HELENA — On Friday, March 13, 2020 school hallways in Helena were filled with the sounds of students going about the days as normal. The following Monday, March 16, 2020, those same hallways would be empty and every parent in the district suddenly had a lot more put on their plate.
Many parents had to balance work and helping their children in school. Depending on the size of the family, that extra work adds up. "I am not going to lie it has not been easy," says Susie Randash, mother of seven children. Over the last year, Randash has been juggling six children’s school schedules.
"Two Elementary, two middle schools, two high schools, and then this guy who wants all of the attention," Randash said while holding her youngest. “We've has days of meltdowns-- both kids and mom. We've had days where I just couldn't do it."
Randash’s 12-year-old son is a sixth-grader at Helena Middle school. For him, the distance learning model and the pressure to keep grades high have been a challenge.
"It's tough because when you go to school, your teachers expect you to do every assignment, and sometimes, I forget to do it then, and it's...just kinda hard," he said.
He isn’t the only child who has been struggling. The Institute of Educational Sciences with the Department of Education has acknowledged that the sudden transition to remote learning has had a significant impact on the education of many students and families.
However, report cards weren’t the only difficulty the Randash family faced.
One of Randash’s challenges has been keeping enough food on the table for seven growing children.
“The kids go through-- to give it perspective, seven kids in the house-- they go through about two gallons of milk a day. At least one loaf of bread," said Randash.
Planning additional meals for nine people became an added stress and possible financial burden to a family whose grocery bill totals about $1,500 a month.
Help was available though, through the Helena school district.
Thanks to grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Helena Schools have been able to provide free meals for all students throughout the pandemic no matter their economic situation.
"This program that Mr.Worthly got for Helena has helped us tremendously offset the cost of having them home all day and grazing food and eating all day long," said Randash.
A year after schools sent kids home for remote learning, the situation isn’t as full of unknowns as it once was.
Students are back in school 4-days a week, leaving Wednesday to remote learning. The schools have clearly defined plans for addressing potential COVID exposure.
Life isn’t back to normal yet for the Randash family, but it’s getting there.