SULLIVAN — Members of the Sumner Memorial High School community met for an online forum Tuesday night. Parents, students and faculty gathered via Zoom to discuss challenges associated with the pandemic.
The forum comes on the heels of the Dec. 1 Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) Board of Directors decision to cancel the winter sports season amid pandemic concerns. Following that decision, several parents voiced that they felt they had not been heard during the decision-making process.
Sumner parent Jenna Shorey facilitated the meeting, which also served to “reignite and recharge the Sumner Parent Partnership as an avenue for student and parent and community advocacy,” said Sumner Principal Ty Thurlow.
The partnership was formed to give “parents and the community members an opportunity to communicate concerns and raise questions to Sumner’s administration in order to improve the community,” Shorey explained.
The topics that received the most attention were concerns of low morale at the school and finding ways to boost it, enhancing communication efforts between parents, students and faculty and forming a committee to ask the School Board to rethink its decision to not have a winter sports season.
State Rep. William “Billy Bob” Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor) was in virtual attendance and suggested that the group “ask the School Board to reconsider their decision.”
“There’s still plenty of time for them to do that since the state has moved the start of winter sports back into January, anyway,” he said.
Faulkingham went on to explain his reasoning, stating that “Maine already has one of the highest rates of childhood anxiety in the nation. When you compound that with this scary, cold time, [and students are] lacking in social and physical interaction, this is a bad recipe for disaster.”
Parents and community members in attendance, including Faulkingham, volunteered to form a committee to develop a proposal to bring their concerns to the School Board.
Parent Althea Christiansen voiced support for Sumner electing a student ambassador to act as a conduit for communication to the School Board.
“I think that with everything we’re talking about, with what the students would like, I think it’s more important than ever to have this student ambassador that the students can go to with questions, they can go to them with what they want,” she said. Addressing the concerns that many feel unheard, Christiansen said, “If we had this student who could be a voice on the School Board, I just think it’s something the kids need.”
When addressing morale at the school, which is reportedly down due to the challenges the pandemic has brought forward, the group agreed that team-building practices would be helpful.
Student Clara Christiansen brought up an issue unique with the socially distant times: the awkward realities of communicating online while learning remotely.
“We don’t really communicate with our peers,” she said. She expressed the difficulty of forming bonds and making close friends when constantly being watched.
“I just can’t really, fully be myself and get the full experience of high school with everybody always watching,” she said.