If it’s possible for a 10-year-old to feel both sadness and happiness at the same time, then Ethan Young likely experienced those emotions Wednesday.

Albert S. Hall School fifth grader Ethan Young, left, and mother Lori Williams pick up his belongings from school Wednesday in Waterville. About 250 fourth and fifth graders attend the school. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

A fifth grader at Albert S. Hall School in Waterville, Ethan went to the school on Pleasant Street to return a violin he had used during the school year.

It was an opportune time for that, as school officials had set Wednesday as a day fifth graders and their parents could pick up students’ personal belongings and school work. When the kids left the school on a Friday in mid-March, they didn’t know they would not return this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Wearing masks, teachers were outside the school at tables surrounded by large, see-through plastic bags with all sorts of things inside.

“There are markers and crayons and pencils, notebooks, math books they worked in this year,” school principal Barbara Jordan said. “They were in their desks. Some of them left in March without their boots, so the boots are in the bags. We had our teachers and technicians come in and pack up each child’s belongings, just so it was presented to them nicely.”

Accompanied by his mother, Lori Williams, Ethan got to see his teacher, Cathy Lovendahl, maybe for the last time in person, as he will be entering the junior high in the fall. They were happy to see each other.

“If I could make the rules, I’d say we all come back for a day at the beginning of the school year in the fall, just to say good-bye,” Lovendahl said.

Though Ethan misses seeing his teachers and classmates, he understands the gravity of the situation and why schools must remain closed.

“It’s scary,” he said. “In America, it’s the most deaths from coronavirus.”

He, his mother and Lovendahl talked about the assignments he has been working on at home in math, science and writing. Williams, his mother, said he has two assignments per day and he works on them at times that work for him. Lovendahl praised his writing skills.

“I’ve been impressed by your writing, Ethan,” she said. “I almost feel you’re doing more at home than in the classroom.”

Albert S. Hall teacher Lenore Boles gathers school assignments and the contents of a student’s desk before handing the materials off to a fifth grade student Wednesday in Waterville. About 250 fourth and fifth graders attend the school. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

They chatted about his violin lessons with the school’s string teacher, Colin Wheatley, whom he misses. His mother said her father, Tommy Williams, is a fiddler who played many years for the band in the television show “Hee Haw.” Now 82 and living in New Mexico, he also performed for “The Judy Lynn Show” in the 1950s and ’60s. Ethan is very proud of his grandfather.

“He loves to show his friends YouTube videos of him,” Williams said.

Aside from schoolwork, Ethan has been helping his mother with yard work and exercising.

“We live next to Colby and we have a huge, 115-pound dog and he runs on the trails there,” Williams said. “We’ve been doing that quite a lot.”

Ethan will turn 11 on Sunday, Mother’s Day, and he wants a trampoline for his birthday. Williams said the one she wants to buy him is out of stock, but she has been told it will be available June 1.

“Maybe it’ll come earlier — you never know, “ Lovendahl said.

Ethan and his mother lingered a while before getting into their Jeep to leave.

Afterward, Lovendahl, a 30-year teacher, said it has been sad, being away from her students.

Albert S. Hall fifth grader Frederick Glidden carries school assignments and the contents of his desk after he picked them up at the Waterville school Wednesday with his mother Bobbie Sue. Students and their parents picked up their belongings by either driving up or walking up to where teachers had stacked them. About 250 fourth and fifth graders attend the school. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

“I’ve really missed them,” she said. “I can maintain these connections through a computer, but it’s not the same as face-to-face and being in the classroom and seeing the reaction on their faces and knowing who ‘gets it’ and who doesn’t. Teaching is all about the connections and relationships I built with my students, and that’s the missing piece right now. It’s hard to connect through a screen.”

Jeni Frazee, who has been teaching 20 years, said the last few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster.

“Until we got online learning up and going, it was disorienting and hard,” she said. “And then joy, when people were coming into the online classroom. It’s just so precious, and then there’s the frustration when you call and call and call and try to reach out to students and you don’t make a connection. You just want to know they’re OK and they have what they need.”

Frazee said everyone is adapting to the new way of doing things.

“We’re working as teams, helping each other. Teachers are sharing so freely with each other. I think that’s what’s getting us through. Another piece I’m learning is how to have a lot of compassion for families and what they’re going through, but also to have compassion for ourselves. When we work very, very, very hard, we need to find moments to say, ‘It’s OK.’”

Albert S. Hall School fifth grader Maliah Gotham-Roy, 10, right, and mother Natalie say goodbye to school staff after picking up school assignments and supplies Wednesday at the Waterville school. About 250 fourth and fifth graders attend the school. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

The students who visited the school Wednesday did so with a mix of emotions, according to Frazee.

“It seemed like it was overwhelming to them,” she said. “They were so quiet. One little boy, I said to him, ‘Thank you for always being so kind.’”

Jordan, the principal, said 100 fourth grade parents with students retrieved belongings on Tuesday and about 85 did so on Wednesday.

Parents are working hard to support students and teachers, and teachers are working hard for them, she said.

“It’s amazing. We’re really appreciative of the work that they’re doing.”

The children smiled when they saw Jordan and the teachers. The fifth graders, especially, were a little emotional because they will not return to the school in the fall and had little chance for closure, according to Jordan.

“I think they miss us,” she said. “I think they miss school and the routine and structure and security that comes with being in school. We miss them, too. We do.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 32 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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