WOLF CREEK — While schools in Helena are continuing to “phase up” their operations, classes at one of Lewis and Clark County’s smallest schools have looked a lot like normal for most of the year.
“This school year is a lot closer than I’m sure other school districts are,” said Korrin Kenck-Vanderloos, the supervising teacher at Wolf Creek Elementary School.
Wolf Creek Elementary – the only school in the Wolf Creek School District – currently has 10 students, ranging from first to third grade. In a lot of ways, not much has changed for them. They are wearing masks or face shields, and they are generally keeping their desks several feet apart in class. On the playground, though, things look fairly normal as they run and play.
Kenck-Vanderloos says, like any other district in Montana, they’ve been emphasizing hand washing, hand sanitizer and frequent cleaning.
“It takes a toll after so many months of constantly trying to be on top of all that,” she said.
Wolf Creek Elementary did receive COVID relief funding that allowed them to cover some of the added costs – from cleaning supplies to additional equipment so students do not have to share.
During the last school year, Wolf Creek Elementary switched to fully remote learning – along with all other Montana schools – after then-Gov. Steve Bullock ordered school buildings to close. Kenck-Vanderloos sent home packets of work and met individually with students over Zoom.
“Last year, I had kindergarten through fifth grade, so it was just a couple of kids in each grade and it was hard to do them together,” she said.
In a rural community like Wolf Creek, online learning wasn’t always easy.
“I did story time every day at 12:30, and I’m not sure how much of story time happened, but I would be reading, and I would hear ‘You’re frozen!’” said Kenck-Vanderloos. “It was more of a challenge getting good internet connections.”
Kenck-Vanderloos said she never doubted they would be able to be back in class in person this year. She said they did return to distance learning for several weeks in November, because of a possible COVID exposure. Overall, though, she believes their return has been a success.
However, even though COVID hasn’t had the biggest impact at Wolf Creek Elementary, it’s still at the front of everyone’s mind.
“We’ve been learning about the planets in science, and yesterday, we were talking about Mars and how the Perseverance is on Mars right now, and they were asking if COVID was on Mars too,” Kenck-Vanderloos said. “So it’s just kind of become part of the conversation, and I think they’re handling it pretty well.”
While the number of students in Wolf Creek is small, the building is actually relatively large, with several classrooms available. That gives school leaders the luxury of spreading their students out more during COVID.
Wolf Creek is one of three small school districts in Lewis and Clark County that don’t have their own superintendents and are overseen by the county superintendent of schools.