Distance learning leads to innovation for Montana school districts

Hamilton High School
Posted at 8:41 PM, Apr 13, 2020

MISSOULA — Innovation is the keyword for Montana schools, as they adapt to life with COVID-19 and continuing classes through distanced learning.

Now Hamilton Schools are using brainstorming and community support to navigate these uncertain times.

Even before scheduled spring break, Hamilton Schools were not only decontaminating classrooms, but preparing for classes to be suspended altogether. So when Governor Bullock recommend schools be closed in mid-March, Hamilton had a jump on using remote learning.

Now, a month later, the situation is challenging, but being managed through innovation.

"Our kids are online," said Hamilton School District Public Relations Specialist Justine Stewart. "Our teachers are online and the word is, so far most kids are logging on. They're checking in and teachers are doing really well. They miss the kids in the classroom, but everyone is adapting."

That doesn't mean it's easy. Teachers say it's taking a lot of on-going problem solving to help one another, and also to balance the at-home class load for students and their parents.

"I can't even begin to describe how much more it is to do this online, said Hamilton Middle School Librarian Kristi Rodriguez. "I feel like, as a teacher, that I'm being effective and helpful and beneficial. And that they kids are actually getting something, but that they're not being overwhelmed."

Like most districts, Hamilton has already assigned all of its Chromebooks, and is hoping for more. But teachers say a huge advantage was many classes were already using Google Classroom this year.

"They were all familiar with it, so they all knew their log-in, where to go find work and how to do assignments," said Hamilton Middle School 5th grade teacher Amanda Kirkbride.

One challenge in the Bitterroot though, was reaching households with no, or limited online access. Community innovation is helping there too.

"There's a lot of businesses that are allowing students and families to come and park in their parking lots and log in to their Internet. We're doing the same at the school district," said Stewart."So, I mean it's not ideal to come sit in your car and do your homework. But if that's all you have that's what you have to do."

And provisions are even being made for good old fashioned paper learning, with packets available for pickup.

"And kind of just a drive by situation where parents just drop them off, the kids run out and pick up their packet and come back to the car and they return them," said Stewart.

Even though innovation is helping, there's still an emotional cost to distance learning.