Classrooms in New Hampshire have changed dramatically to reopen safely, and some of the biggest changes are in music class. Gone are the days of belting out songs shoulder to shoulder, sharing music stands, and swapping instruments. Instead, some schools are following new protocols to bring music back but keep COVID-19 risk low.
In band teacher Ian Nelson’s classroom, there is no such thing as a “new normal.”
“We’re taking each thing that you would take for granted and trying to find a solution to that problem,” he says. “Every day is pretty much a whole new adventure.”
Nelson’s classes at West Running Brook Middle School in Derry reopened in a hybrid model, with cohorts coming to the school a few days a week. His classroom, once full of students goofing off and playing instruments into each other’s faces, hums with air purifiers and has about a third of the students it did before the pandemic.
Without these kinds of precautions, music classes would be risky. Singing or playing an instrument requires lots of breath, sending out spit and small respiratory droplets (aerosols) that could contain COVID-19 and float in the air for hours.
This summer, a group of researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and University of Maryland — chaired by the College Band Directors National Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations — began studying how COVID-19 could spread among performing artists.
Their preliminary results have shaped guidelines now used by music teachers across the country, including New Hampshire. The recommendations focus on masking, social distancing, and improving air flow indoors and outdoors.
Dr. Shelly Miller, a mechanical engineer who studies air pollution and helped lead the study, says resuming music class requires a multifaceted approach.
“Keep your eye on the risk reduction,” she says. “How can you reduce your exposure? If you follow all the guidelines that we have provided, based on our science to date, the risk is going to be low. But it’s not going to be zero.”
The best way to control aerosols in instruments is to use a bell cover — basically a mask with a liner that resembles a miniature shower cap and covers the opening of an instrument. (Researchers found that a bell cover reduced the amount of aerosols coming out of a clarinet to the level of a person quietly speaking.)
Ian Nelson bought dozens of purple bell covers for his students. They use them even when rehearsing outside, spaced 10 feet apart.
“It’s just a wall of purple bell covers looking at me from different angles,” Nelson laughs. “They’re right behind their stands because some of them are pretty short.”
Teaching new notes takes longer, because Nelson has to stand far away from students when he demonstrates the fingerings on his own instrument.
There are days outside when it’s cold and fingers go numb, but Nelson says students are thrilled to be back together.
8th grade clarinetist Kylie Gaffney, a self-described “band geek,” says the coronavirus rules haven’t dampened her love for band.
“There’s just something about it that gives me joy,” she smiles.
Kylie has even found a bright side to outdoor class.
“The great thing about outside is that we can pick up little rocks and put them on the page so they don’t fly away!” she says.
Soon, Kylie’s class will move fully indoors. And that introduces a whole new set of challenges.
Hanover High School is a month into navigating COVID-19 risk among musicians indoors.
The study conducted this summer advises classes to rehearse for no more than 30 minutes at a time and to allow the HVAC systems to clean and replace the air at least once between each rehearsal.
Like many schools, Hanover reopened with an extended block schedule; now, classes are 90 minutes. This means music students have to change rooms a few times per period to meet safety standards.
Choir director Jennifer Chambers says the schedule can be overwhelming.
“My brain is super, super busy but also joyful, because being on Zoom all the time was fairly depressing for all of us chorus people who thrive on being in person and that human connection,” she says.
Chambers recently got a big shipment of “resonance” masks, a special type of mask designed for singers, with an internal frame that keeps the fabric and filter away from the mouth and makes it easier to produce a good sound.
They’re expensive — the district paid $33 a mask — and they’re huge, with thick straps for a snug fit.
“I don’t know for teenagers if it’s as aesthetically pleasing as they would like, right?” laughs Chambers. “I don’t think they’re going to be like: ‘Yeah, let’s wear our singing masks together!’”
There are also some goofy-looking masks in band — with slits at the mouth so students can blow into their instrument but cover their nose. A month in, bands report this works for almost everyone except the flute.
