ORONO — Although many children have been out of school for weeks, that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t learning anything from the massive ice storm that shut down much of the state.
Sydney Thomas is amazed at how much her 16-year-old son, Jesse, learned just from listening to the radio during the power outage. For example, he learned to use wadded up tinfoil and C-cell batteries as a substitute for larger D-cell batteries to power his boombox.
An assistant professor of education at the University of Maine, Thomas said the storm offers many learning opportunities. Just from listening to the radio to while away the dark hours, she said, her two children learned how to preserve food without a refrigerator and saw how communities pull together to deal with a crisis.
“Kids will learn no matter what, and they’ve learned a tremendous amount from this,” Thomas said.
When students do return to the classroom after as much as a two-week absence, she said, teachers should capitalize on this storm learning.
Teachers should ask students to write and talk about the ingenious things they did to stay warm, cook or power appliances. In addition, the storm and the activities it required provide great fodder for math, science and citizenship lessons.
Thomas, who specializes in counselor education, said school counselors should talk with students about how they coped with the stress caused by the storm. Students also may be helped by talking about how their emotions changed as the power outage wore on. Some students who live in rural areas that remained without power for many days may be scared by their experience and may need individual attention.
Bob Cobb, dean of the UM College of Education, said parents should take advantage of the long, dark hours to talk with their children about their hopes and dreams and, more importantly, how they hope to achieve them.
Many area students have been in school for only one day since Christmas break. Cobb said teachers will face an enormous task when they try to get students refocused on their studies. He said parents can help by encouraging their children to get their schoolbooks out and go over lessons so students won’t be so far behind when they return to the classroom. Some teachers will have to reteach lessons that were taught before the Christmas vacation.
“It will be a tremendous struggle for teachers to get back on top of the game,” particularly if they are still dealing with power outages or other problems at their homes, Cobb said.
School administrators also will be taxed as they try to reschedule the myriad games, contests and concerts that were to be held during the storm and its aftermath.
Midterm exams at Brewer High School have been canceled. The same exams will be delayed a week at Bangor High School.
The Maine Department of Education on Wednesday informed school districts that they could reschedule the fourth-grade Maine Educational Assessment test if they would not be ready to administer the test Jan. 20, its scheduled start date. Schools also could reschedule administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, if necessary.
On a more immediate note, Education Commissioner J. Duke Albanese has been in contact with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to see that food lost because of power outages would be replaced so schools can feed their students when they reopen this week or next. The USDA also was asked to replace school food that was given to shelters.
In addition, the commissioner has requested that the National Guard provide generators to schools that are most in need of an alternate source of power. Albanese reminded school administrators that shelters and dairy farmers have first priority, but that if additional generators were located, they would be distributed to the neediest schools.