MAINE, USA — "We thought it would be two weeks," laughed Stacey Steeves, a first-grade teacher at Hollis Elementary School.
It's been a year unlike anything Maine educators could have prepared for. Now one year after Maine's first case of COVID-19, many schools are still using a hybrid learning model in an effort to keep the virus out of the classroom.
"We just kind of jumped into this adventure of remote learning," said Boyd Marley, principal of the East End Community School in Portland.
In March of 2020, Marley, his staff, and students packed up their bags to head home to begin remote learning as the pandemic first hit.
Marley says moving remote forced him and his staff to quickly improve communications with students and families.
"It made us fine-tune our communications, be very transparent, be very clear, but not over message," said Marley. The East End Community School staff worked last March to get devices in students' hands, provide information to families in a number of different languages, and find the best ways to keep student learning moving forward in uncertain times.
Over the course of the year, Marley says communication has drastically improved, and now East End Community School is using a hybrid learning model.
"The spacing is different, the setting is different. When we enter the building and when we move through the building it's very intentional," said Marley.
In addition to improving remote learning with students, the space inside the building has been altered to allow for greater social distancing. Even school arrivals have been staggered in an effort to keep students safe.
Keeping students safe and learning is something classroom teachers have worked on every day for the entire year.
"Think about teaching to human beings in front of me and out in remote land," said Steeves.
NEWS CENTER Maine first spoke to Steeves, and fellow teacher at Hollis Elementary School Ginger Reoch in the summer. Back then, their concerns focused on how to keep the virus out of the classroom when returning to a hybrid model. Now, their focus is shifted to keeping students engaged and learning one year into the pandemic.
"There's a gap for those students whose families are not as engaged. Those families who are unable to be engaged," said Steeves. Steeves and Reoch note that there is a growing gap among students who have the ability to treat each remote learning day as if it were a traditional school day and those whose family circumstances don't allow for that learning environment consistency.
"That's what's hard. There's that gap, that we have no control over and we're trying, but circumstances are circumstances that vary from family to family and we're all in this pandemic and it's affecting people differently," said Steeves.
Reoch and Steeves add that pandemic learning hasn't all been bad, however, noting proficiency in new technology to assist student learning in the classroom and at home.
There is also a growing hope as Maine shifts its vaccine guidelines.
"The mood around the school, it was happier, everyone seemed really excited and there's just this feeling of hope," said Reoch.
Now attention shifts to getting all students back to the classroom. Both East End Community School and Hollis Elementary, like many schools in Maine, are creating plans to safely have students return. It's unclear however when that may happen, and the reopening of each school will be a decision made district by district.