Virtual learning in Great Falls goes "old school" as Roosevelt campus finds new purpose

Posted at 11:22 AM, Aug 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-21 13:22:28-04

About 1,600 Great Falls students have chosen the remote learning option when the school year begins on August 26th, and when the virtual bell rings, the district will be ready. The new center for online learning is an old standby - Roosevelt Elementary School.

When students left Roosevelt as the pandemic made its way to Montana, it was thought by many the historic building was done. However, during uncertain times there's a new purpose for the facility. From training teachers to stocking PPE, the Great Falls School District has been busy getting Roosevelt "Covid Ready."

The school will be home to the district's remote learning operations for the upcoming school year.

"It's just a great old historic building that we really all appreciate the historic value of it,” said Susan Quinn, the co-coordinator of curriculum for grades 7-12 for Great Falls Public Schools. “And we are so glad that are all able to be in one place to offer these services to students."

"I think Roosevelt is the perfect place for us to house these programs,” said Rachel Cutler, co-coordinator of curriculum for elementary for Great Falls Public Schools. “We won't have a lot of students in our building but we will have a lot of teachers and I think this building in particular will meet our needs."

While the classrooms will be mostly empty, the building will be buzzing with new ideas from a faculty made up of current district teachers and some additional instructors who have been hired thanks to covid relief funds from the state and federal government.

About 850 elementary students and 750 secondary students have signed up and will receive their lessons though programs including Moodle, Google Classroom and other technology.

Organizers say the model will be more responsive to parents and students and a big difference between this year and last spring will be teacher presence. "Teachers will have a couple hours each day for office hours where they are sitting literally in a zoom meeting by themselves and students can actually click a link and join them to ask questions and get in person help from their teachers," said Quinn.

Quinn says content will also be delivered by pre-recorded video and teachers will conduct weekly virtual meetings with students.

Cutler says families will be counted on to make the model work. "It will require parents to be really pretty supportive of them at home,” said Cutler. “Parents are kind of the first line of help when their students need it."

Quinn has been involved with Montana's Digital Academy for about a decade. She believes the flexibility of online learning can extend beyond the pandemic. "Not only have we gone to remote learning to address Covid, but in some cases we're looking at remote learning as way students can get more of the courses they want,” said Quinn.

"By us offering lots of options for families there's so much flexibility with our remote learning model, I do think we're very prepared to meet students needs and I think parents have lots of options for how they want their students to be learning,” said Cutler.

Roosevelt students left two years ago to attend the new Giant Springs Elementary School. Up until March of 2020, the school housed Longfellow students while their new school was being built.

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