The three-week summer school session that began Monday is the first in-person instruction the Anaconda School District has had since mid-March, when the governor ordered public K-12 schools across Montana to close over coronavirus concerns.
Besides helping about 70 students across grade levels with their academics, Anaconda school staff plan to use the summer session to answer questions and prepare for the upcoming school year, which are tentatively set to resume on Aug. 31.
The Butte School District did not offer summer school this year.
“We’re definitely trying to try out some things, like taking temperatures, cleaning and how long that is going to take, wearing masks and how that’s going with the kids,” said Norah Barney, principal at Lincoln Primary School. “A lot of questions about health and safety were answered this week with school.”
The students are met at their cars with a thermometer. Once they pass the screening, they proceed to the entrance of the school and sanitize their hands before heading to their classrooms.
The four-week summer session runs from Monday through Friday. Students in pre-Kindergarten through Grade 2 head to Lincoln Primary School and attend either the morning session from 8 to 11 a.m. or the afternoon session from 12 to 3 p.m.
Those in third through sixth grades head to the Anaconda Jr./Sr. High School from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. or part of the day. Meanwhile, about five high school students head to the district’s administrative building to attend credit recovery courses between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.
“The curriculum for students at Lincoln is more about remediation and trying to fill the holes,” Barney said. “Some didn’t have access to online material, some had parents who were working and couldn’t help their kids. Some completed all the work, but couldn't hit grade level performance. We wanted to make sure we hit all those needs as much as possible.”
Barney said that some students just needed that community environment to thrive.
“When you move to remote learning, you lose that sense of community,” she said. “Many students really missed that classroom community.”
She said, overall, students are doing good with wearing their masks. “You can tell that families are working with their kids about wearing their masks in public and preparing them for wearing them at school,” she added.
Lilly O’Brien, who’s entering the second grade in the fall at Lincoln, said she was enjoying summer school thus far and brought cupcakes for her friends to eat.
“I love it! I missed my friends,” she said.
Ryder Anderson, a student who’ll be entering fifth grade at Fred Moodry, said summer school has been “really fun.”
“We’re learning science, like the water cycle. We’re reading books, and I’m learning the definitions of new words,” he said while eating lunch. “Remote learning was kind of hard because the online stuff sometimes wouldn’t work, and so we would have to get the packets.”
Christine Leipheimer, fifth and sixth grade science teacher at Fred Moodry Intermediate School, said in-person classes allow her students to do hands-on lab work.
“Hand-on lab is what science is all about. Like today, we’ll be talking about pollution. Some think dilution is the solution to pollution, and they’ll learn why it’s not,” she said. “The kids wouldn’t be able to do the labs at home unless they have the equipment, and most of them don’t.”
The Anaconda School District is using this summer to understand the challenges that lie ahead for schools as they try to safely reopen amid a raging pandemic.
"So far, it's really going well," said Jake Kelly, who oversees the summer school program for the district. "We're working this program so we can get all of the kinks out of it when students return for the fall. It’s a good way to ease in and see where we’re at and how we’re doing.”
He said the district was able to run the summer session through support from a 21st Century Grant.
“The grant covers the costs of staff, school supplies and academic resources that we might need,” he said. “We’re really fortunate to be able to offer our kids summer courses.”
Kelly said the students in Grades 3 through 6 receive STEM enrichment courses like LEGO robotics and coding at least once a week.
“Remote learning was tough, but I think it was for everyone in the country. There was a learning curve, and this year I think it’ll be easier than last. We’ve learned a lot in the spring,” said Kelly, who’ll be teaching high school English this fall.
“The new school year is going to be different, and we’re working on our plans. But I’m excited to be back in school and see the kids again,” he said.
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