OAKLAND — Thursday’s blustery conditions did not stop a group of six Messalonskee High School seniors from eating lunch outdoors. It’s one of the few times when something is like the way it used to be — pre-coronavirus pandemic.

“This is what we look forward to,” Madyson Card said.

Card and James Smith took to the parking lot for some fun during their lunch period with their friends joining them. They are abiding by social distancing rules related to the pandemic, but also get a reprieve from the strict protocols that occur when indoors.

Messalonskee High School is part of Regional School Unit 18, which serves approximately 2,500 students from the towns of Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney across eight schools. Card Smith and Gabriella Smart are from Oakland. Smith, Kristen Dube, Katelyn Douglass and Andrew Mayo reside in Sidney.

They’ve attended school together since the sixth grade and have been inseparable since.

“We all spend our summers together,” James Smith said

“We painted our parking spots together,” Dube chimed in from the trunk of her car overlooking her peers painted parking spots.

“We basically do everything together,” added Card, who is also the class vice president.

Messalonskee High School senior Madyson Card reads “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare on Thursday while sharing her lunch break with longtime classmates in the senior parking lot at the school in Oakland. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

To have a conversation with one student is to have one with the whole group. They speak for one another, always assisting when anyone is at a loss for a word.

Messalonskee Principal Paula Callan calls the group “the lawn chair lunch bunch.”

“For young adults, their world has been turned upside down, and they are trying to make lemonade out of a whole lot of lemons,” Callan said. “These students have come up with a very creative way to still enjoy lunch with their peers while respecting the social distancing guidelines. We, as humans, are very social and to take that opportunity away from our students would produce another lemon.”

At Messalonskee High School, seniors with a 70 or above in every class obtain privileges, which allows them to leave the school premises during lunch. This also includes the student parking lot.

Every day, the group of six spends their lunch period together outside in the student parking lot. RSU 18 is the only district in the region allowing students back five days per week.

Messalonskee seniors get spaces in the middle of the lot, and most of the group of six friends have spaces next to one another. The others bring over a chair to join. Card, Dube, Mayo and Smith have a fourth period study hall, so they are outside from 11:15 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Smart and Douglass join them during their lunch period over the final 30 minutes of that span.

Messalonskee High School senior Andrew Mayo, seated left, joins classmate Kristen Dube, in her Subaru, while meeting for their lunch break Thursday in the senior parking lot at the school in Oakland. Joining the gathering are seniors Gabriella Smart, far left, and Katelyn Douglass, center right. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“We’re not able to get everything that we used to,” said Dube, who rattled off a list of coronavirus related concessions this school year, including traditional homecoming activities. “Being able to have this space to hang out is kinda cool.”

They see cases of COVID-19 pop up in area schools like Skowhegan. Smith and Smart golfed against them a handful of times this fall. Mayo just played them in soccer.

“When is our time?” Mayo wondered. “It’s nice to do this, but we’re playing it by ear.”

They hope for no cases at school, and relish the opportunity they have. There’s no guarantee.

“I personally like to go five days considering we had three months taken away last year,” Smith said. “We’re trying to take it all in before it’s gone. You never know with flu season coming.”

The students wear masks when heading back into the school or while they aren’t eating. Smart, who is a Type 1 Diabetic, said she is unsure if the virus would have a greater impact on her.

“It’s just kind of scary, even though we’re kids and we’re probably not going to die from it,” Smart said. “Even still, we know people who are high-risk and could be affected by it. But it’s nice to come to school and have some sense of normalcy.”

On the first day of school, they sat on the ground during lunch. That wasn’t so comfortable, so now they bring camp chairs. All six bring or pick up lunches from local stores. Although they said the money adds up, utilizing the senior privileges to eat out is a worthwhile endeavor.

Sometimes athletic director Chad Foye comes out for a visit. All six are student-athletes. “This is where we put all the troublemakers,” Foye joked.

Other students tried bringing a grill, but the idea was shut down due to safety concerns.

Getting together at lunch is a simple pleasure for this group. They plan to do it through the winter, perhaps by backing their cars into their parking spaces and sitting in their trunks.

When 12:45 p.m. hits, trunks open and the chairs go in.

It’s time for class.

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