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Difficult Decision-Making for International Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Andrea Swiedom Staff Reporter

    While domestic UMF students living on campus were able to easily relocate to Scott Hall, or make arrangements to return home in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, international students were forced with tough decisions on whether or not to remain in Farmington and how to get home should they decide to leave. These students had to grapple with the additional stress of navigating border policies, booking flights threatened by cancellation, and the potential of being quarantined upon arriving home.

    For 25-year-old French Teaching Assistant Enzo Boulay, the desire to remain in Maine and wait out the pandemic seemed like the most viable option, until March 19. “I had two choices. I could stay at my friend’s house in North Yarmouth or I could have stayed in Farmington,” Boulay said over video chat from his room in Le Mans, France.

    “They gave me a room in Scott, and my plan was to come sometimes to Farmington to work and stuff, but one week ago Lynne Eustis and Linda Beck, my advisor, told us, ‘You should leave now, I highly recommend that you leave now.’”

    Boulay made plans to return to UMF for the Fall 2020 semester and made his way back to what felt like a deserted country. “In Paris a lot of people have masks and in Levon I saw nobody. I just saw people in the train station, but in the streets there’s nobody.”

    French exchange student Jennifer Guisset received the same recommendation by Eustis and Beck, but ultimately made the decision to return to her hometown of Toulouse due to the pressure she was receiving from the French embassy. “I didn’t feel kicked out from Farmington. That was my choice, and I took one week and a half to make my decision,” Guisset said over a video chat while walking around her mother’s vacant flat. “I had a lot of support. Linda and Lynne were always there for us; they gave us the support we needed.”

    Meanwhile, Spanish Teaching Assistant Alba Fernandez had every intention of remaining in Farmington rather than returning to Argentina during the pandemic as she was already in the process of extending her visa for a summer teaching position with Upward Bound. When the announcement first broke about the UMaine system transferring the remainder of the semester to virtual courses, Fernandez was assured that she could continue her position as a TA online and continue to live on campus.

    But responses to the pandemic were changing on a daily basis for the UMaine system as well as immigration policies for the United States and Argentina, and on March 19 Fernandez was strongly urged to return home by her advisor.  

    “By that time, it was impossible. Flights were cancelled, airports were closed,” Fernandez said via video chat while sitting in the sun outside of Scott Hall. “It will be at least May until I am allowed to go back to Argentina because the government closed the borders, and even Argentina people are not allowed to get into the country. So basically, at the beginning it was my decision, but now I don’t have a choice.”

    Both Fernandez and Guisset had to take into consideration the health and safety of their families as well. Fernandez feared returning home because her mother already has a compromised immune system, and Guisset’s mother has cancer.

    “This is all about adaptation everywhere,” Guisset said, standing in a room full of half-packed boxes left behind by her mother. “I took the plane on Friday; I arrived on Saturday. I stayed at my friend’s house in Paris to rest a little and to let my mother quit her apartment and go to her family’s house.”

    Guisset will live alone in her mother’s flat to ensure her safety, but despite the isolation, she maintained a positive attitude. “When I was in medical school, I was always studying alone in my flat. So I am kind of used to this.”

    Boulay, who has been quarantining himself in his room for the recommended two week period, expressed less contentment with the situation. He had been watching television and playing video games to pass the time, but even after his two week quarantine he will have very little freedom. In France, people are only allowed out of their homes for one hour of exercise a day or to go to the grocery store.  

    “If we go out without a good reason we get fined 135 Euros,” Boulay said. After the third offense, the police have the right to arrest people for violating the safety precautions that France is enforcing nation-wide. 

    “The police are in my neighborhood, and they are always watching,” Guisset said. With movement so restricted in France, she is thankful for UMF’s quick response to convert all courses to online classes, knowing that this will add structure and routine to her days.  

    “I think Americans reacted very fast when faced with coronavirus. For example, in France they don’t have online classes,” Guisset said. “They don’t know how they are going to have graduation at this moment. They don’t have classes, they don’t have exams, they don’t have anything.”

