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For a couple hours each day, a family has hung out in the Gallatin Gateway School parking lot. Even though the school has been closed for face-to-face classes since March, the proximity played a key role.

Without internet access at home, the family wanted its children to learn similar to some of their classmates. So a parent brought them by the school just to be able to connect online.

“We were willing to do everything offline with her and she was like, ‘No, it gets us out of the house,’” Gallatin Gateway superintendent and principal Theresa Keel said. “... So the kids can join in with their classmates in the online class meetings and stuff.”

As schools have turned to remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic, they’ve accommodated students in several ways. In more rural areas, that’s meant distributing devices for students to use and customizing strategies for those without internet access.

“I’ve heard from parents that the novelty of the online instruction has worn off a bit,” said Matthew Henry, Gallatin County’s superintendent of schools. “And there’s a lot of screen time for kids and it hasn’t been ideal for parents who are trying to work from home and their kids are there. I think it depends on the family how well it’s been received and how effective it’s been.”

At the 13-student kindergarten to eighth grade Malmborg School east of Bozeman, each student received an iPad and a Chromebook to assist their learning from home. At Gallatin Gateway, which has 163 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, about 50 or 60 Chromebooks were distributed.

Those devices allowed teachers to use the internet as a substitute for the in-person instruction.

“Nobody’s ever done it before,” Henry said.

“I really commend schools for adapting. It’s been quite a challenge for them to adapt to remote instruction overnight.”

But the lack of internet, or at least enough bandwidth to properly stream video conferences, forced adjustments. At the start of the closure, 12 families with children attending Gallatin Gateway couldn’t connect to virtual meetings, Keel said.

So teachers created hard copy packets for students that were delivered on bus routes when meals were also delivered. They’ve communicated daily via phone calls and emails, as well.

Over time, more families purchased or increased their bandwidth, so the number of families who couldn’t access virtual meetings decreased to three. But the individualized approach remained constant.

“Our kids are getting a very personalized instructional model,” Keel said. “Whatever the kids need to be successful, that’s what our teachers are providing.”

At Malmborg, there’s a one-to-one student-to-technology ratio because of the devices that were distributed. Lead teacher Roxy Marquardt downloaded a Google Hangouts app onto each iPad. The Chromebooks required email addresses to be set up.

Marquardt created a goal earlier in the school year to use technology more in her teaching, which she certainly achieved the past two months. Though she said it consistently worked, an occasional glitch has been the biggest challenge.

“You never know when you send a Chromebook home if it’s going to work for that student every single day,” Marquardt said. “It’s technology, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

Keel thinks the methods used in the past two months have limited the effects of teachers and students not being in the same room.

“I don’t believe it will be a huge gap. I think it will be very manageable,” Keel said. “Ask me in the fall and I’ll give you the real answer how it really turned out.”

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Paul Schwedelson can be reached at or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.