Alice Rodi, a senior at Hanover High, says the way she holds her flute and produces sound is impossible with a mask. So she’s going maskless. But she says for now, with low COVID-19 rates in her region, plus all the other measures — distancing, bell covers, moving between rooms — the benefits of playing in-person outweigh the risk.
“Trying to get your sounds to match the people next to you and trying to make it all sound very coherent and musical is such a big part of it,” she says.
And then there’s the social part.
“Interacting with other people and laughing when you play a very incorrect note, and just the little things that come with being in a high school band — you can’t experience those things on your own,” Rodi says.
This laughter is one of the sounds music teachers are listening for in class. They say after so many months apart, and stress about a potential surge in the months ahead, getting joy back in the building is a huge relief.
“Our biggest goal is to make the students feel safe and have fun,” says Chambers. “The music will be a bonus.”
Snow days, long-anticipated cancelations of school due to inclement weather, may be a thing of the past.
Now that school districts have developed learning models for the COVID-19 era that allow them to pivot easily to remote learning on short notice, many superintendents are starting to discuss whether a large snowstorm this winter could mean classes are moved online rather than canceled.
“I call COVID-19 ‘the great disruptor,’ because it changed the way we deliver education,” said Kathleen Murphy, Concord School District’s interim superintendent. “And I think that includes snow days.”
Murphy will be bringing the topic to the Concord School Board’s Instructional Committee meeting on Oct. 21 for discussion. Concord schools are now phasing into a hybrid model after a whole month of remote learning, meaning the district is well-poised to go remote again if it needed to happen.
In the Merrimack Valley School District, Superintendent Mark MacLean said snow days will become remote learning days for the district.
“Our intention is to keep instruction as concurrent as we can, and not allow weather to disrupt that,” said Merrimack Valley School District superintendent Mark MacLean. “It’s a natural fit now, based on what’s been happening.”
Merrimack Valley was doing remote learning on snow days even before the pandemic, through the use of “Blizzard Bags,” a state-approved package of assignments that can be done at home, physically or online. The state law that permits this form of short-term remote learning is the same law Gov. Chris Sununu extended on March 16 to allow remote instruction to continue under COVID-19.
The Bow-Dunbarton School District had just barely put Blizzard Bags into a pilot program to test out last year, before COVID-19 hit. They ended up using them when the spring lockdown happened. This year, Bow-Dunbarton is operating in-person with a remote option, but superintendent Dean Cascadden said the school would pivot to learning remotely in the event of a snow day, using the plan they developed in case of a COVID-19 outbreak.
“We are at the point now where if we said, ‘tomorrow we are out of school,’ we wouldn’t expect to skip too many beats,” Cascadden said.
Now too, teachers are skilled in platforms like Zoom, Google Hangouts and Seesaw, meaning remote learning is more than the Blizzard Bag days of take-home assignments.
“Things have changed a lot. It’s not just sending home bags of paperwork, it’s more live,” said Murphy. “Those platforms have really enhanced the teachers ability to provide a live instruction on a remote day,”
However, there are some instances in which a snow day could still shut down schools. Each superintendent said a power outage could still require them to cancel classes in their districts, if students and staff can’t access the Internet.
And for some schools, technology is still a barrier to learning at home. Hopkinton School District superintendent Steve Chamberlin said the district is still waiting on a delivery of a shipment of 780 Chromebooks to give to students that would make it possible for them to learn remotely.
But despite challenges, most superintendents say COVID-19 has made them a little more prepared for a sudden closure this year, than in years past.
“That’s one of the things that’s come out of this process, that we know how we would do that,” said Daniel LeGallo, superintendent of Franklin School District. “So that is how we would handle it.”
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — A Syracuse University freshman from Jaffrey has died following a crash Tuesday evening.
Trevor Pierce, 18, was killed in a collision at the intersection of Comstock and Waverly Avenue, according to a letter from Syracuse University Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Marianne Thomson.
“This is an unthinkable loss for Trevor’s family, friends and loved ones and the entire Syracuse University community,” Thomson wrote in the letter. “We send our support, thoughts and prayers to everyone grieving and impacted by Trevor’s death.”
