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Bath, ME (June 18, 2020) – COVID-19 forced an immediate transition to virtual learning for schools across Maine. Merrymeeting Adult Education (MAE) was no exception – although students in their academic programs had some limited access to online learning before the pandemic struck in March, all classes, including MAE’s popular community enrichment classes, had to be quickly reworked when physical classrooms closed.
“There was a lot of fear in March,” said Director Allen Lampert, who joined MAE in 2019. “I was so impressed with the staff’s ability to work their way through their individual situations and figure out a way to make it work. Even when it was difficult, I never got a sense from the staff that they were not willing to try to make this work for our students.”
MAE provides several schools and school districts in Midcoast Maine with adult education, including Maine School Administrative District 75, Brunswick School Department, Wiscasset Middle High School, and Regional School Unit 1. They also partner with other community agencies and facilities like Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset to reach additional adults who could benefit from their programs, which include high school completion, College Transitions, English Learning, and workforce training classes.
Remarkably, MAE has been able to continue classes for nearly all of their students despite the transition to digital classes thanks to the efforts of staff like Raye Leonard, Project Administrator in Topsham. The “distance learning guru,” as she is called by Lampert, lost no time preparing teachers and students to handle the change: she instructed teachers on the use of Webex video conferencing software and set up weekly drop-in webinars to answer questions from students about the new format and advise them on ways to get the most out of online learning. Lampert suggested that anyone who is interested in participating in an online class tune into her Wednesday webinars.
Although some schools report engagement issues with online learning, Dawn Wheeler, Site Coordinator for Bath and Wiscasset, said MAE teachers have noticed improved attendance, which they attribute to the flexibility and convenience of learning from home.
“We had a number of students who were close to getting their High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) and now had some time to do it. We’re now planning on bringing them back one at a time for graduation,” she said.
When asked whether access to technology has been a problem for their students, Lampert said they have not seen an overwhelming need.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources or capacity to lend out devices, but most of our students have access to a smartphone, which is essentially a minicomputer,” he said. “If you have one and want to take a distance learning class, you can do it.”
Teachers can also mail classwork to students when the need arises.
MAE community enrichment classes, which range from “Farming with Native Plants” to “Opening an Airbnb” to watercolor instruction will continue online through the fall. Area residents can expect to receive a catalog with course offerings by mail in late July.
“I think it [the sudden change to virtual learning] was almost a gift,” Dawn said. “I think this opens up a whole new way to deliver education to our communities. We’ve taken steps to look at some strictly online activities, which will be great to have during the winter months and flu season when people don’t want to leave their homes.”
The classes also benefit older and/or health-compromised students who lack transportation or are otherwise unable to leave their homes easily. Lampert encourages people to visit the MAE website (merrymeeting.maineadulted.org
“There are very few [adult education programs] in Maine with a full suite of online classes,” said Lampert. “None with the capacity and depth that our program has.
“None of this would be possible without the dedication of our staff,” he added. “This is the best adult education staff in the state bar none.”