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Educators reflect on last day of pandemic school year for Billings schools

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Posted at 3:19 PM, Jun 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-04 18:05:32-04

Friday marked the last day of a school year marked by a pandemic for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade. Students were released at 11:45 a.m. across Billings schools.

Due to the pandemic, staff and students had to overcome challenges, including a mask mandate and remote learning. Justin Huck, principal of Broadwater Elementary School, said Thursday morning that it is remarkable and surprising that they were able to keep kids in the building throughout the year.

He said kids were still able to make good academic progress despite the challenges.

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Broadwater Elementary's last day of school

Counselors were among members of the staff who overcame major change.

“A large part of our job as counselors is building relationships with kids and families. And it was harder to build those relationships this year,” said Claire Habein, counselor for Broadwater Elementary School.

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Broadwater Elementary's last day of school

Habein said to work around the difficulties faced with remote counseling, kids were able to comment on lessons given by counselors virtually and fill out online forms to schedule meetings. Also, numerous phone calls were made home to parents to ensure adequate communication with students and counselors.

“I found that a lot of kids really wanted to meet on Zoom just to have another person outside of their family that they were connecting with. Towards the end of the school year, I find a lot of students talking about how excited they were to see their friends hopefully next school year,” said Habein.

Teachers, specifically ones that taught remote during the pandemic, had to make similar changes.

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Broadwater Elementary's last day of school

“It's been a big difficulty just trying to balance being on the computer most of the time and getting students motivated and engaged. But they are still kids, and they still like to have fun, and you know, sort of just trying to make those relationships happen and trying to stay connected with kids is, you know, it's always the difficulty. Didn't matter if it was remote or not but it's, you know, that's every year,” said Nathan Steier, 5th grade remote teacher for Broadwater Elementary.

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Broadwater Elementary's last day of school

Principal Huck said the staff has taken many lessons from the pandemic, including the academic gains from working in small groups, the best way to smoothly flow kids in and out of the school and new ways to reach kids through technology. All of these will be taken into the coming school year.