After almost a year of the pandemic, from New York to San Francisco there are school districts across the United States where students have no other option but to learn remotely. Parents are on edge, accusing educators of turning their children into “zoombies.” The city of San Francisco is now suing its own school district to try and force open the doors of schools to allow students to return to in-person learning.

Becky Foley is superintendent of schools in Regional School Unit 5 (Freeport-Durham-Pownal). She can be reached at [email protected]

In Maine and in RSU 5, Yankee ingenuity has proven once again to be alive and well. Even though there was a great deal of fear last summer, our teachers and staff bravely returned to in-person learning this past September. During this period, there has been little evidence of in-school transmission of the virus.

As our educators await the vaccine, has educating our students been perfect? No, we continue to provide a hybrid system of instruction in RSU 5 as we search for ways to bring our students back five days a week. For the vast majority of our students, it certainly is better than remote learning. Just ask those suing the city of San Francisco.

We continue to rethink how to provide education during this time. We recently purchased two portables. This will allow for more students to come back five days a week after February vacation. Educators have accomplished in weeks what would have taken months to design in previous years. Principals have quickly redesigned programs and space and looked for creative ways to hire staff at a time when Maine is experiencing extensive staff shortages throughout the state. Maintenance workers are moving furniture and preparing the classrooms for students. Our partners at Wolfe Neck Farm will once again provide student-centered outdoor learning beginning in March.

Our music teachers are working to redesign music instruction to ensure that our students can finally sing indoors once again. The use of keyboards, drums and other non-vocal instruments have provided unique opportunities that were not used extensively before the pandemic. Our best educators are exemplary learners themselves, and a lot has been learned during the pandemic.

New Englanders are known to be hardy and created out of tough stock. Our bus drivers have proven they are tough as they continue to transport our students. With four windows wide open to ensure adequate ventilation to reduce the possibility of transmission of the virus, our drivers and students brave the elements daily to reach their schools. This is something our students are sure to emphasize years from now as they recount stories of the pandemic to their children. As someone born and raised in south Texas, where some consider 50 degrees frigid, I am proud of how our bus drivers across the state are supporting our students.

Over the past several months, many have asked about how hard it is to lead during these times. Last summer, there were moments when I replied that I just had to take it one moment and one day at a time. As I pause and reflect after nearly a year of providing instruction in a pandemic, I am uplifted by the spirit of our school community and the way our staff has responded. We continue to overcome daily challenges. As a transplant to New England, all I can say is “Let’s hear it for Yankee ingenuity!” Our children are lucky to be living and educated in the state of Maine.

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