GREAT FALLS — When the school day ended on Friday, March 13, teachers and staff at Valley View Elementary School had no idea that it would be the last time they would see their students in the building for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.
That weekend, Governor Steve Bullock directed all K-12 public schools in Montana to close until at least March 27. That’s now been extended to April 10, but that’s not stopping elementary teachers from Great Falls Public Schools from reconnecting. On Thursday, teachers from elementary schools around Great Falls drove through their respective attendance areas parade-style to catch a glimpse of their students.
As the cars roamed the streets, honking along the way, many students were ready for them, standing in their driveways or lawns or in parking lots, some of them with signs showing their appreciation.
Valley View principal Rachel Cutler said the idea came during a district principals meeting, after seeing Facebook videos of other states doing the same thing. The parade route for Valley View was about 18 miles, including a stop at Sam’s Club, which offered refreshments to the teachers.
“We thought, wouldn't it be nice if we just did it all at the same time district wide and really showed the community that that you know, that we miss kids and that we want to see them, we thought it would be a community building thing,” Cutler said. “Just wanted to do something to help everybody feel good during this time. This has been tough for everyone.”
Cutler said responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging. While remote learning makes it possible to connect, not every student has the same access to technology. And it goes beyond just learning. The district has been delivering meals to all children under age 18 since March 16. Overall, parents and teachers alike have handled the fast changes with grace.
“It's hard for them to be able to replicate what happens every day at school. But they've been amazing. My staff has been incredible. And I would echo that throughout the district, even speaking from a parent perspective, I’ve gotten a lot of contact from my own children's teachers.”
The teachers at Riverview and Valley View schools got a little treat at the end of the parade, courtesy of Sam’s Club. Club manager Crystal Nix said it offered a way to show appreciation for the teachers in a tough time: “I have two children in elementary school. And I know that my kids are missing those teachers dearly,” Nix said. “But I know that the teachers are also missing their kids. It's breaking their hearts that they're not there for them right now. And reaching out to the community and just offering some snacks and drinks to the teachers is just our way of being able to connect without actually being able to physically connect with anyone right now.”
As of Thursday afternoon (March 26), there are 90 cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Montana.
Here is the current total by county: Gallatin 38; Yellowstone 14; Missoula 7; Flathead 5; Cascade 5; Butte-Silver Bow 5; Lewis & Clark 5; Madison 2; Broadwater 2; Ravalli 1; Roosevelt 1; Jefferson 1; Hill 1; Toole 1; Lincoln 1; Meagher 1.
There have now been seven hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in Montana, according to the state Coronavirus Task Force. There have not been any deaths in Montana attributed to COVID-19 at this point.
Officials in Montana are keeping a list of confirmed cases in the Treasure State on an updated map and website - click here to visit the site.
As of Thursday afternoon, the DPHHS public health lab in Helena has completed 2,680 tests for COVID-19; that includes 476 tests conducted since Wednesday.