Hampden school kicks off the new year after heated debate with students wearing masks
Jennifer Cyr wore a hot pink blouse and lime green pants so the kids could easily identify their principal when they arrived at George B. Weatherbee School in their yellow school buses around 8:30 am Tuesday morning. She greeted the children by name as she greeted them on the first day of the 2021-22 school year at Hampden School.
“Remember, you can take a little break from your masks when you’re outside,” she told a handful of third-graders who had lined up along the brick wall at the outside school, wearing a plethora of colorful face covers.
She distributed blue surgical masks to two children whose gaiters did not meet the requirement for the masks to wrap over the ears.
“When the kids come, we go back to normal,” Cyr said. “It was a lonely summer.”
Tuesday marked the return to face-to-face classes five days a week at Hampden School for the first time since the pandemic began in March 2020. Opening day also took place about a week after the conclusion of a heated district-wide debate over mask wearing, with Regional School Unit 22 board of directors adopting a mask requirement for students days after adopting an optional mask-only policy in because of an incorrect vote.
As a result, the roughly 300 third, fourth and fifth graders who attend Weatherbee will be back in classrooms with their teachers, without social distancing, but wearing masks. Students, teachers and staff will need to wear masks when not eating or outside. Distance learning will only be an option for students who need to be quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19.
Other measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 will be put in place in addition to masking. Break periods will be staggered, allowing each class to have 30 minutes for recess, then a 25 minute lunch period thereafter to limit the number of students gathered in one location. The school also purchased 300 new tables which can be separated into individual desks to allow for distancing if needed, Cyr said.
Older RSU 22 students – students in Grades 7 to 12, who are eligible to be vaccinated – will be required to wear masks whenever there is a “high” or “substantial” level of COVID transmission. locally. Currently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers Penobscot and Waldo counties – where RSU 22 has schools – as high transmission areas.
Masking was found to significantly slow the spread of COVID-19 in schools, allowing a return to an almost normal school year, Wellness Director Brittany Layman said.
“The next few weeks will be eye-opening, to see if we can contain it,” she said.
Layman noted that COVID continues to spread in the community. Penobscot County has been one of Maine’s virus hotspots in recent weeks, and neighboring Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor has seen its intensive care unit approaching capacity in recent days.
“Over the next three months it will be important for us as a state to see how this actually affects our children,” she said. “Are our children getting sick or not? Our goal as a district is to protect our community.
Weatherbee will launch a pool testing program next week that will allow children who choose to be tested each week, providing data indicating the number of COVID cases at school, Layman said.
Despite concerns raised at RSU 22 school board meetings that it would be difficult to enforce respect for the mask, Abby Marvin’s fifth-graders kept their face covers on as the teacher guided them through long from their morning meeting. The students discussed what they did during the summer and how excited they were to start a new year as they sat side by side in a circle on a mat in the classroom. classroom.
During the first week of school, teachers will lead such morning meetings and other team-building exercises to foster a sense of community among students, said Erin Adams, a third-grade teacher.
“I’m just excited that we can all be together again,” she said. “I can already say that I have a very caring group.”
Another goal will be to monitor the social and emotional health of students when they return to school, Cyr said. Attendance is a key marker in tracking this.
“Some students have great social skills and some are shy, so we have to make sure they’re connected,” Cyr said. “We really try to make sure that we meet the needs of the children. ”