Lillian Green, an Ellsworth fourth-grader, lends a hand to second-grader Sutton Clough during their remote learning day at the Moore Community Center Wednesday. Under the hybrid model adopted by the school district to ensure pandemic guidelines are followed, students alternate in-person and remote learning. The YMCA offers remote learning centers to help working parents. Much of the cost is subsidized through coronavirus relief funds that run out Dec. 30. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY ANNE BERLEANT

Ellsworth schools push on through pandemic pains

ELLSWORTH — In a lengthy School Board meeting on Dec. 8, the pandemic stood front and center, affecting all aspects of school life. Students continue to attend in a hybrid of in-person and remote learning, with many students choosing remote learning only.

“In this time, I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep those kids wanting to come through those doors,” Vice Chairwoman Abigail Miller said, after hearing from principals about spirit days and other activities aimed at keeping students motivated.

Many students recently transitioned between fully remote and hybrid, with the middle school seeing a substantial in-person gain. The number of remote students is now 44, down from 68. The number of fully remote elementary students stands at 84, down two students. However, the high school saw fully remote student numbers increase, from 52 to 155. Principal Dan Clifford cited rising COVID-19 case numbers in the community as the reason.

A wellness room stocked with mental health resources, snacks and a “Zen-like atmosphere,” as EMS Principal Erica Gabbianelli described it, offers teachers a break from the cumulative stress of hybrid teaching as the pandemic drags on.

In other business, the board reached a consensus to allow media into basketball games, which are set to begin on Jan. 4 based on Hancock County’s current “green” status of COVID-19 case numbers. Last week, an emailed comment by WDEA sportscaster Chris Popper at a special board meeting led the board to allow him to broadcast and commentate from the gym, despite a school policy restricting all public access to school buildings. Superintendent Dan Higgins said he thought the decision to grant a sole media outlet access was hasty.

“What got lost is the number of other media organizations that are out there,” he explained. “At least one that’s housed right here in our city was slighted. Nobody had the intent to do that.” The Ellsworth American’s general manager, managing editor and sports editor all sent letters advocating for equitable media representation at games. Safety protocols similar to visiting athletes and referees will be implemented to allow media. Letters were sent by Popper and The American’s Sports Editor Mike Mandell stating their commitment to follow

all safety guidelines.

Protocol for handling public in-person attendance at School Board meetings during the pandemic continues to be worked out, Higgins said, after a discussion with interim City Manager Glenn Moshier on how the City Council handles public participation at its meetings.

However, Higgins advised caution on public comments throughout the meeting.

“You don’t want to turn this into a public forum because that’s not allowing you to do your business,” he said.

Board members approved the purchase of a new school bus, for $96,720, a maintenance truck for $37,328 and a student transport van for $43,359, all funded by federal coronavirus relief funds. Those monies will also pay for a program that partners the school district with the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce to purchase winter outerwear “for safe outdoor activities with social distancing,” Curriculum Coordinator Rachel Kohrman-Ramos said.

“We have a turnaround time of Dec. 30 to make all this magic happen,” she noted. That is the deadline for schools to spend all CRF funds awarded and may end funding for a YMCA program students attend on their remote learning days. Currently, around 20 to 40 students attend the program daily at the Moore Community Center. “Right now, the funding is not there to continue,” Higgins said, advising parents to make plans for January, adding, “My hope is that something’s going to happen in Washington” to release additional relief funds.

Several teaching positions remain open across all grades, but one hire was approved. Margaret Baldwin was unanimously approved as the elementary school art teacher for a first-year probationary contract.

An executive session to discuss policies centered on how the board handles communication from teachers and the public will be further discussed at the board’s Dec. 22 workshop.

Anne Berleant

Anne Berleant

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Anne Berleant covers news and features in Ellsworth, Mariaville, Otis, Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn. When not reporting, find her hiking local trails, reading or watching professional tennis. Email her at [email protected]

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