Waterville Superintendent Eric Haley said Monday that Waterville schools are pressing ahead with remote learning, and administrators, teachers. students and parents are all learning as the process continues. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

WATERVILLE — Three weeks after Waterville schools closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, students and teachers are continuing to adjust to remote learning, whether through online classes or emailed assignments.

At the same time, thousands of meals are being prepared and distributed to students and some families, and the outlook for prom and in-person graduation exercises is growing dim.

Nevertheless, schools Superintendent Eric Haley said Monday: “I think, overall, things are going very well, considering the circumstances. We’re all learning about distance learning. We’re learning every day.”

At Waterville Junior High School, for instance, a recent online classroom of 120 students was getting instruction from four teachers working together on subjects including science, English and writing.

Haley said administrators are scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss how to develop more consistency between schools regarding remote learning, given some families have two or three children at different schools and it would be beneficial for parents to know what is expected of the students, including whether attendance is taken and other concerns.

Families are all different, he said. In one family, for instance, a parent may work while the other parent is with the children, helping them with their assignments and making meals.


But another family may consist of a single mother with three children who attend three different schools. Their mother works the night shift and when she gets home early in the morning, she must cook and care for her children, try to get some sleep and thus, has no time to supervise learning, according to Haley.

“She says, ‘It’s too much — I just can’t do that,'” Haley said. “And I understand.”

Some parents who work out of the home may be able to leave their children with grandparents or other relatives. Some children have better access to technology than others.

“I would imagine, as many different scenarios as you can describe, there’s somebody doing it,” Haley said.

Waterville Senior High School teachers have been giving students assignments in subjects that include math, English and social studies.

At the George J. Mitchell and Albert S. Hall elementary schools, teachers have been emailing assignments to parents that include worksheets, exploratory math, reading and writing.


Educators are constantly learning how best to do remote learning with children, and they are doing it with a “can-do attitude,” Haley said.

“I think it’s important for everybody to understand that this is everyone’s first time through,” Haley said. “This isn’t ‘Coronavirus II.’ This is the first time, I think, in the history of the United States — other than the flu epidemic of 1918.

“I remember my grandmother lost a sister. I remember her talking about how scared everyone was and how they tried to stay away from people, and then she lost her sister.”

Haley said everyone involved in education is learning from the current situation — and learning how they can do things better.

“We’re going to make mistakes — we are — and I think the smart person realizes the mistakes, stops and changes course,” he said.

The Maine Department of Education mandated that if schools do online learning and have related plans, local school boards must accept the plans, according to Haley. While the department has said it does not need to see those plans, it requires school boards to submit minutes of the meetings at which the boards approve the plans, and the time children spend learning will count as “seat days,” or days in school, according to Haley.


On April 13, Waterville school principals will present the Waterville Board of Education with their learning plans and the board will take an official vote to approve or not approve them, he said.

Meanwhile, Haley put out a message to all teachers, volunteers, bus drivers, those who help with school lunches and others to ask what they thought about the idea of canceling April school vacation, which is scheduled for April 20-24, and continuing onward to the end of the school year and closing school five days early.

Haley said more than 95 percent of those who responded thought it was a great idea.

“The other thing was feeding students,” he said. “We don’t want to miss a week of feeding students.”

Schools have been busy packaging meals, and bus drivers have been taking them to children. Last week, Waterville schools served 10,592 meals, according to Haley. Waterville, Winslow, and Vassalboro together served more than 22,000 meals, he said.

Haley said he was at the Mitchell school at 7:30 a.m. Monday, where the gym was set up like an assembly line and people were packaging meals to send out children and, in some cases, their families.


If the schools are closed for vacation April 20 to 24, the district would have to pay to continue feeding children, as the schools would not be reimbursed during that week, Haley said. The other option is that schools could choose not to feed the students during that week.

“To the credit of the people doing this work — cooks, bus drivers, volunteers — every single one of them says there’s absolutely no way we stop feeding these kids,” he said. “I was so proud of them.”

Asked if there is a possibility students will not return to school this school year, Haley did not hesitate:

“I think there is a strong possibility they won’t,” he said.

As to whether an in-person, public graduation will be held for seniors this year, Haley said he discusses that and other matters every day with Joan Phillips-Sandy, chair of the school board.

Haley has also has been talking with high school Principal Brian Laramee. The school’s graduation is scheduled for June 11 at Colby College, but it is unknown whether it can be held — or whether some sort of virtual ceremonies will be held.

Haley said he is concerned about seniors and events they will have one chance to experience, such as prom and graduation exercises.

“You don’t get a second shot at that, so if it’s taken away, it’s something they’ve lost forever,” Haley said. “We’re kind of watching. I’ve been talking to Brian and watching to see how colleges are doing it. We’ve got to watch to see what we’ve got coming down the pike.”

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