COVID-19 has sent schools all over the country scrambling for ways to keep students and staff safe without upending the learning process.
One of the smallest schools in western Montana has some significant advantages -- with at least one big disadvantage.
Woodman School, just west of Lolo on US Highway 12, certainly sounds like any school in Montana, but there are some immediately noticeable differences.
There’s a staff of seven, including five teachers, that oversees a student body of only 38. The students stay in the small group throughout the day. And the rural setting, a home on the range of sorts, is more than just a picturesque backdrop.
“Absolutely. We have more space to work with. We also have a smaller class size, in general, and an overall smaller community population,” said Neil Murry who’s the supervising teacher at Woodman School.
“We’re able to spread out more easily. We’ve been joking that we’ve been physically distancing out here since 1903 when the school first opened.”
Much of class and lunchtime, weather permitting, are held outdoors. Students pack their own lunches and most get rides to school from their parents, limiting several other sources of potential virus spread.
Internet access is always a problem in the area and caused a major issue when remote learning started last spring. But Murray says Woodman has worked to fix those problems and used the summer to renovate the original building for class space.
“Academically, things are moving along the way we’d like them to. We’re still able to do full class instruction, small group instruction,” Murray said. “It looks a little bit different, but the bulk of what we're trying to do out here remains the same.”
Murray added that the school community has not had any COVID setbacks and enrollment has remained the same during the pandemic.