AUGUSTA — Schools are becoming innovative with technology as the coronavirus pandemic prompts heightened precautions. At Cony Middle and High School, being innovative looks like a simple bar code, but in reality, it’s being used to sign students in and out of the building.

Assistant Principal Gabe Levesque came up with the idea to minimize contact between students and staff.

“We were just looking for an easy way to get kids in and out of the building, contactless and paperless,” Levesque said. “The easiest way was through a QR code, so I did that through a Google extension. It shows me their name and their timestamp and through using their school email, I can make sure it’s them.”

A QR code is a black and white square encrypted with code that is able to be scanned by the camera of a cellphone. It can be in the form of a photo on a piece of paper, like in this case, or it can be online for students to scan.

When the code is scanned, a page pops up with a spreadsheet for students to sign in and out, connected through their school email. The list is then sent to the staff at school, where it is able to be seen at all times.

Cony Middle and High School is participating in a hybrid approach to learning. Students are broken up into three cohorts, A, B and the fully remote cohort, C. Students who are fully remote are not participating in using the QR codes.

Students in 10th through 12th grade are able to leave school for lunch, have the option to sit outside and eat, or they can pick up takeout from somewhere nearby.

If students do not have the ability to leave campus and buy a meal elsewhere, Cony still offers lunch and has free lunch to all students through Dec. 31 as part of the nation-wide Free Meal Program that is open to all students under 18, regardless of family income.

“The QR code is good for a couple reasons, in this case,” Levesque said. “It alleviates the density in the building and students can go out and take their masks off and unwind.”

A bottle of hand sanitizer in the lobby at Cony Middle and High School in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

In past years, students would sign out for lunch with pens and paper at a desk that was supervised by a staff member. This option is still available for students who do not have a cellphone. (Levesque said it’s a low enough number that there is little risk involved.)

Levesque said that using the QR code minimizes the contact of around 300 students per day that participate in lunch through open campus.

The QR code can also be used for students that arrive to school late.

Students scan the code that is attached to both sides of the Cony’s front door, and instead of signing in at the front main office desk, they are able to add their name to an online sheet that is sent to the secretary. Using the codes has also spilled over into the classroom where teachers are using them to sign students in and out for bathroom breaks.

“The kids seem to be supportive of it,” Levesque said. “They like the ease.”

At Hallowell-based Regional School Unit 2, to ease with parent pick up after school, the smartphone app “Pick Up Patrol” is being used by certain schools within the district.

Nina Wickenheiser Fisher has two young children at Hall-Dale Elementary School, and admits that as a working mom, she can sometimes forget to alert the school if there is a change in her child’s schedule — like taking the bus instead of picking up her kids.

“As a working parent who would often forget to call if I needed my child to be released a certain way, where I would be in a meeting and forget the time,” she explained. “I just go on the app.”

On the app, parents are able to request the change and the alert is sent to the secretarial staff and the child’s teacher. Fisher points out that it not only saves time in her day in calling the school, but it also minimizes work and phone calls that the “busy” staff is receiving right now.

Fisher also has one older son at Hall-Dale High School. Her children used to ride the bus to school, but she has opted to drive them until she can see how things are heading.

Through Pick Up Patrol, parents can communicate with the secretary at the school to alert their arrival. The news then is sent to the classroom of the responding student, and the teacher is able to dismiss the student knowing that their parent is there.

“With COVID, we can’t have large numbers of people in our building, and that’s what it looked like before,” said Kelly Byron, who helps with morning drop off and afternoon dismissal at Hall-Dale. “Now, parents don’t even have to get out of their cars. It’s just been a better process.”

Kristen Kirk scans a QR code with her phone Sept. 24 in the lobby at Cony Middle and High School in Augusta. The code opens a form that students use to check in or out the building. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Byron said that the app has minimized the “clutter” that dismissals sometimes brought, where now, there is a system in place. She thinks that parents appreciate how the app has sped up dismissal.

Hall-Dale Elementary school, like the Augusta Public Schools, have split their students up into three cohorts.

Though Hall-Dale is using the app Pick Up Patrol, RSU 2 schools Burke Elementary School and Richmond Middle and High School are not.

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