Teaching dance, theater, music and the visual arts during the coronavirus pandemic requires about as much creativity as the arts themselves.

Sidney’s Maine Arts Academy opened Tuesday at Snow Pond Center for the Arts. The public charter school serves 250 high school students from nearly 80 Maine towns — from Brunswick to Skowhegan — and is in its fifth year of existence.

“Chorus is interesting,” chorus director Shannon Thurston said. “The arts in general is interesting, especially arts with extensive phonation, like breathing.”

Chorus classes this fall are taught outside with students spaced 14 feet apart. Students wear face coverings at all times, even while singing.

“They (students) just want their school to stay open, and I think we’re really transparent with them about their choices in being present and keeping the school open,” Thurston said.

“We didn’t do too much singing because we were getting prepared, but they were all for it. We’re taking the most caution with chorus, but the kids still want to sing, so it’s super important that we keep safe, but allow them the freedom of singing.”

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Due to the coronavirus pandemic and in keeping within state health and safety guidelines, Maine Arts Academy opted for a hybrid model, grouping students into three cohorts. Cohorts A and B will alternate days of in-person learning. The third cohort is a fully remote learning group.

In-person class sizes are limited to 10 students. All musical instruments and equipment are disinfected between each class. There is no sharing of materials.

When one of the cohorts is on campus, the others livestream their classes and see their teachers and peers in real time. Aside from a few technical difficulties, the first day went well, according to Head of School and Principal Heather M. King.

Maine Arts Academy students made a successful transition to remote learning in the spring when the pandemic forced all schools to go fully remote. Inclement weather days in the past fostered a remote learning process that became more fine-tuned throughout the spring.

“We  didn’t miss a day of school,” King said.  “We went from on campus to online. Our teachers taught live through Zoom, and our students even signed in to study hall through Zoom. They didn’t miss any school.”

Maine Arts Academy held performances through Zoom last spring and is in the planning stages of a drive-thru show in October. Small performances will be scattered around the campus.

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“You definitely have to be creative through the arts, but we do the best we can,” King said.

Jeri Pitcher, director of the theater program, said she’s focusing on utilizing distance learning to “look at performance in a different way.” Pitcher, King and Thurston have worked at Maine Arts Academy since its inception.

Students often play spatial awareness theater games, which directly help with social distancing related to the coronavirus. In acting classes, distanced students will partner with a live student or another distanced learner in a breakout room, rehearse and show their work on video.

Maine Arts Academy students meet with Jazz Ensemble instructor R.J. Miller, left, Wednesday at the academy. Students, from left, include Ethan Barrett, a guitarist, Nathan Clark, a guitarist and bassist, and Dravyn Cloutier, a drummer. Wednesday marked the Sidney academy’s second day back to class. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

In a time where technology abounds, Pitcher observed students relishing their face-to-face interaction.

“This whole year will be an exploration of where video meets theater,” Pitcher said. “I think what we’re finding is there was more of an interest in video, film before coronavirus, and now that they’ve really tested it out, they love the human aspect of being together. They’re discovering how precious that is.”

Maine Arts Academy transports roughly 120 students to school each day. They added a fifth bus. They also use two vans to transport students. Staff said the students are more than willing to follow all of the health and safety guidelines if it means they can see and learn with their peers.

“The kids are ready to do what they need to do to keep their education going in a social environment,” Thurston said. “It’s just day one, but I think so far, as long as the students are educated in how to keep themselves healthy and responsible and their classmates healthy and responsible, I think this will be a success no matter what happens.”

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