BAR HARBOR — Schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System are offering students free breakfasts and lunches while the schools remain closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All the schools in the district have agreed to serve any student who is in need,” said Barb Neilly, principal of Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor, who is coordinating the meals program for the district.
“The goal is to provide six days’ worth of breakfast and lunch. The kitchens may be open only three days a week, but on those days they will be making meals for two days.”
Depending on the school, the meals might be delivered to students’ homes or made available for pickup at the school.
Last Friday, Trenton Elementary School became the first school in the district to start the free meals program.
“We used the bus to take meals around to families who had requested them,” said Principal Mike Zboray. “But we are changing that because a lot of our families live up long drives or dirt roads that the bus cannot go up. And getting down to the end of the drive to meet the bus was difficult for some families, especially once [online classes] started and the bus delivery time was about the same time that some of the kids needed to be in class.”
Zboray said parents can now pick up meals at the school on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings between 7:30 and 8:30.
Teachers at Mount Desert Island High School began providing online instruction last Wednesday so that students can “continue their relationship with the school and move their education forward,” the school’s administrative team said in announcing its “remote learning” plan.
“It’s important to remember that this is new territory for us all and that we all need to exercise flexibility and understanding as we make our way,” Principal Matt Haney said in a message to students and their families.
The district’s elementary school teachers began formal online instruction this week.
“Connectivity is going to be a challenge for some students,” Neilly said in an interview with the Islander last Thursday. “We have identified 50 families across the district that will need support for that, and we are working on how to get them connected to the internet.”
Neilly said that, in addition to planning the curriculum for their online classes, “Teachers in the district have developed a mock daily schedule for parents. It includes blocks of time when teachers are going to be instructing. There are also ideas for parents about what the rest of the day could look like.
“But just because we’re sending out this schedule doesn’t mean anyone has to abide by it,” Neilly said. “You need to do what’s best for you and your family.”
Student, family support
Edie Dubois, a school social worker who spends most of her time at Conners Emerson, added this advice for parents: “Even though our normal routine has been severely disrupted, it’s still important to have some sense of routine at home, just like you might normally have routines on the weekends.”
Neilly agreed that “structure and routine is absolutely a must.”
She said the nurses and counselors at the elementary schools are planning to have “office hours” when parents can call if their child is having a physical or emotional problem that they need help with.
“I think that’s going to be a huge resource,” Neilly said. “And hopefully it will take some of the burden off the [community’s] already stressed medical personnel.”
Dubois said it is important for everyone, including parents, to try to avoid what she calls “anticipatory anxiety,” or stressing out about what might be coming next.
“Anxiety is a disease of ‘what ifs,’” she said, “Often, the management of it is to focus on ‘what is’ and what we can do about it today.”
Neilly said she understands that these are especially challenging times for parents.
“They’re dealing with having their kids at home fulltime and trying to navigate education and everything else. Parents are being the superheroes right now.”