BILLINGS - Teachers across the country are focusing on the end of the school year and making that final push to get students ready for the next grade before the summer break begins.
However, perhaps the greatest work this year comes from third-grade teachers nationwide, who are racing to get their students at grade level after a challenging pandemic of remote learning and mask-wearing.
Third grade is the last opportunity to master reading before students face more demanding expectations in their learning career.
School District 2 Teacher, Robbyn Hergenrider has spent the better part of her teaching career at Arrowhead Elementary in Billings, cultivating the young minds of 3rd graders.
Just after recess on a Tuesday afternoon, her third graders gracefully walk into her classroom, focused, energized and ready to learn. The students grab their reading materials, disseminate into various areas of the classroom and pick up their lesson effortlessly.
“There’s high expectations and we strive to meet those,” she says.
Hergenrider knows there’s a lot riding on her shoulders as a third-grade teacher.
“Here at 3rd grade, we strive to make sure all students are at benchmark,” she said. “Students who are on level by third grade have a much better chance of being successful throughout their future career.”
It’s a simple fact that makes her job in the classroom essential to the success of the students she greets every day.
School districts nationwide saw some unanticipated obstacles after the pandemic, with remote learning. To address that pandemic learning loss, one School District in Atlanta added 30 minutes of class time a day as third graders lost ground in reading.
“We definitely saw discrepancies between those kids that were remote and those kids that were actually in the classroom,” said Arrowhead Principal Pam Meier.
She says, teachers knew coming right out of COVID that students would really need that push.
“And we worked on those foundation skills really hard and that was our focus and now we are on the tail end of it and our 3rd graders have reached where they needed to reach,” said Meier.
Meier has the data to back it up too.
According to the Montana Office of Public Instruction, standardized testing for this school year, is still underway, but a glance at the last two years shows a slight growth of about 1.5% in English Language Arts proficiency scores for 3rd graders across Elementary schools in School District 2.
The date from 2021 to 2022 shows 37.7% of students across Billings Elementary Schools proficient in English Language Arts, that’s compared to 36.2% proficient in 202-2021.
OPI doesn’t have data for 2019-2020 due to COVID testing waivers.
Meier says that’s because Billings School teachers know from the start, that third grade is a turning point for students.
“And so, we make sure that we have a solid plan in place with our curriculum and resources to make sure that we are meeting that goal,” she said.
During the COVID pandemic, School District 2 opted for remote learning from May to March of 2020 with students coming back into the classroom the following fall.
But Hergenrider says then teachers were presented with a literal barrier too, with the use of masks.
“Everyone has to speak a little bit louder,” she said. “And that was a little tricky but I feel like the kids adjust very very quickly.”
Third-grade teachers everywhere, are already playing a critical role in a student’s life, but now many find themselves tasked with an even greater importance; getting their students to grade level.
And as the school year ends, Hergenrider is feeling accomplished in her Arrowhead classroom.
“It’s fun to see the learning that’s taking place from the beginning of the year to now,” she said. “Often times you don’t even realize how much the kids have learned throughout the year, until you start looking back.”