BLUE HILL — Seven months in and COVID-19 is still affecting everyone, even those who haven’t gotten sick or lost loved ones.
More teachers, more internet hot spots, more transportation for homeless people in need of COVID-19 testing and more human contact are a few of the things officials said are needed on the Blue Hill Peninsula. Several people spoke at the annual meeting of Community Compass, which was held virtually on Oct. 27.
Community Compass is a nonprofit collaborative group consisting of churches, businesses and educational groups working to “build community and break the cycle of poverty” on the Blue Hill Peninsula and on Deer Isle-Stonington.
Board President Bob Holmberg said the plan was for area leaders to relay COVID-19 pandemic challenges, responses and unmet needs that others might be able to address.
“The biggest problem we’re facing is transportation,” said Tracey Hair, executive director of HOME Inc. “Our shelters are more than 10 miles away from the hospital. When we have a person experiencing [coronavirus] symptoms, we suit up and drive them.”
Meanwhile, Libby Rosemeier, assistant head of school at George Stevens Academy, said education is being compromised.
George Stevens Academy is one of numerous schools where students have remote or online classes part of the week due to the pandemic and social distancing requirements.
“No one will get through the material this school year,” Rosemeier said. “They have X amount to do in a year and there’s no way that’s going to happen this year.”
The high school has 40 to 45 students who are doing all remote learning, and staff is concerned for some of them, she said “For a fraction, it works well,” said Rosemeier. “But there are kids for whom it doesn’t. This is an excuse to not be in school and so they’re dropping off the radar. We spend a huge amount of time trying to locate kids and parents. The biggest worry is really all these kids who are remote and we can’t access them.”
Shelly Schildroth, principal at the Blue Hill Consolidated School, said, “We’re essentially doing two full-time jobs at this point. We’re teaching students in person and students who’ve chosen to learn remotely. We’ve told families their education is not equal. There’s simply no way we can make an equal education” for remote students.
“Like Libby said, we have several students who do really well with remote learning,” the principal said. “A lot of that is left to the families to make sure students get on Zoom on time. We have some families up to that challenge. At our ages, the parents have to be involved.”
Schildroth said the school received 25 hot spots last spring for families without internet access, but the school will need more if schools are shut down again the way they were last March.
Schildroth also criticized the rules concerning the federal COVID-19-related education funding.
“There’s a lot of money, but it has to be spent by Dec. 31,” Schildroth said. “We need more teachers, but there’s no money to pay for that. It sort of puts us a in bind. The funding was supposed to provide relief during time of COVID-19.”
Kyra Alex, executive director of Ready By 21, a mentoring program based on Deer Isle-Stonington, said because of the pandemic, the program can’t be in the high school building anymore.
“I’ve had to change the whole format of our program,” Alex said. The isolation from the pandemic is a critical issue, she said.
“People are floundering,” said Alex. “The kids are burned out from being on computers.”
State Sen. Louie Luchini (D-Hancock County) was on the call.
“The feds just procured $150 million worth of rapid tests, which they are going to start distributing,” Luchini said. The tests will probably go to states with higher incidents of coronavirus, but states can apply to get the equipment, he said. The rapid testing, “I think is going to be one of our key ways to keep schools open. Child care is a big financial burden for people.”
Jimmy Goodson, former Castine town manager, spoke about a “neighborhood navigator” position that his church is funding. The navigator helps relay to the church what the need is in the area.
“We’ve delivered groceries every Friday for 26 weeks to people that Jane finds,” Goodson said, referring to the navigator, Jane Salzman. “We’re really seeing the benefits of having a neighborhood navigator among us. We’re really hoping other churches will join us.”
Goodson said the need is expected to continue, particularly as moratoriums on evictions expire.
Hunt Gressitt of Blue Hill helps coordinate the Dolly Fisher Fund through the Blue Hill Congregational Church. The fund provides heating assistance as well as Tradewinds gift cards and other help.
“We can help out with electricity to a limited extent,” Gressitt said. “If power is about to be turned off, we can usually avert that.”
“I spoke with somebody a few days ago whose bill was $1,400,” said Gressitt. “We can’t pay that.”
Gressitt said Versant Power has recently sent out “a massive mailing of cut-off notices.”
“I hadn’t gotten any requests for help since April,” she said. But, the calls for help have been steady in recent days. “Everyone says their cut-off date is some time in November.”