Adams Middle School Participates in Pooled Testing Trial

From Sara Buckley, HHS Special Correspondent 

Publishers’ Note: This story came to us through Heidi Finnegan, HHS English Teacher and Newspaper Advisor. All involved parties have given their permission to allow this publication. Our thanks to Sara and Ms. Finnegan.

Students and teachers at Robert Adams Middle School (RAMS) are currently participating in a free pooled testing trial offered by the state to determine whether or not the school system should continue pooled testing.

Pooled testing is a system where teachers and students, with parental consent, test themselves for Covid-19 using nasal swabs.  Instead of being tested individually, about five-25 swabs are tested together in a pool.  If the entire group of swabs comes back negative, then none of the individuals in that pool tested positive for Covid-19.  

This information provides the school with “data to help us make safe decisions about students returning,” said RAMS Principal Mr. David Jordan.  It “also helps families make decisions for them as well.”

If a pool tests positive, “I would then notify those individuals who are in that pool and we would rapid test,” said Ms. Jennifer Olsen, the RAMS school nurse.  “Hopefully by doing that we could identify the positive individual.  If we do all those tests and no one is positive, then everyone in the pool would need to get a PCR test.”

Right now, RAMS is the pilot program due to the fact the students are old enough to participate successfully and their schedule doesn’t include the movement of students making it the easiest school to test.

“This kind of information can give us a better tool to guide us in our decision making moving forward,”  said Mrs. Jamie Cutone, a science teacher at RAMS who has volunteered to participate in the testing.  She wants to see pooled testing at all grade levels so that “we can address [the spread of Covid-19] before any transmission occurs within our schools.”

Superintendent of the Holliston Public Schools Dr. Susan Kustka agrees, believing that the testing is a resource to get students back into school.

“To get the majority of students back in person five days a week for the rest of the school year, that would mean going down to less than six feet,” said Dr. Kustka.  “So…we feel that’s a really valid reason to have this ongoing surveillance testing.”

However, this testing will only continue and expand to other schools if there is enough interest.  The testing isn’t as useful to stopping the spread of Covid-19 if a majority of the school isn’t participating.  So far involvement has been relatively low, with about 25-27% of students being tested at RAMS depending on the grade.  

“It was super easy,” said sixth grader Sarah Eppinger. “All you did was grab a little swab that was on the table in front of the classroom and you put it in your nose and swirled it around on both sides and then you stuck it in a container and it was done.”

Prior to the start of the school day, testing supplies including hand sanitizer and individually wrapped nasal swabs were delivered to classrooms.  Assistant Principal Jessica Beattie read the instructions over the loudspeaker and students followed as instructed.  The entire testing took about 10 minutes.

The state currently funds both the pooled testing and rapid testing, however, this free trial will expire April 18.  The town has set aside enough CARES (Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act) money to pay for testing in all of the schools for the rest of the year.

“You feel more comfortable after” being tested, said eighth grader Anna Gebski.  For her, the best part was knowing for certain whether or not she has Covid-19.

Cohort A and B received all negative tests from the results from March 1 and 10.  Cohort A will test on March 15 and cohort B will test on March 24.

For Mrs. Cutone, “the most rewarding part was being able to participate in science and being able to participate in our own mini-research we are having here at school.”

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