According to a report by Syracuse.com, Pierce was skateboarding when he was hit by a trolley that transports students from the university. The crash was reported shortly before 5:30 p.m.
Pierce was taken to Upstate University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The Syracuse Police Department could not be reached for comment Thursday morning.
Thomson said Pierce was pursuing a political philosophy degree and was a member of the Renée Crown University Honors Program.
Pierce graduated from Conant High School in Jaffrey in June. Conant Principal David Dustin wrote a letter posted online Wednesday to students, families and staff, informing them of Pierce’s death.
“This loss has shocked our school community, and I know I speak for all of our teachers, students, and staff when I say that our hearts and minds are with Trevor and his family in this immensely difficult time,” Dustin wrote in the letter.
During his time in the Jaffrey-Rindge schools, Pierce was heavily involved both in and outside of the classroom, Dustin added.
“His intellectual curiosity and passion for learning touched many teachers and fellow students,” Dustin wrote. “His involvement with our athletic running programs meant he touched the lives of all of those fellow athletes and their families. Most impressively, Trevor held, at his core, a focus on service and giving back.”
In the fall of 2018, when Pierce was a sophomore at Conant, he completed his Eagle Scout service project with Boy Scout Troop 8 by transforming a garden bed at Jaffrey Grade School, where he had attended elementary school, into an outdoor education learning center, a project funded entirely by donations.
“Having gone to JGS this is more than an Eagle Project to me,” he said at the time. “It is a way to give back to a school that gave me a great education.”
Conant High School and Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School counselors are available to students and staff who need support, Dustin wrote in his letter.
“It is in times like this that the power and significance of a small, close-knit community shine through,” he wrote. “I know our community will come together as we support Trevor’s family, and each other, in the coming days and weeks.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, absentee voting and other options to increase social distance between voters and poll workers have been a prime focus this election season. But in the Monadnock Region, several clerks report that a lack of staff is a main barrier to offering absentee ballot drop boxes in their communities.
New Hampshire has allowed voters to list concerns about the novel coronavirus as an acceptable reason for voting absentee this year. Drop boxes provide an option for contact-free delivery, while avoiding the U.S. Postal Service.
But New Hampshire cities and towns may not accept ballots via drop boxes unless they’re supervised by a staff member from their clerk’s office whenever ballots can be submitted to the boxes, according to Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan. And several local clerks say they don’t have the resources to do so.
“Chesterfield does not have a drop box,” Town Clerk Barbara Girs wrote in an email to The Sentinel Tuesday. “My understanding is that in the state of NH a drop box has to be manned at all times and we are not prepared or equipped to do that.”
Peterborough Town Clerk Linda Guyette said that her office also lacks the personnel to properly supervise a drop box, and so the option is not currently available for town residents.
Though not specifying why, clerks from Rindge and Walpole likewise said they aren’t planning to use drop boxes, instead asking voters to give ballots directly to the clerk.
Even Keene, the largest municipality in Cheshire County, reports not having enough manpower to staff a drop box. City Clerk Patricia Little said her office cannot designate someone to man one for an extended period of time.
“We do not have the resources to do that sole function [of staffing a drop box],” she said in an email last week, “which is why we have created this satellite office.”
The satellite office is on the second floor of city hall, specifically for the purpose of processing both outgoing and incoming absentee ballots, she explained. That’s just one way local municipalities — even without drop boxes — are working to make voting a bit more convenient for those who want to avoid long lines on Election Day.
Guyette said Peterborough is looking for someone who can sit in the lobby outside the clerk’s office during regular business hours to accept absentee ballots from voters. Girs said Chesterfield will be hosting drive-by drop-off events on Thursday and again on Oct. 22 and 29.
“Folks can swing by the front of our office building from 6-7pm and hand us their completed ballot (or, conceivably, hand us a request for a ballot and receive one in return),” Girs wrote in her email. “We used that process for the Primary which worked out very well.”