Anyone with a friend or family member in school this fall knows the thorniest element of Maine’s guidance on school reopening: that it “will evolve as additional information and guidance is provided.”
We’ve all lived with “evolving” guidelines since March, so if you’re a parent, administrator, teacher, or student, you know what that means: the path ahead is unclear.
Just ask Fox Elder, a senior at Boothbay Region High School.
“Honestly, I believe we’re going to have more of an issue than last year’s graduating class,” he confesses, reflecting on what may await him and his classmates.
“I can’t see things getting any better in six months—especially with the school year starting everywhere; that’s a whole other new way of exposure all over the country. Honestly, at best it’s going to stay where it’s at. It probably will get worse.”
It’s not surprising that he’s done a lot of thinking about the impact this will have on him.
“I worry about the spring. I worry about applying to college. If it’s still a big issue next year I don’t know if I’ll go to college. I might skip a year—I’ll play it by ear.”
Whether Fox is being pessimistic or simply realistic is hard to know. We as a society are entering uncharted territory: a viral pandemic overlapping a flu season just as weather necessarily drives people indoors; schools in session across the country, perhaps increasing likelihood of spread (as Fox observes).
Experts guess, but nobody knows for sure what is to come.
“It’s going to be an odd year,” he says.
He recalls his shock when everything first changed last March, in the midst of his perfectly ordinary junior year.
“My teachers began saying that maybe we’d not have school the next week. I thought that was crazy talk. I thought: no way, that’s not going to happen.”
But it did.
At first, he was excited at the news that school would be shut down for two weeks as teachers geared up for online education. But his enthusiasm for the unexpected time off faded fast.
“Pretty quickly I realized being home and being in quarantine wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be,” he says. “And to be honest, at first we were scared. We’re used to it now, but when it first happened it was a huge thing.”
Like everyone else, Fox acclimated to his new world, doing the best he could with online education, which for him was a challenge.
“Online classes were not a good experience,” he admits. “It was less work, but there was also less help. For certain subjects, like math, I work best with hands-on learning—when I have a teacher telling me what I did right or wrong. Online, there wasn’t time to talk to teachers—you have to send an email and hope it gets answered from a river of emails the teacher is getting every day.”
“I really benefit from the structure school provides,” he adds. “I miss that.”
With a summer job at Boothbay Harbor Oceanside Golf Resort, Fox found a structured routine that had been absent the final months of his junior year. But even with a regular work schedule, Fox feels the impact of lost structure elsewhere. As a member of his school’s cross-country team (“I’m a middle-of-the-packer”), he ordinarily would be taking part in optional pre-season practice with his team; that is not happening this year. As a consequence, he has not been running as much as he would have liked.
Fox admits to being anxious about what school will be like when it begins. With the school planning limited in-person classes (the student body is divided into an “A” and “B” group; each group attends school two days and stay home the other three days), he is unsure he will be able to receive the individual help he thrives on.
“I’ll be taking Physics and AP Calculus. I’m worried especially about falling behind in those classes.”
But Fox is not discouraged despite his fears—he is determined to control what he can, and do his best with what he cannot.
“I’m going to work hard this year and do everything the way I should and just see where it goes,” he says.
At just 17, Fox’s mature attitude is admirable. He is neither loudly complaining about the unfairness of his fate, nor denying the hard reality of what may come for him and his classmates. He names what leaves him unhappy (“it sucks that I can’t hang out with my friends every day after school”), and is accepting of the need to adapt in ongoing ways (“everything is up in the air”).
In essence, Fox is prepared to evolve as additional information and guidance is provided.
Just what Maine’s government is asking of him.