Cony students Camden Sirois, left, Wyatt Green, Eli Bezanson, Kyle Douin, Jake Varney and Eric McDonnell on Jan. 28 outside Cony High and Middle School in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

This is the fourth of a four-part special report. 

AUGUSTA — In a normal year, Eli Bezanson would be on the Cony High School hockey team.

But because of the coronavirus pandemic, he thought it would be best for both him, and his family, not to play this year.

“I thought it was the safest thing for myself and my family,” he said. “It was a win and a lose.”

Bezanson said the decision came on his own out of fear of contracting the virus. He admitted that it’s not only hockey where he was worried that could happen, but also at school, inside the classroom.

Augusta’s Cony Middle and High School has a hybrid-learning schedule, which Bezanson said is better than staying home five days a week and learning remotely. Nonetheless, he is still anxious he could get the virus from a classmate.

“It’s a little scary, that, and knowing that people out there aren’t following procedures,” Bezanson said. “I could get exposed while I try to learn.”

The fear of contracting the virus, having a different routine and not being able to see as many of his friends has led to anxieties and an increase in depression, Bezanson, a senior, said.

He said he knows he is not the only one that has felt this way due to the ongoing pandemic.

“I talk to my friends through text and very rarely do I get a response that’s, ‘I’m great,'” Bezanson said. “It’s more of, ‘I’m struggling with this, or I’m struggling with that. In a normal year, that wouldn’t be the case.”

Bezanson said that at Cony, guidance councilors let students know about resources, but that it’s almost “impossible” to get in to talk with them because of how many students need to use them.

Cony introduced social and emotional training for students and staff members at the beginning of the academic year to help students be able to identify their own mental health concerns. Bezanson said that the videos that the guidance councilors made that detailed breathing techniques and how to handle stress were “great” and shown during homeroom.

But with students still needing extra help, he took the matter into his own hands and made a group for students to get together virtually, and talk about how they are faring during this time.

“I feel like its easier to get students to talk to other students,” he said of the group that will meet on Wednesdays. “I want to give the opportunity to students to talk, … and to be able to talk in a safe environment.”

At Monmouth Academy, Jake Umland and Hayden Luce revamped the school website as a way to get the student body connected during this time. Luce and Umland, the student body president and student senator, respectively, did it with their student government club as a collective effort.

It started with updating the website and making changes, such as uploading photos of the trophies, but soon turned into a place for students to go and calm down, use resources to relax, or to connect with their classmates.

“We wanted to give it some foundation, so people could go to Monmouth Academy physically, but not actually,” Luce said.

Umland added that they tried to think of ways to make the pandemic “feel more normal.”

Monmouth Academy, like Cony High School, is using a hybrid approach to learning.

Through the website, teachers are able to post school announcements for the day, so students that may not be in person can see them. In addition, students and teachers can use the site to advertise for school clubs so students can be more involved.

The website also has a “virtual calming room” and a page where students can submit photos of their pets where, as Umland said, “you can look at them and lighten up the mood.”

The teens, along with their student government and a couple teachers, have worked on the website since the start of the academic year. They said that through the help of everyone, it made it easier to balance their schoolwork and classes.

At at Cony, Bezanson doesn’t know when his club will start, but hopes that it will within the next couple of weeks.

He said that as of now, 15 students are interested in leading discussions, which will be done with a teacher to supervise.

“I feel like as kids, we don’t have that socialization, or that connection with friends or peers, or the ability to feel supported because of the isolation,” Bezanson said.

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