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The day starts as students begin to arrive at 8:15 a.m. School begins 15 minutes later, but instead of turning to a single teacher, the students log into their various online classes. If questions pop up throughout the day, there’s an instructor in the room they can turn to.

The students are part of a learning pod at Peak Potential, a tutoring organization that launched a new program to provide additional support to students in remote and blended learning.

Rab Cummings, an instructor who works with Peak Potential, said the goal is for students to have their online assignments done by 3:30 p.m., when they head home to their families.

“It’s a real mix,” said Cummings. “Some are in Zoom meetings all day, some are in off and on. We work with them to get all their tasks completed. Some are very independent and some need a little more work.”

As students finish their assigned course work in the afternoon, they can spend time on outdoor activities or creative projects, including a visual photography unit Cummings is planning after the holidays.

Cummings said some students show up every day and others are in the blended model of learning in their district and come only on the days they’re not in school in-person.

In mid-summer, it became clear COVID-19 would be here for the upcoming school year, said Christa Hayes of Peak Potential. She said families they worked with began to ask if there was a way to continue the work full time, and her team decided to design a program to provide additional support for kids and their parents.

“A number of our students or their families are very COVID vulnerable and spending (time) at a school without strict COVID measures is just not an option,” she wrote in an emailed response to the Chronicle.

She said online and blended learning can be a challenge to navigate, especially for those parents who work a full-time job.

The group has tutors who work with students as they complete their online learning assignments, offer additional enrichment activities and make time for exercise and social time.

There have been watershed tours, a financial literacy class for teens and computer coding projects.

“For student who have come to us after really struggling with online or blended school, we have given them a place where they can get the help they need to be successful,” she said.

Peak Potential now has 25 students from third to 12th grades from Bozeman and Belgrade school districts, as well as private schools in the area. To maintain 6 feet of distance between each desk, there is a maximum of eight students in each classroom.

The students are divided into elementary, middle and high school grades. The building also has additional space for students to have private Zoom calls, practice instruments or get one-on-one instruction.

Hayes said there’s room for a few more students since not all students are in the building at the same time due to different school schedules.

The group recognized there might be financial concerns for some families and Hayes said there is additional support for those who need it. She said no one has been turned away for financial reasons.

Both Hayes and Cummings have said parents are glad their kids have an opportunity to get in-person interaction with other kids while also having added teacher support while completing online learning.

“The isolation kids have experienced the past eight months is real and it’s very difficult,” Hayes said. “The social interaction, enrichment and outdoor exercise we provide is as important as the academics in many ways.”

Cummings said it can be isolating and not as productive at home for young people, with mental health a concern for everyone.

“These are young people and sitting down to spend the entire day at the screen and stay focused doesn’t come naturally to them,” he said. “Having someone to coach them along and support them helps.”

The coaches can also be a benefit to the district teachers who create the online materials and might have 20-30 students in a virtual classroom.

Cummings said they regularly communicate with the students’ teachers and encourage students to be accountable for their learning.

Hayes and Cummings both said parents are relieved that learning happens during the days and the evenings can be family time without having to complete online assignments.

Cummings said some parents thrive having an educational relationship with their kids and then there are others who don’t.

“And that’s fine,” he said. “Allowing them to come here takes that pressure off at home.”

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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