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For Better or Worse? Policy Changes in Local Schools

How school policies in Montana are changing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

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Passionate about disability advocacy and helping others find their voice. Believes that everyone should have a chance to make friends, have access to appropriate services and go wherever they please in their community. Enjoy reading and writing fiction, collecting handmade teddy bears and listening to Taylor Swift and other artists.

In the Flathead Valley, administrators are instituting an “Early Out Wednesday” policy. Students will be dismissed at 1:25 p.m. and teachers will use the extra hour and a half as office hours to help struggling students (particularly the ones learning remotely). Will this policy actually help students? Administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals and, of course, students have different opinions, thoughts and hopes.

Currently, teachers have to deal with students who are attending on-site school as well as remote learners and students who have gone remote temporarily. “Keeping up with that, has been an enormous responsibility for teachers, and so giving them some additional time on these early releases, will help them better meet students’ needs,” said Dr. Laurrie Barron, Superintendent of Evergreen School District in Evergreen, MT.

Some people may be concerned about the amount of information on-site students can gain on a shortened day. To that end, Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Micah Hill said, “when you take it at face value, you’re looking at shortening a period from 50 minutes to 35 minutes, so those students who are in-person still have access to their teacher every single day. Granted it’s for a shorter period of time on one day a week, but I think those are certainly… challenges that can be overcome pretty easily.”

The extra time allotted to students on early out Wednesdays will be extremely beneficial. How will school staff maximize this time and use it to their benefit? Some teachers will be using this extra time on Wednesdays to prepare better lessons for students. Currently, many teachers are being forced to plan lessons outside of school hours. “Right now I’m using my prep time to put things on Google Classroom, so sometimes my lessons aren’t planned at school, they’re planned…at my house,” said Beth Janney, a Kalispell Spanish teacher. The extra time on Wednesday will allow teachers and support staff to meet the needs of their students while also allowing them to catch up on work and decrease their stress levels.

“I have been a teacher for almost ten years and…this year… is the most stressful year of teaching that I have ever had,” said Marti Paugh, a Kalispell business teacher. As teachers address their own mental health, they must also be aware of the mental health of students. That is why the Alta-Care team at Evergreen Jr. High will be using the extra hour and a half as a support session for struggling students. Having early outs on Wednesdays will ideally help students and teachers not to feel so overwhelmed during this unprecedented pandemic.

It is no doubt that having an early release for students on Wednesdays will impact students and teachers alike. How do students actually feel about this policy? Glacier High School student Rawley Johnson, who is attending school in person, says that there is not a lot of work, but laments that he sometimes struggles to understand assignments. Remote student Vivian Rahn says, “my classes that I’m taking through Glacier… have a pretty manageable workload, and I’m also taking three classes through Brigham Young University and those ones definitely have a higher workload.” Although Vivan stressed that she does not need a lot of extra help, she is excited that her teachers will have more time to prepare lessons. Whether staff are preparing engaging activities for their students or helping those who are struggling, you can bet it will be time well spent!

The measure for “Early Out Wednesdays” passed unanimously in Evergreen School District, a show of support for staff and students. Similar support is present in other districts in the Flathead Valley.