    As courses resume online, Fernandez will be adjusting to virtual platforms to conduct her office hours and assist with Spanish courses while also consistently checking in with her family and friends in Argentina. “I think international people face an extra obstacle or challenge, which is processing this pandemic situation while so far away from home and from our people,” Fernandez said.

Resident Students Adjusting to a Desolate Campus

Andrea Swiedom Staff Reporter

    Less than 90 students now reside on UMF’s campus in Scott Hall after the university officially closed all other dorm residencies on March 19 in response to COVID-19. The students living in Scott must now adjust to a condensed version of UMF which consists of their residence hall and the Student Center. Previously, students were able to use the Fusion lab spaces, but as of Sunday evening, VP of Student Affairs, Christine Wilson, announced all campus labs will be closed until further notice as a precaution.

    Junior Khadija Tawane said over a video call that she is struggling to establish a healthy routine under the new restrictions. “They don’t have any activities in the dorms, and we are just in bed all day. My back hurts just from laying down all day and eating trash food!” she said.

    UMF has put a slew of safety measures in place to help prevent the spread of coronavirus on campus which has greatly impacted socialization. All students are living in their own rooms in Scott and bathrooms have been assigned to a maximum of three people.  

    “This just lessens the risk of bacteria and what not,” Community Assistant (CA) Kellsie Britton said during a video call interview. “There’s also a no guest policy. Anyone who does not live in Scott, even people who live in campus apartments, can’t visit.” Britton did add that students living in Scott can visit each other within the residence hall.

    Even the Beaver Lodge has new restrictions to minimize contact for employees and students.  No more than 10 people are allowed in the cafeteria and lounge area and students are now required to pre-order dinner. “They sanitize everything as soon as people are done,” Britton said.

    Students are also discouraged from traveling out of state or to any high-risk counties within Maine. “If they leave to go to a county that is high-risk like Cumberland then when they get back they are expected to go into a quarantine period which is in FAB,” Britton said. “They get their own suite and their own bathroom and they get food delivered to their door.”    

    Spanish Teaching Assistant Alba Fernandez is staying put in her dorm room with the exception of the occasional walk. “I am listening to music, watching the news, talking to people over the phone; that’s really important for me, talking to people,” Fernandez said during a video call on a sunny afternoon while she sat outside of Scott Hall.  

    Tawane and Fernandez keep each other company on campus, but Tawane does leave UMF regularly to work at Pinewood Terrace, an elderly home care center which has enacted similar safety precautions to UMF.  “At my workplace, no visitors are allowed,” Tawane said, who seemed confident to continue working during the pandemic. “I am healthy. I’m not going anywhere. I am just working.”

    Instead, Tawane was primarily concerned about adapting to virtual platforms for classes. “I have never done online classes and it’s just stressing me out, and I learn better in person,” Tawane said. “I am not good with technology, and I have never used the Zoom thing and one of my professors wants me to do a presentation through zoom.”

    For Fernandez, loneliness is more of an issue than the stress of adapting to online courses.  “Even though you are with people, you feel so lonely. We are all trying to process this situation so I feel like I cannot ask for help because we are all going through the same,” Fernandez said on a video call while sitting next to Tawane. “We all feel lonely and this is a huge mess in our lives.”

    As a CA, Britton is used to helping students cope with a variety of circumstances while living on campus, but now she has the added responsibility of deciphering the new waves of information that she receives on a daily basis regarding the coronavirus.

   “I have tried to be as informed as possible with the emails coming out. Any misconceptions coming out, I need to kind of correct those,” Britton said. “I think it’s very important to just be there and make sure that everyone’s feelings and thoughts are being heard which can take a toll on some of us.”

Two Pirates Die as Six Pirates are Born

Taylor Burke Contributing Writer

    An eerily quiet Friday night on campus had seniors Brock Bubar and Hailey Craig dunking their heads in water during what would be their last show as the Lawn Chair Pirates. Despite the recent closure of the school due to the coronavirus pandemic, there was a crowd of over 75 people who came to get a final laugh at Bubar and Craig’s antics during the show. 

