GREAT FALLS — Class is back in session this week for Great Falls Public Schools after a busy end to the year between Covid-related campus closures and holiday breaks.
Some families are happy to be sending their students back to class for in-person learning. They say remote learning brought its own set of challenges, especially for students with special needs.
East Middle School student Nic Steele says he prefers to walk the hallways and learn lessons in class rather than at home. “I'd rather be at school because I'm used to that,” he said.
Nic is diagnosed with high functioning autism, sensory processing disorder, oppositional defiance order, and ADHD. The added socialization he gets on campus has been missed.
He's always loved to build - even creating his own "Lego City." Among the town staples are a hospital and fire department, Main Street, and a scrap yard manned by a man named Don, who likes popcorn.
Friends and a teacher at school are helping Nic create a whole new city with even more possibilities like a Walmart, a tunnel to New York, and grandma’s house in the countryside. But time at home put a halt on help.
The seventh-grader and his two siblings switched to remote learning shortly before Thanksgiving as officials dealt with a growing number of covid cases on several campuses.
Nic would construct his city during 4th period, a favorite time of the day behind math. Distance learning put a damper on any enthusiasm Nic had for school subjects. “Half the time I’d usually forget the password, it buffers for a long time,” he said.
Nic's mom Kirsten is also relieved to be sending Nic and his siblings back to school. She says Nic had a hard time at home. It was difficult for him to focus during remote classes. A weak wifi signal didn't help, either. “Internet is stupid,” he said. “He got to the point where he didn't want to do it," said Kirsten. “So at what point do you throw in the towel, is it worth the meltdowns or do you just kinda let him do his thing?”
GFPS says 1,336 middle school students are attending classes in person versus around 250 students who are registered for remote learning. 4,878 elementary school students are attending in person, while 620 students in K-6 grades are learning virtually this quarter. High school numbers show the same trend with a majority, or 2,552 students, attending classes on campus, with 500 students opting to distance learn.
As for Nic - he says he's glad to be finally heading back to school, to continue his city and see his friends.
“Like I keep telling my teacher,” he said. “I can’t wait until this (the pandemic) is over.”