MSSM reopening to hybrid learning model

4 years ago

LIMESTONE, Maine — The Maine School of Science and Mathematics will begin classes on Monday, Aug. 24, with roughly 74 students learning on campus and the other half learning online.

Alan Whittemore, dean of enrollment at MSSM, said this group will rotate after six weeks, and that the first group consists primarily of freshmen and seniors. This year, the freshman class has about 47 students.

Whittemore said he hopes to see seniors and staff share the culture of the school with the new students, who arrived on Aug. 20.

“This is a really emotional time for parents,” said Sharon Frost, the mother of a senior from Belgrade. “It’s a struggle between keeping our children and community safe health-wise, but also we don’t want them missing out on the social aspect completely. The guidelines that MSSM has put in place really gives me a sense of calm and I feel that the school is doing everything they can do to keep my daughter and the community safe.”

Rebecca and John Faherty, parents of a Kennebunk freshman, said they were thrilled that the school has developed a way for students to move back to the campus, and that the process has been easy for them as parents of a first-year student.

“Administration, faculty, and staff have made the whole process easy,” they said. “Moving in today has been great and I can see how the whole community watches out for each other. We’ve really been impressed at how engaged the staff has been with all the Zoom calls and emails. They’ve turned over every stone and are making sure everyone’s safety is a priority.”

And while staggering physical attendance is one way the school can practice social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Whittemore said Executive Director David Pearson developed a task force of residential life workers, the school’s nurse, faculty members and the residential administrator.

“We’ve met, without any exaggeration, for five or six hours a day on Zoom between three to four days a week since the middle of June,” said Whittemore. “We then presented [Pearson] with our three proposals — one was completely open online, completely open with everyone back in person and the hybrid model.”

Through a collaboration with the University of Maine and The Jackson Laboratory, each student will be given a COVID-19 test and then remain in lockdown until the results come back roughly 36 hours later.

Most students will be living in single dormitories. However in certain circumstances two students will be allowed to live together in a quad, which is normally intended for four students.

“All new students for the most part will be staying in the single rooms,and seniors will be at most two to a room, Whittemore said.

And in accordance with Gov. Janet Mills’ and Maine CDC guidelines, lines and circles have been drawn on the floor indicating the appropriate six-foot social distancing guidelines. Social distancing and masks are required, and some furniture in lounge areas has been removed.

“There will be a lot of cleaning going on, not just by maintenance folks but by our residential staff, and students are going to be asked to be vigilant in carrying hand sanitizers,” he said. “We will also provide each student with a hand tool that allows them to open a bar handle without having to touch it.”

The school will distribute masks featuring the MSSM penguin logo provided courtesy of the Key Club and parent association. Whittemore said both organizations have been working throughout the summer to ensure that an adequate amount of PPE is available.

And while the school is planning to open with a hybrid learning model, Whittemore said that MSSM would likely return to online learning only if three or more active cases of the virus are confirmed in the region.

“These are scary times for all of us,” said Whittemore. “We’re all in this together supporting one another and we’re excited about the future. At the same time, we are very much aware of how serious this pandemic is. We want to protect our neighbors in The County, and we’re hoping that masks are worn out there in the general public; we will be wearing masks throughout and we appreciate it as an institution.”