Toby Laber-Smith, a senior at South Portland High School, working on school assignments from home. South Portland announced last week that school closings had been extended to April 27. Courtesy Toby Laber-Smith

SOUTH PORTLAND — With schools shut down to prevent spread of the coronavirus, students have been working from home, many of their trips, extracurricular meetings, and end-of-the-year events canceled.

A junior at the University of Maine in Orono, Bridget Fehrs was preparing to visit Ireland with her rugby team over spring break, but now that the trip has been postponed to August, many of her senior teammates who have prior obligations will now be unable to come along, she said.

UMaine has moved to remote classes for the rest of the semester in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, but South Portland High School is expected to reopen on April 27, announced Superintendent Ken Kunin on March 20. Toby Laber-Smith, a senior at South Portland High School, said that he understands the need to suspend face-to-face learning.

“Keeping school open would prolong the inevitable and create a risk,” Laber-Smith said of the extension. “I was glad to hear it was canceled.”

Even though the postponed plans have been a bit of a bummer, Fehrs said that she understands the need to practice social distancing, despite some of the challenges she believes online classes will provide.

“We start classes on the 25th,” she said. “I think it’s going to be really confusing. Half of the professors aren’t going to know how to use technology.”

Laber-Smith said he was supposed to be traveling to northern Maine for a final percussion show when the announcement to suspend schools were made over a week ago.

College and high school students across the state and country have seen their classes move online. Staff photo by Gabe Souza

As for classes, the workload for the high school student has been a bit lighter, but not being able to ask a teacher a question in person has been a bit difficult, he said.

“For classes like chorus we’ve had mini projects,” said Laber-Smith. “We had to record ourselves singing and turn it in. Just today I received one assignment about interviewing family members about music. In band we received a assignment to record ourselves playing a selection of music we’re working on.

“Some of it is really fun and I’m sure there will be some cool projects, but none of it’s a perfect replacement. The music classes are definitely suffering more than others.”

Fehrs and Laber-Smith said that they’ve been keeping in touch with friends through social media, texting and video-chatting or online games.

A few of Laber-Smith’s friends have sent him letters in the mail for fun, he added.

“We’re all trying our best to socially isolate,” he said. “Some kids are definitely not. I believe we all kind of have a responsibility to do it whether we like it or not. Some of my friends have mental health issues and it’s tough for them, but I think everyone needs to make an effort. Some kids have a ‘Screw it, I don’t care’ attitude and I think that’s not the best choice. It’s a better choice to be mindful and socially isolate.”

“I think probably half the kids my age are practicing social distancing but a huge proportion don’t understand the consequences,” said Fehrs.

The media attention surrounding the coronavirus can be negative at times, she added. At the pharmacy where she works, customers have been trying to stock up on medicine, after “media recommendation,” causing many to go past the 90-day supply limit, which can be financially hard on some.

At the same time, she said that she thinks the media does a good job promoting social distancing.

“I think in order to protect those in the community who don’t have the same immunity, it’s very important for people to take this seriously,” she said.

The South Portland District administration has been helpful in spreading news and keeping students and parents informed, said Laber-Smith.

He said that he and his friends are hoping to still have fun at prom in May.

“As of right now (prom’s) not canceled,” he said. “I’m definitely scared that it might be, graduation, too. It’s scary because we’re not sure it’s going to happen.”

Almost every day-to-day aspect for students have changed in just a couple of weeks, and Fehrs said she thinks that will leave an impression.

“I think there’s no way to get out of this whole situation without it having some big impact, just because of the scale of how it’s affecting everyday life,” she said.

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