The 2020-21 school year is well underway in Teton County and with limited access to school campuses, each school district is finding creative ways to stay connected with students, families and community members.
Throughout the past six months, school administrators have preached communication being the key in making everything work. Schools are using everything from newspaper articles and school newsletters to weekly bulletins and social media to stay in contact.
A new program at the Fairfield Public Schools started with an idea before COVID-19 and is a bonus with the current restrictions. The school is offering an independent video production course.
Superintendent Duston Gordon picked up the idea from Ryan Sheehy, a keynote speaker at a school conference last year. Sheehy talked about getting students involved in promoting and informing. He used the example of students making the morning announcements.
Gordon said he liked the idea and has built on that concept, creating a class for interested students. “I spoke with a senior, Luke Ostberg, to see if he felt there would be any interest,” Gordon said. “His response was positive.” Ostberg, along with Rylan Signalness and Justin Forseth, are taking the class. Gordon said it is an independent class. The students meet daily for 45 minutes. Their work is supervised by Gordon and school Principal Courtney Bake. Gordon said they are charged right now with producing one video per week, which will be reviewed by the administrators before sharing with the public. He foresees additional goals to be established as the class progresses and envisions participation in the class to grow.
“The students have taken the idea and run with it,” Gordon said. “It has been great, even better than I envisioned. They are up to date with the technology and quick to learn what they might not be familiar with. … The outcome is completely different coming from the students than it would be if it was a teacher-driven course.”
Gordon said things have changed somewhat since he first considered offering the class. “With health concerns, the school building isn’t open to the public as it has been in the past,” Gordon said. “The videos the students are producing give parents and community members a glimpse into life inside the school from a student perspective. Parents can see firsthand how their children are learning.”
Gordon said the concept could be used to include events such as the annual Veterans Day program. “Given the restrictions, we will not be able to hold our annual Veterans program,” Gordon said. “That program is a highlight with the community each year and we don’t want to just let it slide. Instead, we will work with the video production class to create a video to share.”
The student-produced videos may be viewed on the Fairfield Public Schools Facebook page. For those who do not have Facebook, the students are hoping to add the videos to the school’s website, www.fairfield.k12.mt.us.
The three seniors are excited about the class and amazed at the response. Forseth is the only one who had previous experience with creating videos; he also helped the 4-H Teton County Fair this summer with a video project.
They said they are learning by trial and error and each production is becoming easier. The students are using cell phones to film the videos at the moment and are using software they have used in the past. The school district is working on acquiring equipment to assist the class as needs are determined.
So far, the video production class has produced weekly reports and two videos recognizing the senior football and volleyball players. The videos have included interviews with staff members. Students spend time preparing the videos by visiting with teachers, reviewing activities and writing the copy before creating the video. They are including information from the elementary, junior high and high school.
Signalness said it takes a great deal more work to produce the video than she expected. “We utilize the class time and are spending more time outside of that to work on the video each week,” she said.
“We were really surprised by the number of views we have had on some of the videos,” Forseth said. “There were more than 1,000 for one.” All three said they are receiving positive comments from fellow students and the response online from those watching has been supportive.
The quality of the half dozen two to three minutes already produced has been excellent. The students are adding special effects to enhance the videos.
The Dutton/Brady school district is also using digital production to hold events. The school district held a virtual open house in September. “In addition to our virtual open house, we will hold monthly virtual parent meetings aimed to provide parents training and guidance on ongoing school events,” said school Superintendent Erica Allen. The October meeting will focus on Google Classroom.
Allen said throughout the spring, about 40% of their parents participated in the virtual events. “The percentage at our opening house was much lower for the live event and so we shared a recording with the community so they could view at their convenience,” she said.
The Choteau School District has held its board meetings via video conference for several months and found the interest to be high. “We have had numbers varying from 45 to 85, to more than 125 depending upon what is on the agenda,” said Secondary Principal/Assistant Athletic Director Wendi Hammond. Anyone wanting more information regarding board meeting “attendance” can email Julie Shepherd at email@example.com for the link.
Dutton/Brady School District has also held a number of their board meeting throughout the spring and summer via video conference software, and has had parents and community members observe the meeting.
Hammond said the Choteau school website is used for keeping board meeting agenda, contact information for staff and school as well as programming available. School calendars, monthly newsletters and athletic/activities schedules and school menus are also posted.
Hammond’s comments were echoed by fellow administrators at Dutton/Brady, Fairfield and Power who said their websites contain similar information. The school websites also include interfacing with students and teachers and avenues for checking grades, paying for lunches, etc.
The schools are also using a variety of messenger formats via voice and internet to contact students and families. Allen said the Dutton/Brady district uses the Remind App for communication. “With this app, teachers frequently communicate with parents,” she said. “The district is also able to share quick messages with parents. We have found this app to be very effective.”
For the most part, school Facebook pages include a variety of material from announcements to pictures of activities and events. “I send out pictures and events happening in the classrooms and around the school on this page,” Allen said of the Dutton/Brady page. “We also use this page periodically as an additional avenue to get important community information out quickly, however, our Facebook page is not a main form of communication.” A number of clubs and groups at the schools, such as FFA and sports, also have Facebook pages. These are managed by the club advisers or students.
Choteau also uses School Messenger and Student Information System email function (brand name Tyler). The system is used for making district-wide announcements as needed and is an effective way to communicate, according to the school.
“The Choteau Facebook pages are used for updating families about activities/sports, sharing student photos at events, board meeting agenda and other school news,” said Hammond. “I also use this to post Volunteer Hour (Service Learning) opportunities for students. Coaches will also add information here for teams/families when they can.”
Hammond also said the school makes good use of newspapers, saying, “the Acantha does a superior job coordinating our news and updates in a timely manner both in print and on the Facebook platform.”
Gordon has aired several videos on the Facebook page, from introducing himself as the new superintendent to updates on attendance at sporting events. Gordon said it is a quick and easy way to add on to the other forms of communication in keeping the students, families and community members informed.
All four school districts have different attendance guidelines for sporting events. They are all, however, airing games and matches on the NFHS network, a paid internet service. District 1B schools post weekly varsity schools and district standings to district1b.com. That information is updated weekly.
Greenfield, Golden Ridge and Bynum rural schools are also using various avenues to communicate. Greenfield school has a Facebook page, “Greenfield School Cubs.”
Choteau Public Schools
•Facebook: “Choteau Jr. High / High School” and “Choteau Elementary School”
•Newsletter: published monthly and posted on website
•Sports standings: district1b.com
Dutton/Brady Public Schools
•Facebook: “Dutton/Brady School”
•Newsletter: sent via mail monthly
•Weekly activities: emailed to those requesting the service
Fairfield Public Schools
•Facebook: “Fairfield Public Schools”
•Newsletter: when created, posted to website and linked to Facebook
•Sports standings: district1b.com
Power Public Schools
•School website: power.k12.mt.us
•Facebook page: “Power Schools”
•Newsletter: published monthly on the school website or mailed
•Weekly activities: emailed (contact firstname.lastname@example.org to be included).