    Following the game, which finally ended when Bubar guessed that Craig was acting like a Roomba vacuum cleaner, the two held each other in a heartfelt embrace.

    This act of friendship is telling of just how intimately close the group is, making the sudden conclusion of Bubar and Craig’s time with the pirates so difficult. “We’re all a big family,” Craig said. “The part I’m going to miss the most is just having a space three times a week where I can go in and make jokes and hang out with my friends.” 

    Bubar also felt a sense of comradery during his time in the group. “There isn’t a pirate in the group that isn’t like a broski,” Bubar said sincerely. “Just being in this improvisational headspace and being with a group of people who have your back can really push you up from whatever dark depths you happen to be in that day.” 

    Two days before the show Bubar and Craig realized that it would be their last. “Usually we get a senior video, but we don’t get that this year,” Craig said. 

    Instead, the two gave a speech in which they addressed the crowd, expressing their heartache, and saying goodbye. “We’ve cried about it a lot,” Craig said during the speech. Around the auditorium, the faces in the audience were somber, but after the speech finished, the whole crowd cheered for the two pirates. 

     Craig was thankful that they were able to hold a final show, even though UMF would be closing. “We’re really happy that we still get to hold the show tonight because it’s the last day on campus for a lot of people,” she said. She hoped to provide that last laugh to the audience before they had to leave. 

    The name of the show, “Friday the 13th,” was eerily relevant in such a scary and confusing time for those on campus, especially seniors. The quick turn of events left Bubar and Craig uncertain about what lay ahead, and sad about everything they weren’t prepared to leave behind so suddenly. “I was not ready to just lose everybody so quickly,” Bubar said. “And also I’m not ready to just jump into the professional workforce.”

    Craig nodded in agreement with Bubar as she contemplated her own future, which was quickly becoming a reality. “I don’t really have time to be scared anymore,” she said frankly.  

    As the two senior pirates “died,” six new pirates were “born” to make the show not only about goodbyes, but about hellos as well. In an opening video shown prior to the final performance, the new members were featured telling scary stories around a fire which included existing members of the LCP. 

    Junior Sophie Hendrix is one of the six new members of the group. Hendrix had already been part of theater at UMF, but wanted to expand and try something new. She felt LCP was that opportunity. She’s had to get used to being flexible, because improv is very different from line memorization. This show was her first and last of the semester. “Being my first show I’m like super excited,” she said with a smile. But Hendrix was also upset that it was her last show, especially because the seniors were leaving. “It’s going to be sad without Hailey and Brock,” she said. “I’ll miss their energy.” 

    Sophomore and theater major Paul Riddell is another new member of the group. He has been involved with improv since fourth grade, and was really eager to be a part of the LCP. “It’s really exciting to see all of the potential that the group has,” Riddell said. “But it’s really sad to see two great pirates go and two close friends of mine as well.” 

    Riddell hasn’t been with the pirates for very long, but his bond with the two seniors makes it hard for him to see them leave. “I’m definitely going to miss what they bring to the table and just them as people,” he said. “I’m really close with both of them.” 

    Junior Katie Shupp was in the audience during the show, and was excited about the abundance of new members entering the group. “It’s going to be a full house,” she said. Shupp has been to many shows and watched Bubar and Craig grow and develop as entertainers during her time at UMF. “We’ve been with them for three years now so it was a nice ending,” Shupp said. 

    Bubar was in his seventh semester with LCP and Craig was in her eighth, which made them a big part of the established foundation of personalities that audiences came to enjoy. 

    As the show came to a close, audience members filed out of the auditorium. The few that stayed congratulated the new members and said their goodbyes and thanks to the seniors. Amongst the loud chatter Craig, covered in a blanket due to her soaking wet clothes, received a bouquet of flowers with a look of surprise and happiness written on her face. Bubar, also drenched in water, hugged fellow pirate Jeremy Tingdahl after announcing that he would lead LCP in the following semester. The pirates mingled with their fans as the night wore on, continuing to fight the looming uncertainty with comedy and humor. 

