Teachers, students and their parents at Missoula Online Academy celebrated the end of the school year with lots of pizza, cornhole and bubbles to go around Thursday at a party at Southside Lions Park.
The end of their school year also marks the end of the online program offered to K-5 students. Next year, MOA will be operated through Washington Middle School for students in grades 7-8 and Willard Alternative High School for students in grades 9-12.
Missoula County Public Schools ran the online academy for students of all ages for two years amid the tumultuous COVID pandemic.
“Kids have fun being kids,” said MOA teacher Ike Wallace. “A lot of classmates that they used to see through a screen or teachers that they saw through a screen – they can connect in person today. It’s really powerful and I think it’s been a really positive experience.
Before the pandemic, Wallace taught at Rattlesnake Elementary. As a teacher, he appreciated the district’s continuation of online instruction, as the traditional in-person model was not suitable for every student or educator.
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“I was grateful to be part of creating this, reinventing the wheel as the bus rolled and trying not to get run over,” Wallace said. “I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to have an option for students and families (and) for teachers.”
Wallace has yet to quite decide what the next school year might look like for him. He is again looking at options for teaching in person, but is also considering distance education options outside of MCPS.
Ultimately, he wants the district to continue offering the online academy to young students.
Ronan’s Robin Pleninger enrolled his two elementary-aged children at MOA earlier this school year as out-of-district transfer students, citing COVID concerns and no online options for instruction in their district. origin.
She said her two children excelled academically at MOA due to its small class sizes and one-on-one time with teachers. Throughout the school year, his son’s first-grade teachers scheduled in-person field trips for their classmates to meet.
As first graders at MOA, many of the students in her son’s class had never been inside a school and were unfamiliar with classroom etiquette, such as raising your hand to put a hand down. question or stand in single file. So her teacher began welcoming students into classrooms in person every other Friday afternoon.
“They’re just amazing,” Pleninger said of her children’s teachers at MOA. “They know what children need. I will really miss this place.
Pleninger doesn’t know what the next school year will look like for his children.
“I’m nervous for the fall because the issues that kept me away from (Ronan) are still happening and I don’t have an alternative now that (the MOAs) are gone,” Pleninger said.
MCPS administrators decided to reduce the MOA after a majority of K-6 students responded to a survey saying they intended to return to in-person instruction this school year. next, according to Assistant Superintendent Russ Lodge. In addition, middle and high school students made up the majority of those enrolled in the MOA.
Lodge believes the online academy was ultimately successful and helped the district break down barriers by providing students with multiple ways to learn.
“The pandemic forced us to think outside the box and we had no choice,” Lodge said. “It was like, we have to find something different and it has to be now.”
Lodge observed that while many students opted for the online academy due to health concerns amid the pandemic, many older children preferred to learn remotely.
Such was the case for Gabby Fields, a recent graduate of Sentinel High School, who came to the graduation party on Thursday with her mother Wendy Fields.
When the onset of the pandemic derailed in-person instruction during Gabby’s sophomore year of high school, she thoroughly enjoyed remote learning and never returned to the classroom.
“For me personally, it was much better both in terms of maturing and learning,” Gabby said. “I think all the teachers were great. Even though they weren’t in person, they were really willing to work with you and just helped you at all costs.
Wendy agreed that online learning suited her daughter better because she had more one-on-one time with teachers.
At first, the risk of COVID infection played a part in Gabby’s decision to pursue high school online.
“I totally could have made the decision to go back, but I chose this,” Gabby said. “I was like, no, it worked for me for two years.”
“We even had a long discussion about whether you want to come back for your senior year?” Wendy added. “And she was like, I really don’t, I’m happy about that.”
In the fall, Gabby plans to attend the University of Montana with the goal of one day becoming a nurse.