Posted on 09/04/2020

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Mt. Ararat Middle School

66 Republic Avenue, Topsham, ME 04086

Phone:  (207)729-2950     Fax: (207)729-2964


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September 3, 2020

Dear Parents and Guardians,

We hope all our families have a wonderful Labor Day weekend (the weather looks great, eh?).  By now, all our families should have received an introductory letter/email from their team teachers.  Thank you for your patience in waiting for these letters to arrive.  We wanted to allow enough time for last-minute requests to change cohorts or options, and we are still finalizing many details.  We feel ready and excited for our students to arrive next week!  On these first days, there will be MANY staff with signs and friendly faces (partially hidden under masks) to greet students and help them get to where they need to go. Please reassure your child that no one will get lost!  Here are a few more updates:

Learning expectations for the first two weeks.  We know how important it is for students to get back to school.  We also know that this start of school is unlike any other.  This is especially true for our students, who have not stepped through our schoolhouse doors for 6 months.  Many of our students are going back to their school to find that it will look and feel quite different.  In addition, across our district, our Kindergarten, 6th grade, and 9th grade students are making a transition to a new school building without having the same type of in-person Step Up Days, Ice Cream Socials, and Open Houses.  

For all of these reasons, we plan to have the first week of school be very different than the weeks that follow.  Students can expect the following social-emotional focus for the first week of school:

*Building a school environment focused on safety, compassion, and authentic connection between students and teachers

*Fostering student-to-student relationships *Orienting our students to new health/safety protocols, schedules, and routines

*Establishing a strong relationship-based focus for every student in Advisor Groups

*Community building activities
*Developing Classroom Codes of Cooperation (classroom norms)
Joy, fun, and laughter

Does One Group Have More or Less Learning Than Others?  No.  All groups, including Cohort A, Cohort B, and the Virtual School group, all have the same instructional pace.  Each group has the same learning goals, and will follow the same curriculum.  Below you will find a calendar outlining the first few weeks of school by cohort and for the Virtual School. Though we typically think about the school week Monday-Friday, it is important for all of us to think about learning as a five-day block instead of day-by-day. When our district reopening plans change, we will make every effort possible to ensure all students have access to all learning opportunities.  For example, Cohort A starts their learning two days before Cohort B to start the year, but we will plan on ensuring that Cohort B has two days extra as the weeks go on, or as we make the transition to 100% In-person learning, whenever that may occur.  If nothing changes with our plans, Cohort A will have the exact same number of in-person days by the start of December break.  The emphasis for the first weeks of school is making connections with students and helping students feel safe and comfortable at school. 


Moving forward, your child’s teams will be the primary communicator on more detailed plans, so expect more from them soon on what the specifics of this learning will be.



How Will Exploratory Classes Work This Year? We are so excited that all our students will have a full-fledged Exploratory Program this year.  Many middle schools around the state and country have made the decision to discontinue or curtail their Exploratory program as part of their school reopening plan.  We have worked so hard to build a reopening plan that would ensure that all students will continue to engage in meaningful Health, P.E., Art, Cultural Literacy/World Language, Music, and STEM programming.  The vision of our amazing Exploratory program is for students to discover their particular interest, talents, values and preferences. The intent of the program is to acquaint students with enriching, healthy pursuits in order for students to become well-rounded adults.  

Usually, students are in four exploratory courses at one time, and they switch courses at semester/quarter.  This year, however, we will need to adapt this approach.  Students will now only have one Exploratory course at any given time, with all students on a team having the same course for that period of time.  This class will have twice the daily instruction, but meet for a shorter period of time.  This means that students will cycle through a several-week rotation of all the above courses.  To make this easier for students to keep track of, we will have that Exploratory teacher be connected with that team, and add any Exploratory learning expectations to each team’s weekly learning plan.  This will allow students (and their parents) to clearly see what is expected of them, especially during the days they are not physically in school.

What About Band and Chorus? This one is tricky for a few reasons.  First, the current CDC guidelines make it difficult to hold Band/Chorus inside the school building because of the disease-spread risks involved with students blowing spit in/out of an instrument, as well as expelling air particles while singing.  Fortunately, our amazing K-12 music teachers have been developing plans to still have authentic and meaningful Band/Chorus programs despite these current restrictions.  This may include outdoor rehearsals and performances, “porch concerts”, virtual lessons, etc.  More to come on this.

The second challenge is that we currently do not have full staffing in our Music program at MAMS.  With the possibility of our school district facing a loss of state subsidy this year, one of our music positions has been held unfilled until this financial situation is more clear.  We do anticipate this position being filled soon.  Because our current music staffing is focused on teaching our Exploratory music program, we do not have sufficient staffing to hold Band and Chorus at this time.   Once this staffing is resolved, we will reach back out to families about the process of having your child join Band and/or Chorus this year, so stay tuned!

Will Our 8th Graders Still Be Able to Do French, Spanish, and German? Yes!  All 8th graders will still participate in a dedicated world language class where they can choose to focus on one of these languages.  Because this learning will occur over several weeks instead of throughout the year,  it will end up being less instruction in that language.  Therefore, our 8th grade World Language Teachers are willing to do a year-long Virtual Independent Study language program with any 8th grade student that wishes to pursue this challenging opportunity.  Any student that participates in this Independent Study program may be considered as a candidate for more advanced French/Spanish/German coursework upon starting 9th grade (pending approval by the high school).  We are still working on the logistics of this, but feel free to reach out to one of our teachers to let them know you may be interested in this advanced learning opportunity.

*8th Grade German Teacher:  Josephine Elzroth:
*8th Grade Spanish Teacher:  Max Conover
*8th Grade French Teacher:  Stacia Drew

As a reminder for our 6th and 7th grade parents, your child will participate in a Culture Literacy/Introduction to World Language overview course.  Students begin selecting a language to focus on starting in 8th grade.

