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Helena-area schools planning for online lessons during coronavirus closure

Posted at 6:49 PM, Mar 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-16 20:49:33-04

After Gov. Steve Bullock announced Sunday that public schools in Montana would close for the next two days, school districts quickly got to work to plan how they can teach students remotely.

Helena Public Schools Superintendent Tyler Ream said the governor’s announcement didn’t come as a surprise.

“We’ve been able to see this coming,” he said. “I think this weekend’s positive cases here in Montana kind of solidified for our overall community that by no means were we going to be exempt from this crisis.”

Ream said administrators had been planning for several weeks, and they knew they would need about three days to make a full transition from in-class to remote learning. They plan to have all classes up and running by Thursday.

In the Helena School District, many classes will be posting materials online through a portal called Clever, which a number of teachers and students are already using. Most students should be able to log on using their home devices, but the district will have some devices available for families who have no other way to access the lessons.

Ream said parents who need to pick up a device can come to their children’s schools Wednesday – from 8 a.m. to noon at middle and high schools and from noon to 4 p.m. at elementary schools. He stressed that the district can only provide devices for families with no other access.

Helena schools will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday so students and parents can pick up any other items they need to get.

Ream said older students will likely have the vast majority of their class material online. Younger students, especially in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, will receive more traditional packets.

Ream said teachers are hard at work finding creative ways to give their lessons, from recording them to taking responses over email.
“I have full faith and trust that they know exactly what they want their students to be learning,” he said. “We just have to be able to shift the mechanism of learning.”

In the East Helena School District, Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer said in a Facebook post that teachers arrived at work Monday to start making plans for the next two weeks. He said materials will be online or printed out for students. Leaders hope to have full packets available for parents to pick up by noon on Wednesday.

School leaders say they’re optimistic that these remote lesson plans can be successful for kids.

“By no means do I think it’s nearly as good as the face-to-face interaction, or just the camaraderie of a classroom where students are working together,” Ream said. “But I think we will discover – just like a lot of us are that may be working from home from time to time – that you can be quite effective.”

In addition, both Helena and East Helena Public Schools are making plans for distributing meals to students who need them. Regularly scheduled meals will be available at most schools on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Helena Public Schools will switch to a “regional” meal pickup. Ream said meals will be prepared outside about seven of the school buildings, at various times throughout the day. Families will be able to come by and pick up a lunch and a breakfast for the next day.

East Helena Public Schools will offer “grab and go” sack lunches to those under 18, starting on Wednesday. They will be available from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., in front of Eastgate and Radley Elementary Schools.