“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.”

– Robert Jordan

In RSU 5, the staff has remained flexible throughout this extremely challenging pandemic year, which has allowed our students and staff to not only survive but to emerge stronger.

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

Like the tall, deciduous willow trees, there are many examples of how we, as a district, grew an incredible amount this past year. Willow trees are known to grow up to 10 feet a year, and many of our staff would say they grew an equal amount as the willow does! From the nutrition staff who learned how to safely prepare and deliver meals to families to the teachers who mastered the needed technology skills to teach remotely, all worked tirelessly to assist our students.

Willow trees are known for how well they adapt. While they prefer moist, cool conditions, they can tolerate some drought. So, too, have our teachers adapted. Previously, we would never have dreamed of teaching remotely. Remote teaching was not our preference, but it became essential, and staff overcame barriers that existed. Additional technology was ordered and teachers came together to build virtual communities to keep our students engaged while at home.

Dede Bennell, FHS staff member, has collaborated with her peers and created a virtual career fair that students across the state will attend on May 17. Music teachers conducted outdoor classes so students could sing together. When teachers were out, colleagues stepped in to help with resources and planning. Everyone searched for innovative ways to meet the needs of students.

The willow is capable of bending into outrageous poses without breaking. I have witnessed a willow tree survive a hurricane due to its extraordinary flexibility. Our staff was just as flexible as they moved between full remote instruction to hybrid in September and hybrid-plus during the winter. This flexibility continued until April 5, when, due to the extraordinary efforts of all, students returned to in-person learning five days a week. Buses were driven with windows wide open to prevent transmission of the virus. Nurses quickly moved into action to contact trace when there were positive cases. Schedules were altered as staff found innovative ways to return students to five-day-a-week learning. All continued to do this while searching for ways to care for themselves and their families.

The willow teaches us that life requires adaptation at critical moments throughout our lives. Our parents showed similar resilience as they partnered with us to ensure success. Our substitute teaching positions and additional ed tech positions were staffed by many RSU 5 parents who rolled up their sleeves and asked, “How can we help?” They drove their children to school to reduce numbers on the buses, self-reported positive cases and monitored their children for symptoms daily. Our success at being able to remain open and bring our students back to full in-person learning was due to the concentrated efforts of all.

The willow tree is a symbol of renewal. Its beauty and grace inspire the heart and spirit. I have been inspired by the RSU 5 staff and community and their accomplishments this past year. We’ve known for a long time that collective efforts are powerful. Parents, educators and support staff have rallied, meeting our students with a smile and supporting them every day, whether remote or in person. Like the willow, we have not broken. As summer awaits, we celebrate what we have accomplished together!

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