MISSOULA — We're nearing the second full week of Phase 2 for Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) high school students and staff which has been quite the adjustment period.
MCPS Superintendent Rob Watson says that in many ways the start of Phase 2 was like a typical first day of school only the nerves were even more elevated.
“A lot of students shared after that first day that they just felt pretty anxious about being in a space with that many more students,” Watson said.
Big Sky Principal Jennifer Courtney noticed it as well. She says she believes the pandemic, and subsequent adjustments that have become part of everyday life, have taught her students to speak up for themselves.
“They have learned to really self-advocate, so they are sending emails to their teachers, they’re reaching out to myself and the other administrators when maybe they need additional support,” Courtney told MTN News.
Watson says the biggest obstacle to overcome has been social distancing. MTN News has received photos of large groups of students gathered together following the first day of Phase 2.
Watson says he recognizes this issue and that principals are making adjustments.
“We made the decision starting yesterday that we would be staggering our release times, we have our juniors and seniors leaving five minutes earlier than our ninth and tenth graders,” Courtney said.
Additionally, lunch periods are especially hard to navigate.
“When lunch starts you might see a large group of students together as they’re moving from one place to another, but within a few minutes they’re pretty much cleared out and students are sitting with their friends in pods," Watson explained.
Another concern is making sure students who are quarantined are keeping up with what’s going on in the classroom.
The solutions range from joining class from home to getting assignments through email, to attending zero period session once they can return.
“We’ve got that staff with a math, an English, a science, and a social studies teacher so that, if they’ve missed a period of time in a math class, we’ve got a math certified staff member who’s there to help ensure that we got them as caught up as we can," Courtney told MTN News.
On Tuesday, the MCPS School Board decided to enforce the mask mandate for the foreseeable future. That will remain in place despite Governor Gianforte’s decision to lift the mandate at the state level.
Courtney says her Big Sky students have done a very good job of following instructions and adds there is an overwhelming sense that they want to make this work so they can remain in the classroom.