Letter to the Editor: A Student Dancer’s Grief

Dear Editor, 

   I write to you as a member and Co-Captain of the UMF Dance Team. The spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has greatly affected many on our team. Every year, the team works hard to perform at TD Garden on the court of the Boston Celtics. This year our team would have danced to the song “Confident” by Demi Lovato. Our dance was fast, sassy, fun and well-rehearsed. We finished learning the dance a month in advance of the performance, but unfortunately we were never able to show our dance in the proper venue. Our season was over. At our last practice we filmed the dance and posted it to our Instagram page. 

   As a member of the UMF Dance Team, and one who, like the rest of the members, was looking forward to the chance to perform on the 360 degree stage, I am truly sad to see my team’s hard work lead to nothing more than a video. However, in light of these hard times I can’t help but think what an amazing season our team had. We may not have been able to perform at TD Garden, but we were able to perform on our home court, which is nothing to sneeze at. We can all smile when “Confident” by Demi Lovato comes on the radio, showing our bond to our team. While it may seem that our season and academic year has ended with a bang, in the form of a pandemic no less, you know what they say: “the show must go on.”

   As a team, we plan on hosting group dance sessions, so that even at home we all remain connected. We may even do group zoom yoga, which might help many to relax and destress in these very wonky times. Our team group chat is very much alive and healthy, filled with words of love and appreciation, not to mention all the lovely heart emojis. Even though the team is heartbroken over the cancellation of one of our most prized performances, we are all trying to remain positive, which is the most anyone can do right now. 

   Being able to remain positive and reminding yourself of all the love that your friends have and the love you hold for them is one way to help survive the new world that UMF has implemented. Trying to find ways to remain connected and in contact with others is a great idea when facing social isolation. Stay active, even if that means doing Zoom yoga. Hopefully we’ll laugh about this one day. 

   The UMF Dance Team, like many other teams and clubs on campus, have experienced cancellations due to COVID-19. Our team is trying to remain connected to each other. Staying positive will help us all to navigate these new and strange waters. 

Sincerely, 

Portia Hardy 

Co-Captain of the UMF Dance Team

K-12 Schools in Maine Making Tough Decisions During Global Pandemic

Samantha Creech Contributing Writer

    The novel Coronavirus pandemic has created chaos throughout Maine as K-12 schools prepare for a semester of uncertainty and major transitions. 

    Andrew Dolloff, Superintendent of Schools for the Yarmouth School Department, has had to make many tough decisions since the pandemic reached the United States. 

    In an email interview, Dolloff said that many of those decisions were time sensitive, and had to be made with the student’s and staff’s best interest in mind. Should he close the schools completely, and if so, for how long? Dolloff also had to determine if the schools should continue providing instructions while in the midst of deciding a course of action. 

    “Of course, that was followed by making determinations about what online instruction would look like, how to provide internet and devices for ALL students, how to meet special education needs, how to help all students,” he said. “How to feed students who are food-insecure, whether or not to make hourly employees work, and a myriad of other details. It was a big push!”

    Currently, the school district is running smoothly with the new transition. “We’re just doing our best each day to take care of kids, keep them engaged, and provide for continuity of instruction,” Dolloff said. “Our instructional staff is doing a fantastic job. We are running at nearly 100% attendance and participation, K-12, so that is amazing – a tribute to our staff and the community – and our students!” 

    Principal Eric Klein of Yarmouth High School has been working with Superintendent Dolloff and the schools’ staff to ensure student and staff success as well. In an online interview, Principal Klein said some of the major challenges at the high school have been ensuring that every student has online access, and that both teachers and students have the correct materials to continue learning. Klein also mentioned the difficulty of providing the best support for students with IEP’s and 504’s. 

    “These are students who require modifications/accommodations to learning in traditional settings, with a great deal of guided support. How do we do this when they are home?” All of these situations are having to be dealt with on a day-by-day basis, while the students are at home learning. There was incredibly little preparation time for administrators and supporting staff to get together and discuss plans, especially keeping in mind how easily transmittable the virus is.

