Henry Mears of Brunswick, a second-grader at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School, works on one of the learning assignments his teacher put together in a large packet that his mother picked up from the school earlier this week. Photo courtesy of Bridie Mears

As schools across the U.S. shut down in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, educators in the Midcoast are adapting to teaching remotely.

“Our priority is to continue the educational process and not to have that slide,” said Shawn Chabot, superintendent of Maine School Administrative District 75, which serves Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Harpswell and Topsham. He noted this level of remote learning is new to the state and nation, and the schools have scrambled to adapt.

Chabot said the district is trying to avoid the “backward slide” that teachers often see after long breaks from school, especially in summer, when students aren’t routinely practicing reading, writing, math and other skills.

For Regional School Unit 5, which covers Freeport, Durham and Pownal, packets for grades K-5 set up a schedule for parents. The lesson may instruct students to do a science activity for 30 minutes or a reading activity that allows the student to choose from three books and then answer comprehension questions about the book.

High school students in RSU 1, which includes Bath, Phippsburg, Woolwich and Arrowsic, are expected to be assigned at least an hour of work per class and may do more for honors and Advanced Placement classes, according to Katie Joseph, assistant superintendent.

Through applications like Google Classroom, teachers can post assignments and then students can complete the assignments and send them back to the teacher.

Mt. Ararat High School sophomore Fern Beede of Bowdoinham said logging into Google Classrooms to get material and assignments has been confusing at times, depending on the teachers.

“Some teachers are really clear and others aren’t clear so you have to get in touch with them,” she said.

They respond quickly though. She normally gets up at 8 a.m. and works until noon, and may work later in the evening on writing assignments.

“I don’t feel like I’m learning a lot but it’s better than not doing school at all,” she said.

She worries if she’s not back in school by the end of the month though, it could stunt her learning for the rest of her high school career. She’s not alone.

“It’s especially interesting with the (Advanced Placement) classes,” said Morse High School sophomore Nina Ryan of Woolwich. “It’s all online for us. There’s no schedule or anything. Actually, three of my teachers assigned a daily journal so I’m keeping three different daily journals.”

Ryan takes Advanced Placement World History and had to take a college test online this week, which is like a progress check that counts towards her grade. While she has access to all of the reading material online, “We do a lot in class so it’s difficult to not be able to do that.”

Classes like math and Spanish are hard to teach online, she said. She’s also part of three group projects as the curriculum is more social at her grade level.

It’s OK to miss two weeks, she said, “but we really can’t afford to miss much more class time.”

Meanwhile, her 12-year-old brother, Michael Ryan, is a student at Bath Middle School student and is pleased with his online learning experience that started Tuesday.

“I can focus a lot better than I can at school at some points,” he said. “I have a little desk that I can work on and it’s actually not that bad. I have my whole routine set up.”

The remote learning can be challenging for parents expected to work from home while trying to keep their children focused on school work. Bridie Mears of Brunswick said her 7-year-old son Henry, a second-grader at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary, got a roughly 30-page packet of worksheets. Once he understands he needs to focus on an assignment, it doesn’t take him long to finish the work.

A legal assistant working from home with another child in pre-kindergarten, “I’m here trying to be a mom, trying to be a teacher, trying to be an employee,” she said. “It’s been a pretty big struggle.”

But parents and students understand teachers have done the best they can in the time they had to plan for the two-week school closure that began Monday for most schools.

Felicity Beede of Bowdoinham is Fern Beede’s mother and also an eighth-grade Brunswick Junior High School social studies teacher. She’s already uploaded daily assignments on her Google Classroom and adjusted the workload as students need. She begins the day asking how each student is and why; and has tailored assignments so she can see how students are doing academically and emotionally.

“I’m able to be in constant communication with the recipients of my teaching who are giving me feedback,” she said. “There’s time for so much conversing.”

Brunswick Assistant Superintendent Shawn Lambert said he feels good about the remote learning plans Brunswick School Department developed so quickly.

“It is, however, a complete shift in the way schools operate,” he said. “It’s not the way the American education system has developed but I think it’s no worse. It’s just different.”

Felicity Beede of Bowdoinham, an eighth-grade teacher at Brunswick Junior High School, enjoys chatting with her students using technology and various Google programs to keep students learning and engaged. Contributed photo

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