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Small school district with unique distance learning methods wrapping up school year

Green Mountain School District is the smallest school district in southwest Washington. It found its size created challenges and opportunities for teaching.

CLARK COUNTY, Wash. — If you drive far enough on the Lewis River Highway in Clark County, you'll eventually come to a small school established in 1932. Green Mountain School is the smallest district around, with about 160 students, kindergarten through 8th grade, and one teacher for every grade.

Things have changed, but not that much. Distance learning through the COVID-19 crisis looks a little different here, than in larger districts.

"We knew that internet was not going to be reliable so we film videos every week," said 2nd grade teacher Nicole McClennen, who is in her first year teaching at the school she attended as a kid.

Teachers make a lot of videos covering all the subjects.  Because the internet is unreliable in the area, the lessons go on USB drives.

"It's lower tech but it's actually worked better for our families, where I'm hearing a lot of families are struggling with bandwidth," said Tyson Vogeler, who is both the superintendent of the district and school principal.  

Credit: Green Mountain School District

Teachers also make lots of calls to students and parents to check in.  And the school puts together packets that go out each Friday. Inside are the USB drives, and paper lesson sheets.  Also, some kids write notes to their friends, that accompany the learning materials. Fifth-grader Bradley Atchley has written several of them.

"I was talking about how I miss them and can wait to see them next year, or sooner," said Atchley.

Parents and students have been picking up packets every Friday at the school gymnasium. Those who can't get there have them delivered. School staff has also been delivering lunches every school day to families who need them. 

And in some cases, teachers have been going to their students' homes, white board in hand. They go to teach lessons outside, with social distancing in mind, for students who need extra help.

It's been a lot of effort for a small district, to manage distance learning in the times of COVID.  And as the Green Mountain school year winds down this week, teachers like Nicole McClennen are pleased with what everyone's accomplished, but also looking forward to getting back to normal some day.

"My kids are pretty cool, they send me postcards and write me letters and I write them back, and talking to them on the phone is pretty nice.  But I really really miss seeing them in the classroom every day it's definitely harder than what it used to be."