Woolwich Central School sixth- through eighth-graders will return to classrooms fully in person later this month with the aid of a “distance learning hub.”

Students will remain divided in distance learning groups that were established at the beginning of the year. Students will report to school on their distance learning days where they’ll complete their at-home work with a staff member around “to support them,” according to Regional School Unit 1 Assistant Superintendent Katie Joseph.

“The rest of the day is broken up into movement and enrichment breaks as well as lunch and recess,” said Joseph. “It will not be like a daylong study hall.”

Sixth and seventh grade will begin the new learning model on Monday, April 12 with eighth grade joining on Monday, April 26.

Although this isn’t quite like the full in-person instructions students had before the COVID-19 pandemic, Woolwich Central School Principal Jason Libby said this model is what the school can accomplish after having little luck finding additional staff.

“We believe that it is incredibly important to bring our students back to school five days a week if we are able,” said Libby. “Having them with us consistently allows us to support them academically as well as socially and emotionally. The plan we have created accomplishes these goals, but does not do it in a way that will disrupt the curriculum or instructional relationships students have made with their teachers.”

Though more people will be in the building at a time, Libby said students will stay in groups of eight to 10 “which we can safely house in different rooms within the building,” allowing for physical distancing between students.

Woolwich Central School was searching for an ed tech to help break up its larger sixth- and eighth-grade classes, which have 34 and 36 students, respectively.

“After talking to and trying to recruit numerous people, we finally have found a person to help us get students back on the 12th,” RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel told the school board Monday.

Libby said adopting the distance learning hub model will give students and their families “some sort of consistency and routine back,” before the district looks ahead to what the fall will bring.

“Without completely re-mixing all of our kids or re-shuffling all of our content areas, this is the model that is going to work the best to meet the middle ground of being able to get them back but honor all they put into learning so far this year and not changing all of that in the last few weeks of school,” said Libby. “We’re all very optimistic about what the fall will hold and that will be a good way to get our kids used to something they haven’t done in a while.”

Although finding way to increase in-person learning has been a lengthy and complicated process, Libby said he continues “to be impressed by the strength, flexibility and professionalism displayed by the staff within our building.”

As we have continued to adjust to changes throughout the year, each individual has risen to the challenge,” he said. “With this collective strength, we can and will get through this pandemic.”

RSU 1 serves Bath, Phippsburg, Arrowsic and Woolwich. The district has reported 25 COVID-19 cases across all six schools, according to the district’s website.

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