VASSALBORO: All going well with school reopening

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Community School (VCS) has started the year well, administrators told School Board members as they met Sept. 15, at the beginning of the second week of classes. Safety regulations and educational programming both work well, so far.

Board members’ reaction included vetoing interscholastic sports – soccer, specifically, Principal Megan Allen said – this fall, for fear Vassalboro students could be exposed to coronavirus through close contact with students from other schools.

Allen said of the 400 students enrolled at VCS, 81 learn entirely from home; 166 attend on “Blue Days”; and 153 attend on “White Days.” The school calendar (available on the vcsvikings website) shows which days are which color.

Within each day’s group, students are further divided so that each classroom is a separate cohort, Allen said. The division means sometimes as few as half a dozen students spend all their time together, at recess, at lunch and in class.

Allen said small classes let teachers emphasize individual teaching, especially important after last spring’s disruption caused some students to miss parts of their education.

School officials are able to monitor students who are learning remotely, Allen said, and know which ones are not signing in or not turning in assignments.

She added that VCS has a number of new staff members, and they are “the most impressive group of new staff” in her three years here.

New staff members approved at the Sept. 15 meeting include third-grade teacher Ashlee Francis and math specialist Erica Millett.

Thanks to a federal program started in response to the coronavirus emergency, VCS offers free breakfasts and lunches to all students, regardless of family income. Parents need to fill out an application form, Allen said.

Students who will be learning remotely the next day are entitled to take meals home.

Mary Boyle, one of several administrators in the former AOS (Alternative Educational Structure) 92 who continue to work with member schools in Vassalboro, Waterville and Winslow, listed other state and federal grants Vassalboro has received.

Will Backman, former AOS technology coordinator, said distance learning is working well, except for the day the internet for the Central Maine area was down most of the morning. He, Allen and other administrators praised the cooperation and mutual support that has helped solve problems with the new system.

In addition to the separate learning groups, other safety measures include arrows on floors to direct indoor traffic, blue Viking heads on the sidewalks to separate students in lines outdoors, and a new waiting room for the nurse’s office.

Nurse MaryAnn Fortin is glad to have the waiting room. She told School Board members some, but not enough, parents are checking their children’s temperatures before driving them to school or letting them board the school bus.

Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer said VCS, Waterville and Winslow have an agreement with Maine General Medical Center “just in case” school officials should need medical help.

The soccer discussion arose out of a usually routine School Board approval of co-curricular activities. Assistant Principal Greg Hughes said he was “really nervous about this fall,” because he is not sure other schools are being careful enough.

The Maine Principals’ Association has authorized regional soccer matches, Hughes said. Nonetheless, he proposed VCS students not participate, instead working on skills and holding in-school matches.

Board members spoke of the importance students place on sports, including competition with other schools. But in the interest of safety, they voted unanimously to, as Board Chairman Kevin Levasseur said, “keep it in-house” and not play against other schools.

Hughes plans to survey students who are learning entirely remotely and therefore are not part of any in-school cohort and will find a way to include those who want to participate.

The next Vassalboro School Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, Oct. 20.


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