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Parents see positive side to pandemic restrictions

Students are reminded to keep socially distanced with feet painted at six-foot intervals on the sidewalk in front of Edward Little High School in Auburn. (Tsukroff photo)

By Nathan Tsukroff

AUBURN – This school year is nothing like it was 12 months ago, yet parents are finding a positive side to the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stacey Tolliver of Auburn, whoworks a night shift, is able to be home during the day to help her daughter, Kassidy, a sixth-grader at Fairview Elementary School on Minot Avenue, with remote learning.

“So that’s really helpful,” Tolliver said. “It’s actually been more bonding time, honestly, more family time for me.”

And Bill David who’s daughter, Allyanna, is a fourth-grader at Fairvew Elementary, said the schools are “trying to keep as much normalcy as they can, delivering school lunches to people’s homes, and making sure the school curriculum stays current,”

Because of remote learning, Bill David has been able to take his family on vacation, integrating the familys travels into education. “For example, when we went down to North Carolina in April, we went to the Wright Brother’s Museum, we went to the Lost Colony, we went to places that they learned about in school, to reinforce their education,” he said.

“Schools are flexible, and the curriculum is meant to travel. Would I like her back in school? Yes! But, I mean, we’ve got to make the best out of it.”

Like other school districts in Maine, the Auburn School Department starting planning for this school year as the State of Maine shut down schools last spring.

Auburn Schools Superintendent Cornelia “Connie” Brown said the school district created a health and safety steering committee in May with “a broad representation from many groups,” including teachers, community members and medical providers.

The committee “came forth with a report and a plan. And that plan looked at what the Maine Department of Education was recommending through its framework for learning,” she said. The committee also included recommendations from the Maine Center for Disease Control.

The Auburn school board reviewed the plan and voted in August to create a hybrid school year for 2020-21.

Students have been placed into two cohorts, or groups, with one cohort attending school in person on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the other cohort in the school buildings on Thursdays and Fridays. This allows the school district to perform deep cleaning in the buildings on Wednesdays and over the weekend, Brown said.

The steering committee “believed that the continuity was important, and students would have two days in a row of in-person learning,” which is why the district chose consecutive days at school for each cohort, she said.

“We are going to stay the course with this model for the foreseeable future,” Brown said. “And the only caveat to this is, we work very closely with the CDC and with the Auburn city safety designee, and as conditions change” the school district will try to pivot “and be as nimble as possible.”

While COVID-19 infection rates have risen in other parts of the country in recent weeks, Maine’s rate of infections has stayed relatively level.

The district has quarantined staff members and students as needed to address any concerns about possible infections.

With 3500 students and about 600 staff members, the district has only seen three students and one staff member with confirmed infections from the COVID-19 virus. The infections were not in the same building or at the same time, Brown said.

Students are required to wear masks in school, and must maintain proper social distancing, but are given “mask breaks” during the school day. “The kids get to go outside for mask break. If they have snack, they’re allowed to each snack without a mask,” she said. “Those are opportunities for kids to take a break and take their masks off. But other than that, they wear a mask.”

Allyanna David, a fourth-grade student at Fairview Elementary School in Auburn, checks for homework on her school iPad before heading home for the remote learning portion of her school week. Students in the Auburn schools have been placed in two cohorts, attending schools in person on Mondays and Tuesdays or on Thursdays and Fridays. (Tsukroff photo)

Lunches are served in the classrooms for the lower grades, while at the high school, small groups of students go to lunch in the school cafeteria, with appropriate social distancing. Students get lunches in Bento boxes, “that they really like,” Brown said. The Bento box is a single-portion take out meal that originated in Japan centuries ago.

Sports in Auburn schools have been impacted by the pandemic, with indoor volleyball completely cancelled by the Maine Principals Association, and football migrating to a 7-on-7 program without pads or helmets. The football program is intermural, playing against other schools, while some school districts in Maine chose to keep their football programs strictly intra-mural. The golf and soccer teams were able to compete this fall, as well.

Bill David was very upbeat about the school year so far. “The school has done an amazing job keeping school spirit with virtual spirit weeks,” he said.

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