Carbon County Schools Step Up Against Coronavirus

By 
Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, March 26, 2020
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Photo by Lisa Cords
Higher learning: Parents around the county are thinking of creative ways to encourage home-bound students to continue their studies even if it means finding new places to do some math homework.

By directive of Governor Steve Bullock, schools have now closed until April 10. This is the second week of closure for Montana schools. It is a drastic action affecting the lives of every family with school-age children as well as staff from the superintendents to the bus drivers. Life has already radically changed. The question is how long and how are students doing? Here are a few of the answers to a situation that is expected to change even more by the time this article comes to print.

John Fitzgerald, Red Lodge Superintendent of Schools, said, "We're working well as a staff together and creating a plan that works best for students. They've done a nice job of transitioning from traditional school to distance learning in the near future."

Red Lodge High School (RLHS) has Spring Break following this week. It may prove a convenient time for the students to remain at home if necessary. Spanish teacher, Jack Clinton, commented on distance learning. Clinton said, “It’s moving along, just taking shape. I have about 40 kids, grades 9-12. On Monday, March 23, RLHS had its first formal meeting. But even before he said, “We are making contact, giving kids some support materials and keeping them informed. Every teacher’s plan is going to be probably different. We’re going to be in touch via email. I gave them some assignments.” Already he has gotten some back from students. But he admits in this scramble to meet teaching objectives, “this is totally different. Most teachers already do some online. The kids are pretty engaged.”  

Spring Break may help RLHS but it does not begin until April 10 for Bridger Schools. Now, the directive will help ease into that school break time without interruption. Earlier, Superintendent Bill Phillips of Bridger Schools felt such word was coming. He told CCN on Monday, March 23, “We have not canceled the next week. There has been no formal directive from the Governor. I don’t think we’ll have to.”   

As far as finals, Phillips said, “Most don’t have them. There is more emphasis on District-wide assessments. There is the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium). For the most part, there is little they can do immediately. “I’m on hold. Everybody started distance learning today. We are busy doing lunch deliveries (to students who signed up for meals). More and more are signing up. We will wait and see.”   

He sees the mutual benefit of local volunteers taking meals around the community. “They’re busy doing something good for the community. It keeps them busy, delivering packets.” 

On Sunday, March 22, Bridger teacher Vicki Kaufman said, "Bridger Schools distance learning lessons start tomorrow. Thursday, all staff members gathered in their respective school buildings and discussed what the options were.  Our secretary had contacted each family to see what they had as far as technology. The school is in the process of distributing Chrome books and looking into getting hot spots for families that have no wifi."

"Yes, distance learning is possible.  Of course, it is not like having face time with our students. There are many different programs out there to help students.  Our staff has been sharing these and getting our school signed up for the ones that the entire group can use.  We can use Google classroom, which several teachers have already implemented in their own classrooms previous to the closing of the school. It is not perfect, but it is keeping our kids and their families safe," said Kaufman.

"Since I am an elective and teach living skills, my assignment for my 2 foods related classes have been to create a week's worth of menus and snacks using the MyPlate program. They then will get 3 points for each food they cook and send me a picture and tell me what they learned. My JMG classes have been working with the Project-Based Learning method all year. I posed the driving question: What can schools do to engage students in distance learning? They have to come up with 3 options and post them in gallery walk form with a column for I like and a column for I wonder.  Students will share these with each other and write a comment on each idea.  They will then pick one and create a project we will share on the JMG workplace PBL page for others to use." 

"I put the assignments up and within an hour I had a student ask questions. Our students and staff at Bridger are amazing. We are all learning together since nothing like this has happened before.  We will survive this and grow because of what we have been through," she said.

On Tuesday, March 24, the Office of Public Instruction and Montana University System announced that "Montana juniors will have the opportunity to take the ACT free of charge this coming fall semester of their senior year. Normally, current juniors would take the ACT in the spring as Montana’s statewide standardized test for federal accountability." The State believes that due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak and Montana’s pending waiver request from standardized tests, it is likely that juniors will not be taking the ACT this spring.

Meanwhile, locally, life goes on and families work to help their children keep up. One Red Lodge parent, Lisa Cords, said her daughter had climbed up the fireplace for something to do. "I handed her her math book," she said!

 Asked if he had a message for the students, Superintendent Fitzgerald said, "Trust the procedural work. We're here-please reach out and don't be afraid to ask questions. We miss you!"   

No response was received from the Superintendent of Belfry Schools or Luther School, nor teachers at Luther School, Fromberg School, or Joliet High School by press time but we will continue to update with any responses received in the weeks following.  

 

PULLOUT: "Please reach out and don't be afraid to ask questions. We miss you!" John Fitzgerald, Red Lodge Schools Superintendent

 

 

 

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The Carbon County News

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