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Caribou Community School staff prepare for remote learning, October opening

CARIBOU, Maine — Caribou Community School staff and teachers are working together in an unprecedented situation as they prepare for the 2020-21 year, set to begin remotely for kindergarten to eighth grade students Sept. 8, with preschool starting Sept. 28.

The RSU 39 (Caribou and Stockholm) Board of Education recently voted to begin remote education and delay the physical opening of the new school to Oct. 13, given uncertainties surrounding construction deadlines amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Until then, staff and teachers at the Caribou Community School are preparing not only to teach in a new building with a new layout, but also acclimating themselves with new technology necessary to teach remotely in the meantime.

Caribou Community School Principal Leland Caron shared a presentation with the RSU 39 board Sept. 2 outlining a remote learning plan, while featuring presentations from numerous teachers detailing how they plan to implement interactive online learning.

Despite opening with the remote learning, Caron said he and the staff had to get creative in figuring out a way to meet in person for the start of the new year, and the result was a “meet your teacher” event held Aug. 26-27 under two large tents at the Caribou High School softball field. 

“Of all the summer days, I selected the two coldest ones,” Caron said with a laugh. “It was nice, though. We’re looking at teamwork and working together with the community.”

With Caribou Middle School demolished and the eventual demolition of Teague Park Elementary School on the way, Caron said he and the staff had to carve out some spaces to work during the summer as they prepared for the upcoming year. He said some were stationed in the high school ski building, others were in the performing arts center, and some were in the multipurpose room at the Caribou Wellness and Recreation Center.

“They put together everything they needed to do and they were a team all the way through,” he said.

Kindergarten teacher April Belyea, third grade teacher Rachel Bourgeois, fifth grade teacher Vaughn Martin gave presentations about their new approach to remote learning, with Shannon Sleeper and Kim Barnes both giving a presentation for eighth grade while demonstrating what a remote learning situation would look like through video conference broadcast between the two during the meeting. 

For all Caribou Community School students, the schedule will remain consistent with a regular school day, starting at 7:55 a.m. and ending at 2:05 p.m.. The administration has recommended keeping a daily schedule as if teachers were in the building.

The week will consist of four instruction days and another day used for remediation and enrichment. The four instruction days will involve teleconference through apps including Zoom, Schoology, and Google Meet. 

The school will also provide one to one computing as part of the red phase and, just as the school would do under normal circumstances, attendance is still required under state guidelines. 

And while all of this is happening during the week, meals will be delivered to students by RSU 39 transportation staff. Guidance and social work specialists will be available for students, and nursing staff will stay in touch with high risk families to ensure their needs are met.

Before the pandemic hit, Assistant Superintendent Jane McCall said she and Superintendent Tim Doak had been working toward a point where all students could access online learning.

“It’s unfortunate that we had to get to a place like a pandemic to force us into using this,” she said. “But if you’re going to look for a silver lining during a pandemic, we’ve gotten to a place where we knew we wanted RSU 39 staff to get to for our students.”

McCall also shared an anecdote about a recent conversation she had with a teacher who has over 25 years of experience in the field.

“She said that working with her team in the last four days has made her feel more a part of a team and part of the school community than she has in years,” McCall said of the teacher. “Because of the level of work that they’re doing, and they’re all starting from square one, everyone is learning together, and it’s brought a feeling of teamwork and comradery.”

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