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Education in a Pandemic: A year in review

TV5 took a look at what has worked, what hasn’t, and what lies ahead.
This school year, students have faced many challenges. A pandemic, learning from home and...
This school year, students have faced many challenges. A pandemic, learning from home and returning to class almost an entire year later. Now as classes resume some in-person normalcy, teachers have to prepare their students for standardized testing.(WKYT)
Published: Mar. 10, 2021 at 4:45 PM EST
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - Remember a time when putting your kids on a packed school bus and sending them off to school was just... what you did?

It wasn’t that long ago, but that is one of many things that changed almost overnight.

TV5 took a look at what has worked, what hasn’t, and what lies ahead.

We asked RSU 25 Superintendent Jim Boothby if he could believe it had been a year already..

“No, it’s gone by so fast,” Boothby said. “You know, the day to day has been challenging, arduous, but it’s like, wait a second, where did the year go?”

“It was surreal,” explained Education Commissioner Pender Makin. “I remember that when we first shut the schools down for in-person learning, everybody thought, including myself, everybody thought this will be about two weeks. We’re looking at a two week shutdown, and this was will go by like a storm. Literally, they said goodbye to their kids on Friday, and on Monday, schools were closed.”

Over that weekend, Maine educators were tasked with learning a completely new way to teach.

“It was a totally different world, and one that none of us had ever experienced,” said Boothby.

Food and nutrition plans became paramount as schools scrambled to get meals out.

The importance of internet availability rose to the forefront.

“We were working with kiddos through a lot of remote that was fragile to say the least,” he explained. “We’re doing remote meal deliveries, with the buses, working with our food staff and our Ed Techs, volunteers delivering meals. It was a totally different world.”

“We knew that there was a digital divide in our state, with respect to those who don’t have access to a stable high speed internet connection,” said Makin. “In many cases, that’s because there is no broadband available, so the actual infrastructure isn’t in place yet, and in other cases, it was the cost prohibitive nature of those types of services. And what we recognized is that existing inequities that we’ve been aware of all along have been exacerbated. Those kids who had the least support, and the least access prior to COVID, have continued to suffer I would say.”

“The reality of our rural, the rurality that we live in, we have a lot of folks that don’t have stable internet connections that are critically important, and we’re social beings, doing this over a video,” said Boothby. “It’s fine, it’s a communication method, but it’s not the best way to communicate.”

“Probably one of the hardest things is having Internet issues at home because sometimes you’ll get only half of what the teacher says or you’ll miss something,” said Sara Bos, a senior at Bucksport High School, one of the tens of thousands who learned remotely, traveled one way halls, and sat in socially distanced classrooms half the week with a mask on - just to name a few new parts of learning in a pandemic.

“I think a lot of people were really upset about it at the beginning,” she said. “I think some still are, but I think it’s kind of at this point we’ve accepted it, and we just got to deal with what we have.”

So what will the lasting effects be, and what comes next?

“I’m very concerned about those kiddos that are in that middle group, that middle age group as they’re transitioning into adolescence and young adults,” said Boothby. “You know, our kiddos who are juniors and seniors, their plans are pretty well established, and they’re working to complete those plans, but that middle group of students where the social, emotional growth is really paramount, that’s where I’m very concerned, and I’m concerned with the students that have become more and more disconnected with the schools because that’s going to be harder for us to reach back and continue to rebuild.”

“It’s been intense for every person connected to public education abilities, interests, and, you know, capacities,” said Makin. “I think we’re not gonna, we’re not going to just revert back to business as usual. I think we will have grown in tremendous ways, and there are exciting possibilities, just around the corner, the brighter days are ahead.”

She went on to say, “We know that much of our capacity to plan long term is going to depend upon how the virus trajectory turns out, how effective these vaccinations are, and whether or not the US CDC changes its guidance for the social distancing, which ultimately is the only reason why any schools in Maine are still in a hybrid mode right now.”

Adding finally, “We are planning on a full time, everybody’s back in a much more normal back to school year in the fall.”

One thing many people had concerns about - the loss of the snow day.

While it’s up to local school districts to make those decisions, Mr. Boothby told us he recognized the mental health relief a snow day can bring and has no plans to stop building them into their school year.

If they get over that 3-5 number that schools usually built in, then maybe there is a consideration that a snow day becomes a remote day, but the pandemic didn’t eliminate the snow day!

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