Hyalite Elementary

The front sign at Hyalite Elementary School on Tuesday in Bozeman.

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The best part of having to do Bozeman High School classes online is having flexibility to do assignments whenever you want so long as you get the work done by Friday.

The worst part of school being closed by the coronavirus pandemic, said 15-year-old sophomore Mia Hutchison, is there are no activities with classmates, no discussion with classmates, no classmates at all.

“It’s just not the same,” Hutchison said Tuesday.

Like most Bozeman teenagers, she’s been cooped up at home for more than two weeks, with no way of knowing whether the governor’s school closure and stay-at-home orders will end April 10 or not.

“I hate it. I cannot see anyone. I’m so bored,” she said.

Her mom, Susie Hutchison, a real estate broker, said while walking with her eighth-grade son, for “the first time in my son’s life, he said he’d rather be in school!”

Since Montana’s governor on March 15 ordered all schools closed to prevent spreading the virus, the Bozeman School District has scrambled to move all lessons onto the internet. Paper packets were made up for families without internet access.

“I’m amazed” at how well teachers, principals and staffs have done, Superintendent Bob Connors told school board trustees Monday night. Schools have taught the same way for decades, he said, with a teacher walking into a classroom to deliver a lesson to kids.

“We had a week to switch it,” Connors said. “We did it. I’m very proud of our teachers. It’s unbelievable.”

Trustee Douglas Fischer thanked everyone responsible for “turning education inside out overnight.”

For his two kids at Bozeman High, Fischer said, Google Classroom software works well, but kids miss the social aspect of classwork.

“It’s not as exciting, working from a computer, harder to keep motivated and engaged,” Fischer said Tuesday. “We’ve had more robust conversations at the dinner table. It has forced us as parents to be more involved.”

Katy Paynich, a Bozeman High English teacher, said she’s not much of a techie, but the school gave teachers good online technical training last week so all teachers would be ready. School officials suggested keeping things simple in this, the first week of online instruction.

Paynich, who teaches AP world studies and English 2, is also the mother of 10th-grade twins at Bozeman High. She said her first assignment asked students to write about “the elephant in the room” — their experiences with the virus and what they were learning about life.

“They see the downside, the social isolation and death,” she said. “They’re also trying to be hopeful about the future, finding a cure and vaccine. A lot of them are expressing gratitude for what they have.”

Connors said there will be stumbles with online teaching, but there are also some advantages. Kids will be better prepared for college work that relies more on online education. Parents might learn new skills, too.

He might be an “obnoxious optimist,” Connors said, but he also sees advantages in families getting out for walks together, which reminds him of life growing up in Butte.

“The family unit is going to be stronger,” he predicted.

Connors said they’re still trying to figure out how to provide some normalcy for Bozeman High seniors, who have seen traditions like prom canceled. “We’re looking at different ideas for graduation,” he said.

On Tuesday, Mia Hutchison had to work on assignments in biology and algebra 2, watch an online video for Spanish, fill out a fitness log for gym, and write an essay for AP English and world history.

The high school’s website has an easy-to-follow chart listing every teacher and online links to every class assignment, from anatomy to world geography. There’s also links to mental health resources and college and career planning.

Fischer said was struck him most were the emails his kids got from their teachers, their honesty and frankness about how the uncertainty was affecting everyone, including themselves.

“They’re telling kids ‘Don’t worry,’” he said. “’We’ll all get through this together.’”

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.