    Teachers’ daily classroom routines and teaching techniques are being impacted as well. Nici Roubo, a second grade teacher at Kennebunk Elementary School, has set up a plan with her students moving forward. Usual daily activities in a physical classroom would include different allied arts (art, music, physical education, etc.) each day and activities incorporating various subjects, such as STEM or foreign languages. 

    In an online interview, Roubo said this has been difficult for the elementary students, but the second grade teacher has sent daily emails to keep her students engaged. “It includes a greeting, date and what day of school we are on, a fact of the day, and a joke of the day,” she said. “I then let them know what allied art special we would have attended on that day, if we had been in the classroom. Often I give a suggestion of something that they can do that supports the allied art. Sometimes I include a picture such as our class fish tank that is now on my kitchen table or my dog and I on a ‘recess’ walk outside.” 

    Students were also given a “menu” by Mrs. Roubo, where they choose from a variety of choices on what to work on that day. The menu gives suggestions so parents of the students can create activities and lessons incorporating those menu options. “There is a page for literacy, math, allied arts, and social studies/science, and social emotional learning,” she said. “Play and outside activities are encouraged. The menu suggests approx. 45 minutes for reading, writing, and math, 30 minutes each for the other focus areas for a total of approximately 3 hours of active learning time per day.

   Roubo said there are many factors about this transition that worry her and her colleagues, especially since their students are young and not used to the changes that have been made. She struggles knowing that her students are not getting the same levels of support at home as they would at school and worries about the social-emotional impacts. She is also struggling with the idea of balancing offering enough for her students but not overwhelming them or their caregivers. Most of all, Roubo misses seeing her students everyday. 

    Lisa Coburn, a math coach from Washburn Elementary School in Auburn, has had her set of challenges as well. Coburn has been working closely with her students’ teachers on their outside course work and trying to overcome the challenges. “We have many families that do not have technology and/or internet, so there is not an expectation that all students will make contact online,” she said. “At this time the idea is that anything that students do during this time is a ‘bonus’; work will not be expected or graded. It just would not be equitable for all students.”

    Another challenge that some students at Washburn Elementary School now face is limited meals and food. Coburn said that the district is still providing lunches through a curbside pickup station. They hope to expand on their offerings to students and their families because meal insecurity is a major issue in Maine. 

    Mrs. Coburn has been working on creating a website to share math resources for the Washburn Elementary School families and staff so all students can get the support they need during this time. 

    Teachers and administrators are not the only ones having to transition their daily routine during this time. In an online interview, Ryan Connors, a senior at Kennebunk High School, has described his day as full of homework with small breaks in between, “I wake up at 8 a.m. and eat breakfast, then I start working. I usually have about 3 classes of work each day so I’ll do work for about 2 classes before I eat lunch, and then I’ll do the last class after until maybe 2:00 p.m,” he said. 

    “I generally have one Google Hangout class/lecture around 1:00 p.m., take a break from work until maybe 4:30-5:00 p.m., and then I do homework for the next day or get ahead on work I can do early. That varies in time, usually a little over 2 hours.” 

    Kennebunk High School has implemented online learning until at least April 26, with plans being made to extend that date to later if needed. 

    Connors is a three sport athlete, and will not be having a baseball season during his senior year. “I’m probably most disappointed about likely not having one more baseball season or at the best a very shortened one,” he said. “I’ve played baseball since I was five so it’s sad that something is just gone when I was expecting one more season.” 

    Connors will be attending United States Military Academy at West Point starting on June 29 for cadet basic training which will last until the start of the 2020-2021 school year in August. Connors said there is talk about possibly having a high school graduation ceremony during the summer months, yet Connors wouldn’t be able to attend his own graduation due to training. “I’m looking at starting college without receiving a high school diploma or simply getting my diploma in the mail. That is very disappointing.” 

    Each school district has different strategies and procedures being done since it was decided by the State that each superintendent will make their own decisions on how they will run their districts. Some schools will be online indefinitely, others are waiting for the call to come back to school. Only time will tell.