“I felt that we owed it to our families and children to try to open our schools, if we failed we would close,” SAU 90 Superintendent Lois Costa said.
Although Winnacunnet students have spent the past few months learning remotely, this isn't the case for other Hampton students. Students in Sau 90 which comprises Centre School, Marston School and Hampton Academy have held in-person classes since September of 2020. Despite all the challenges, SAU 90 Superintendent Lois Costa has taken a strong student-oriented approach to the school year.
. “If we could get in some in-person learning, even if we were only open the month of September, at least our children would know who their teachers are and there would be a relationship there,” Costa said.
SAU 90 has been able to stay open long past September, and all three of the SAU 90 schools in grades K-8 are still holding in-person classes. This model not only includes classes but also some extracurriculars.
“We’ve been trying to return to some sense of normalcy with our extracurriculars.” Hampton Academy Principal David O’Connor said. “The yearbook club and Shark News are both underway and we were able to have a virtual play.”
But, this does not mean that the district hasn’t seen any cases of Covid-19.
“Because of contact tracing we have had four classes of students go remote for two weeks mostly out of precaution,” Costa said. “At the elementary schools they go outside at recess and we can’t guarantee that they’re going to be six feet apart. So to be on top of it we make the whole class remote.”
Costa warned that a big part of being able to stay open through the Winter will be what happens during the holidays, as they saw an uptick in cases following Thanksgiving. She said that she encouraged families to not engage in any large gatherings during the break as most of the cases they are seeing are happening in isolation, not contracted at the school.
“We have not had clusters in school,” Costa said. “A cluster is three or more related cases. We have had none of that which is good.”
The district’s ability to keep the cases isolated and controlled is what has been warranting for their success in keeping the schools open. Costa said that keeping the cases controlled at the Hampton Academy, the middle school, has come with its own challenges. The principal at Hampton Academy, Dave O’Connor, said that he has been impressed with the middle school students and their ability to stay safe.
“It took us about two months to get into a good routine,” O’Connor said, “but now the students do a fantastic job of following guidelines and staying distanced.”
Hampton Academy, along the other SAU 90 schools, follows a hybrid model where half of the student body has in-person school on Monday and Tuesday, custodial staff cleans the building on Wednesday, and the second half of the student body has in-person school on Thursday and Friday.
Although there have been a few cases of COVID-19 at the middle school, O’Connor said that they were quickly and successfully resolved. He said that because of the hybrid model they contact trace as the infected students had already been remote for three to four days from when they became symptomatic.
Students at Centre School are also doing a great job with the hybrid model according to principal Timothy Lannan. There have been concerns in the community about the young preschool-grade 2 students following the guidelines but Lannan said they are following the rules well.
“All students, even preschool students, have to wear a mask at all times.” Lannan said. “The teachers are allowed to go outside and take as many mask breaks as they need.”
At Centre School the students stay in one classroom all day and all the students come to them. Lannan said that the students do everything from library, art class, gym and lunch from the same classroom. As for the playground, the kids are only allowed to play in cohorts of 10 or less.
“We’ve sectioned off areas of the playground so kids can only play in those areas and the cohorts don’t mix,” Lannan said.
Costa, O’Connor and Lannan said they are all committed to keeping the schools open as long as possible.
“We’re doing our best to keep kids in small groups so if we do have an outbreak we don’t have to shut down the whole school,” Lannan said.