WATERVILLE — Spirits were high Saturday at Thomas College as students moved onto campus after officials spent months planning how to have a safe move-in day.

Lisa Desautels-Poliquin, vice president of student affairs at Thomas College, said that the numbers of students at the college are higher than last year, with about 200 moving in Saturday on top of the approximately 80 students who arrived as part of the early start program.

“I think that people want to be back on campus,” Desautels-Poliquin said. “I think (for) students who maybe didn’t have the opportunity to finish high school the way they wanted or had to leave their friends … this is a big moment for them, and they’ve been looking forward to it.”

Upon arrival, students and their family members are screened and then given a wristband to verify that they passed the screening. From there, students are registered and receive their orientation materials and nametags. They then check to make sure that the college has received all of their health forms and go to get their first COVID-19 test.

Students are allowed two family members to help them move into their rooms. Desautels-Poliquin said that students Saturday were moving into four different residence halls.

Students from states that Maine still requires to quarantine must arrive at the college with a negative COVID-19 test. If not, they must quarantine until they can produce a negative test. Students tested on Saturday are expected to have results back within 24 hours, Desautels-Poliquin said.

“There has been a lot of planning to make this happen,” Desautels-Poliquin said. “From wearing masks, good hand-hygiene and social distancing to reducing density and occupancy limits in facilities, we’ve put additional signage and markings and hand-sanitizing stations.”

Additionally, every student will continue to be tested on a bi-weekly basis. Faculty, staff and students are also required to sign the Terrier Pledge, which says that the campus community will adhere to safety precautions, keep the community together and look out for one another.

Between faculty and staff, resident assistants, orientation leaders and volunteers, approximately 50 were on-campus Saturday to assist with move-in.

Owen Orlando, of South Paris, says that he is excited to shift into some sense of normalcy after an abrupt end to in-person classes at Oxford Hills High School in March.

“I’ve seen more people today than I have in a long time,” Orlando said. “This is definitely an exciting day. I’m looking forward to seeing how good my room looks.”

Orlando will be living in Henry & Ellen Hinman Hall with a roommate from Bar Harbor.

For resident assistant Cassidy Glenn, Saturday’s move-in tops off the end of a long training session.

“If there’s anywhere in the world that is going to stay open, it’s Thomas College,” Glenn said. “We’re small and such a tight-knit community. I feel like if everyone is safe, no one is going to be harmed.”

Stephanie Day, a COVID-19 clerical assistant for Thomas College, gives Daniel Guarino, of Wakefield, Massachusetts, a wrist band after taking a COVID-19 test upon arrival Saturday to Thomas College in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Glenn, who is graduating with a business degree in December, added that much of the training for her position was not done in-person like is typically, which gave her an added sense of safety.

“The community we have is amazing, we’re all one big family. We know that if we all follow the rules, we’re going to be safe.” Glenn said.

Being able to move students back on campus has been exciting for all faculty and staff, including Ian Wilson, head track and field coach, and assistant athletic director.

“Our summer has been consumed just preparing for what this day was going to look like, keeping the kids safe here and especially our more vulnerable population,” Wilson said. “This has really everything that we’ve been doing. Everything else has to be put on hold until we feel good about this.”

By mid-morning, Wilson said that he had not had to turn anyone away after screening and had not had any issues at all.

“This is such a relief,” Wilson said. “I went home in March and I couldn’t wait to come back to work. It was a pleasure to come back and start seeing people and to see campus come alive again, it’s why we’re in this business. I’m really happy that Thomas has worked so hard, and I am grateful to the college for going to such lengths to try to bring us back on campus and to give the kids and staff this opportunity.”

Orientation weekend events for students include keynote presentations, workshops and games. The events that are not held virtually will be hosted in smaller groups to adhere to safety guidelines.

“A lot of work has gone into orchestrating this,” Desautels-Poliquin said. “But also allowing the students to have the same experiences is really important. We’re doing (orientation weekend) in a modified way that allows them to still have the experience, but in a safer way.”

For Desautels-Poliquin, who has worked at Thomas College for 18 years, it is exciting to see months of hard work come to fruition.

Daniel Guarino, of Wakefield, Massachusetts, swabs his nose Saturday with a COVID-19 test at the testing site at Thomas College in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“It was very heartbreaking to have to ask our community to leave and send our students home in March,” she said. “We work in student affairs because we like working with students. We have worked for six months to figure out how to bring them back in a safe manner and bring students back together as a community.”

“Today is a very proud day for me to see it all come together and to know that the success of it is for all of us to work together. We have to look out for each other and I believe we will.” Desautels-Poliquin said.

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