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Caribou High School opens to hybrid learning

CARIBOU, Maine — For the first time since March, high school students in Caribou were able to physically attend classes when the school opened to a hybrid learning environment on Aug. 24.

 RSU 39 Superintendent Tim Doak said on Tuesday that the first day went over well, and that he received good reports from school officials.

“The big thing is that the kids want to be there,” said Doak. “It was evident in the way they returned to the building. They were fully cooperative; they want to be there and give back to what the new normal could be.”

The hybrid model rose from social distancing guidelines amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Two groups of students physically attend classes for two days a week each, the first group on Monday and Tuesday and the second on Thursday and Friday. The school goes fully remote on Wednesdays as staff perform a deep clean to prevent potential cross-contamination and to help with contact tracing in the event that a case occurs in the school.

Caribou High School Principal Eric McGough said on Wednesday afternoon that the first two days were even better than expected.

“I’m almost surprised at how well everything went,” McGough said as the school concluded their first fully remote day. 

As part of the process, he said the school has been holding 3 p.m. question-and-answer sessions with students via Google Hangouts. All students are welcome to participate and ask any questions about the new learning model. 

“One of the big things we knew had to happen for this to be successful is that we would have to engage all of the parties involved,” he said, adding that in addition to meeting and working with staff and administrators, the school has been engaging with parents, students, and community members.

“Not surprisingly,” he said, “great ideas are coming from everywhere. Every group has contributed something of value to our protocol.”

In order to maintain a sense of structure throughout the day, McGough said students learning from home must log into their class on time. Any late sign-ins will be treated the same as being tardy to a physical class. 

He said that students were cooperative with masks, and seemed genuinely excited to be able to return to school.

While student feedback and participation has been generally positive, the principal said some students did not like the extra walking required for following socially distanced traffic patterns in the hallway. He said the school has purchased decals and signage to indicate correct travel lanes, six-foot spacing and yielding when crossing into the other lane. 

Students are currently eating lunch in their classrooms to accommodate social distancing guidelines, but McGough said administrators are working on a plan to safely return lunch to the cafeteria, giving teachers — already going above and beyond to protec students — a much-needed break during the day.

Doak said that with the high school opening before the Caribou Community School does, it will help administrators prepare for PreK-8 students attending physical classes in October. 

“It’s going to help us work through the details,” Doak said. “Unfortunately we had to [start Caribou Community School] with the red model, but it’s still allowed us to get a good handle on busing issues.”

In addition to driving students to and from school, buses also deliver meals to students learning from home in towns such as Woodland, Caswell, Limestone, Stockholm, Westmanland, and New Sweden.

Currently, Doak is working to determine how to safely move to the green model, in which all students are able to physically attend classes.

“Right now, we’re dividing 8 and 10 kids in one group,” he said, “but you can’t socially distance 16 or 20 in one classroom. A lot of Maine schools have had to go yellow because they cannot safely go green.”

He said starting out with the hybrid model is providing much-needed insight as to how Caribou schools could operate under a green model. 

Both Doak and McGough said they were pleased with the results so far.

“We’re all in this together and we just need to work toward making this a safe environment,” said Doak. “If we follow the protocols I think we will have better days ahead of us. There are a lot of things we all want to get back to and I think we will get back to them if we wear masks and socially distance. And if we go by the first day of school, it was excellent. Kids were fully cooperating. I think all of them want to be there.”

“I couldn’t be prouder to be a Viking,” said McGough. “The staff, students, community, and everyone involved have gone above and beyond.”

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