Supply List. In years past, each team would put out their own supply list.  However, with all the details and logistics, we wanted to simplify things this year for the benefit of our families.  This supply list was created as a suggestion for families who have the means to send their child to school with supplies.  We recognize in this time of uncertainty, not every family is able to make this happen.  If a family is able, it would be helpful to our staff for students to arrive with these supplies by the second week of school.  MAMS will provide school supplies to any student who needs them.  

Sports (and Clubs) This Fall? Sports is the million dollar question right now.  Like every school district, ours is awaiting guidance from state agencies on whether high school sports will be allowed this fall.  If Mt. Ararat High School is able to offer sports this fall, then we hope to offer a participatory/skill-based sports program this year at  MAMS.  We also plan to offer clubs this year as much as we are able, some may occur during the school day, while others may happen via Zoom.  At this point, we are uncertain if we will have a late bus this year, so this may limit after school activities.  We know how important sports and clubs are to the middle school experience, so we are committed to making them happen as much as we can.

Parent Entering MAMS Building This Year. Our reopening health/safety protocols for students and staff are focused on reducing disease transmission from person-to-person.  To that end, we need to adjust how parents access the building this year.  Parents will still buzz in during school hours, and will be asked to enter the building after completing a self-screening protocol and wearing a face covering.  Instead of entering the main office, we have installed a new pass-through window for parents in the main lobby.  Instead of entering the office (it will be locked), parents will go to the new window to conduct day-to-day business, such as dropping off notes, dismissing students, and adding money to the lunch balance.  We plan to conduct most parent-teacher meetings by Zoom, including Open House and Parent Conferences.  More to come on this.

Parent Drop Off and Pick Up. We anticipate an increase in the number of parents dropping off/picking up their children this year.   We also need to ensure students are socially distanced upon entering the building, so we need to have multiple entrances/exits to spread students out.  To address this, we have created two new parent drop off/pick up areas.  THIS YEAR WE ARE ASKING PARENTS TO NOT DROP OFF/PICK UP AT THE FRONT OF THE BUILDING.  Instead, parents will park to drop off students at the North/South back entrances to the building (see map above). There are many spots set aside for parent parking behind the building. We are asking parents to pull into a spot instead of just stopping at the end.  

Students will enter the building on their team’s respective side. No students will be allowed entry into the school until 7:30am for supervision purposes. All students must wear masks and maintain social-distancing as they enter the building.  All students will start every day in their Advisor Group, and we have made this time from 7:40-8:00.  We extended this time so that students do not feel pressure if they arrive after 7:40.  We are anticipating that the total arrival time for students will occur between 7:30-7:50.  If a parent has flexibility, it may be helpful to have some families to plan to arrive between 7:40-7:50, as we anticipate that the 7:30-7:40 period may be the busiest.  In addition, any parent is welcome to drop off/pick up in the parking lot next to the Army Recruiting building on Canam Drive.  If you use this spot, your child can cross the street to the school at the crosswalks at the 4-way intersection.  

North Teams: North Bay (6th), Merrymeeting (8th), & Casco (8th) 

South Teams: South Bay (6th), Kennebec (7th), & Androscoggin (7th)  

Parent pick-ups will begin following bus departure, starting at 2:20pm. Parents are asked to park behind the building near the North/South back entrances to the building.  Due to the limiting of visitors inside our building, we will not be able to have parents wait for students in the main lobby or front entrance this year. Students will be dismissed from their team areas by their advisor group to either their parents or to walk home.  Walkers and parent pick up students will come out those back North/South exits after 2:20.

What About Students That Walk or Bike to School? We have many students who live in the surrounding area who get themselves to school.  All our walkers can use the main front entrance, where the bus students will enter.  This entrance is also where our bike rack is located, and students are still encouraged to park their bike there.

Laptop Deployment.  

Phase One (Virtual School - Team Allagash Students):

During the week of August 24, the MAMS Laptop Take Home Form was sent out to students and families opting for the Option 2: MAMS Virtual School. This form will review the rules and procedures associated with using a school device at home, will encourage families to opt into laptop coverage, and will capture parental permission for at-home laptop use. This form must be completed prior to laptop deployment. Students will not be issued a laptop until this process is complete.

Pickup Times for Laptops for Students In MAMS Virtual School

Wednesday, September 2, 12:00pm to 4:00pm

Thursday, September 3,  8:00am to 12:00pm

Tuesday, September 8, 12:00pm to 4:00pm

Phase Two (In-Person Students):

During the week of September 8, the MAMS Laptop Take Home Form will be sent to students and families in Option 1: MAMS In-Person School.  This form will review the rules and procedures associated with using a school device at home, will encourage families to opt into laptop coverage, and will capture parental permission for at-home laptop use.  This form must be completed prior to laptop deployment.  Students will not be able to take their laptop home until this process is complete.

Deployment for MAMS Group A: Monday, September 14 & Tuesday, September 15

Deployment for MAMS Group B: Thursday, September 16 & Friday, September 17

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to the opt-in message that you receive. If you opt-in, but later decide to opt-out, simply send "STOP" to 67587. You may also reply "STOP" to any message from our organization. Depending on your SMS service plan, charges may apply.  Please contact with any questions.

More Questions? I plan to hold an online Parent Coffee/ Q&A session for parents on the evening of September 8, from 5:00-6:00 pm.  Any parent is welcome to pop in any time during the hour VIA THIS ZOOM LINK.  I look forward to helping answer as many questions as I can.

If any questions, comments, or suggestions arise, please feel free to send me an email at:  Never hesitate to reach out -- I can make phone calls happen any time day or night. 


Josh Ottow



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