HELENA — It doesn’t matter if a student is attending public or private school this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected every child’s leaning in one way or another. COVID-19 relief funds have helped private schools adapt to the pandemic, and prevent financial hardship on their organizations..
St. Andrew School in Helena has been holding classes in-person for about a week now for their 187 students, and there’s no denying things look different.
Students and staff get their temperature checked every day, stay within their class units, wash hands regularly and are required to wear a facemask or shield if they’re unable to wear a mask.
If a student or teacher does test positive for COVID-19, the class is sent home until contact tracing can be completed. While at home, the class will temporarily transition to remote learning until they’re able to return.
St. Andrew staff worked with public health for their plan and say the students have adapted, as kids tend to do.
“I think it’s really interesting,” said St. Andrew School Principal G.G. Grotbo. “I didn’t expect children would follow along with that, but I would have to say the majority of our children we haven’t had any issues. The kindergarten students will play with their mask and they’re not used to having it on. They aren’t fighting it at all, but don’t want to have it on all the time.”
St. Andrew has implemented times and opportunities for the children to remove their masks for a little bit while distancing from others.
Grotbo says she’s seen first hand the difference in-person classes has had on her students.
“I think they appreciate school a lot more, they appreciate their teachers a lot more and just being together. So they’re being cautious, they’re following all the rules that they need to do but they’re loving being here,” said Grotbo.
When the COVID shutdown began this spring, the catholic school went to remote learning.
Grotbo said that experience and parent feedback made it abundantly clear they wanted in-person school for their children this fall.
“We started talking about it back in April of how we are going to be able to work this out so that we can have in-person instructions,” said Grotbo.
Adapting to COVID has been an expensive endeavor for many schools. New cleaning and sanitation protocols can cost schools thousands of dollars if not more depending on their size.
To help schools meet those needs, the State of Montana created their School Funding for Pandemic Related Impacts programs.
Since July, more than $66.8 million in CARES Act COVID relief grants have been awarded to schools across Montana, with just shy of $1.9 million of that funding going to private schools.
St. Andrew School received a $59,000 grant which Grotbo says has been a great help.
“It wasn’t a tremendous amount compared to a lot of schools but for us it was tremendous, and it really was so beneficial,” said Grotbo. “Private schools really don’t have a lot of extra funding. We’re really tuition and donation driven.”
Without the COVID relief grant St. Andrew School would have needed to take money from other capital projects like textbooks or building upgrades.
The School Funding for Pandemic Related Impacts don’t just help schools weather the current school year. They also ensure that years down the road schools won’t face financial burden as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.