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The dining room table of Katie Worster’s Hampden home was strewn with loose papers, books and colorful folders on Friday morning. Her three daughters ran around the house playing the piano, typing on their phones or using the iMac computer in the living room to look up teacher-recommended videos. No one sat still for more than five minutes.
Earlier on Friday, all three girls — Quinn, a first grader at Earl McGraw School; Elise, a fifth grader at George Weatherbee School; and Addie, a seventh grader at Reeds Brook Middle School — took a spelling test meant for Quinn. Their mom read out the words, and the older daughters joined in for fun.
It was all part of a new kind of “school” day for Worster’s three daughters as they finished their first week of remote instruction mandated by the spread of the coronavirus. The remote school day will be the norm for at least another month, after schools in Maine on Friday extended closures that were initially supposed to last two weeks through the end of April vacation.
Now, schools in the Hampden area and much of Maine won’t reopen their buildings to students until April 27. Even that date could be delayed depending on the spread of the novel coronavirus that has largely shut down day-to-day life.
“Three schools, three grades and they all want my attention,” Worster said as Quinn jumped into her arms. “I think it’s going to take them a few weeks to understand that this is their new reality and that this the way it’s going to be.”
Friday was only the second day Worster, who works four days a week as a cath lab nurse at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center, was at home with her daughters. Her daughters spent the first three days of the school closure with their grandparents as Worster and her husband, who works for UPS and has been deemed an essential employee, worked.
The girls didn’t get much school work done during the first three days of the week, Worster said.
They’re working from packets their teachers have assembled that include two weeks’ worth of class material. The packets have activity sheets for students to complete, but they don’t dictate specific days when students should do particular work. The materials are based on lessons students have already learned in school rather than new material.
Elise’s favorite assignment of the week was in her reading folder — a grammar exercise that incorporated art. Each segment of a picture had a word written in it, and students had to color it based on the part of speech — blue if the word was an article, green if it was a preposition, yellow if it was a pronoun.
“I really thought it was going to be easier than it is,” Worster said. “I’m going from person to person for each kid. And then I had to separate them.”
The family is trying to follow the schedule suggested for each of the girls, but Worster is not attempting to create a rigidly structured homeschooling classroom environment. Instead, she’s making the most of any learning opportunities she can find, online or in her community.
She allows the girls to be in their pajamas as they learn, and she encourages them to learn collaboratively.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Elise and Quinn took turns visiting a local greenhouse to learn about plant care. Worster put the planter with the seeds Quinn brought home on a table in front of a sunny window.
Only one of the girls was assigned a leprechaun drawing in her learning packet, but all three drew one to join in.
Worster lets Elise and Addie practice playing the piano, use their phones or pet the family’s chocolate labradors, Dunkin and Jackson, between work on assignments. If any of her daughters becomes overwhelmed or stressed, she encourages them to take a break and return to their work in an hour.
“It’s hard to get a whole school day in at home,” Worster said. “If any parents can follow that, I commend them.”
The girls like the new arrangement, even though they miss their teachers.
“It’s more fun at home. I don’t miss school, but I miss my teachers,” Elise said. “I understand it more when they teach us in person, so I can ask questions and they can respond quickly.”
However, Worster said teachers have been helpful in both their communication and responses to students’ and parents’ questions.
When Elise reached out to her teacher at Weatherbee, Worster said she replied within minutes with a video recording of her answering Elise’s question. Without the constant support of the Hampden teachers, Worster said, managing three girls’ education would not have gone smoothly in the first week of remote learning.
In Bangor, Servat Sroya, who also has three kids at home, said remote learning was going smoothly so far.
“I was wondering what they’ll do at home,” said Sroya, who has two middle-school children who attend William S. Cohen School and one at Bangor High School. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen over a long time, but this is the kind of privilege of living in a small town, that everything’s going so smoothly.”
Sroya said her kids had been busy with the two-week learning packets Bangor schools distributed. Her family was trying to stick to a schedule recommended by teachers to try and recreate a school day, she said.
“We can all learn a lot from this, about family time and being home,” Worster said. “Maybe we’ll be better off because of this, but for now it’s a lot of stress.”
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