Hall-Dale Elementary School second-grader Eloise Fisher, 7, attends a virtual class Wednesday while her brother, Henry, 14, works on a lesson at their Farmingdale home. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

After the first week of having half of his school day conducted virtually, Nina Wickenheiser Fisher’s 8th-grade son wanted classes to stay that way.

“Let’s give it some time,” Fisher told her son, Henry, but his positive response to online learning was growing as the week progressed.

“I was afraid to have the teachers talking live, in-person to some students, while he (Henry) was at home learning virtually,” she said. “But he said it’s been ‘fantastic,’ and that he is ‘less distracted’ and hears the teachers fine.”

Henry attends Hall-Dale Middle School. His two siblings, Eloise and Abbott, are at Hall-Dale Elementary School. Both schools are part of the Regional School Unit 2, which is splitting its students up into three cohorts, A, B and C; students in the A and B groups spend two days in-person at school and learn remotely the other three, while cohort C students are full-time virtual learners.

The cohort system is part of the Maine Department of Education’s color system, which assigns each school district in the state a color based on their response to the coronavirus. RSU 2 is in the “green,” but schools across southern Maine are starting to fall into the red.

The Fisher siblings were split into the same cohort so their schedules would coordinate. However, Eloise and Abbott attend the YMCA’s Kid Zone Program on the days they have remote classes.

“We have demanding jobs,” Fisher said about her and her husband. “We want to focus on what we have to do professionally, and want to give our oldest time to focus and not have to intervene or worry about helping his younger siblings.”

Fisher works at the Maine Department of Transportation and has slowly transitioned to working back in an office after working from home because of the coronavirus. Her husband works for the Maine State Library.

Hall-Dale Elementary School second-grader Eloise Fisher, 7, leans in Wednesday while learning from her home in Farmingdale. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Fisher pointed out that if her two youngest were at home, learning with Henry, he would have to make sure the kids were fed and paying attention to their online learning. At the YMCA Program, she is able to have the security to know that her children are getting their work done with the help of a tutor and are safely able to interact with other children.

As for the younger children’s learning, Fisher and her husband are trying not to stress too much about the remote learning process and the level of education it is bringing to her kids.

“It has taken us some time to get things set up and running, but we are not stressing too much about it,” she said. “Primarily, it’s their ‘specials’ (such as music, art and gym classes) that they are doing remotely, which I think is a key part of the curriculum. During a pandemic, some things are going to slide, and if it’s that, we are going to be OK with it.”

When Fisher’s children are at school for two days during the week, they are in a class size of around 10.

Getting used to having their life seen through a video camera, though, as Fisher said, has been one of the challenges for her younger kids.

“The little kids are able to show their lives to friends and classmates, and that was one of the first things that she did,” she said. “My husband had just gotten up, had his PJs on and was working on his laptop when she scanned the room with her iPad. We had a conversation about video protocol after that.”

‘SOME STUDENTS NEED A CHANCE TO CATCH THEIR BREATH’

As a transitional support teacher at Leavitt Area High School, Katherine Ludewig has seen remote learning through the lenses of her students, as well as her young children enrolled in RSU 2.

Her fifth-grade son has an individualized education program that requires him to have specialized in-person learning four days a week. Her daughter, however, is participating in the hybrid remote learning program as an eighth-grader at Tripp Middle School.

Ludewig said many students are learning how to have a sense of discipline to sit through their classes and take responsibility for getting their work done because often they are home alone while their parents work.

“You have to have self-responsibility to be able to do it on your own, and honestly, self-advocating is not a skill set that is always taught,” she said. “In high school, you are looking at a set of kids that are close to being adults, and some have jobs and have to provide child care for their younger siblings.

“How do you balance that with what you are expected to teach them, but not overwhelm them?” Ludewig added.

In addition, with the fate of fall sports not being too clear, some students may take on more responsibilities, she said, like jobs to fill their time or help parents that are struggling during this time. Her kids have still been able to take karate classes, which as Ludewig explained, is the children’s “outlet.”

Her own daughter provides child care Wednesdays, the districtwide common remote day, to help families that are unable to watch their children. It has been “stressful” for her daughter doing remote classes, describing it as “layer upon layer.”

When her daughter has a question, it often takes teachers a while to respond to her — teachers are either instructing their own classes during that time or responding to other students’ inquiries. During a school board of directors meeting for Maine State Administrative District 11 last week, two teachers reported that a large chunk of their day is spent responding to students and parents.

On the one weekday, Ludewig’s son is at home, she worries about the amount of screen time that her son is getting.

“Kids that are remote are sitting in front of a screen for six hours a day,” she said. “How detrimental or beneficial is that? I don’t like having my kid sit in front of a screen for one hour a day.”

In her own teaching, Ludewig has seen how the stress of the new transition has affected the older, high-school level students. She said their days off are not their days off — the students are still trying to keep up with jobs, and new levels of babysitting that now includes having to teach.

Ludewig said she sometimes gives her students 10 minutes to “breathe.”

“You take one breath at a time. And it’s a work in progress for everyone, but it’s positive progress,” she said.

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