be made,” Schools said. “Technology can be a fickle friend or a fiendish foe depending, can’t it? Attendance and completion of work is required, but again, if there are special circumstances, arrangements can be made. Teachers are here to help…we are truly all in this together.”  

 

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