While many schools in Grant County began distance learning on April 13, Prairie City decided to implement the new program on April 8 to give time to find bugs and provide students with the supplies needed.

On April 8, staff and faculty from Prairie City hand-delivered a packet to every student that had directions on how to get into Google Classroom and how to use the application, according to Casey Hallgarth, the superintendent for Prairie City. The packets also included contact information for the teachers and their availability times.

“We decided to send our stuff out on Wednesday (April 8), and we did that so we can work out some kinks, and we knew we were going to have some difficulties with laptops to mitigate the work on (April 13),” Hallgarth said. “For the most part, it went well, and we handed out around 80 laptops to kids.”

Some of the packets were not as full as others because the school was aware of students who had internet access and didn’t need the additional paperwork for school work.

Students who do not have internet access will continue to receive packets every Wednesday. These packets will include the information and assignments that can be found on Google Classrooms.

Hallgarth had the opportunity to see the reaction of several kids in pre-school who were on their device with their parents, learning from the teacher online. The kids were fascinated by the technology and being able to see and learn from teachers on a screen.

Some of the problems Hallgarth noticed was in getting people started with technology and signing into classes.

“Our hiccups have been trying to have students and parents understand the teachers’ directions on getting access to the online applications and getting the equipment set up for the parents to go out,” Hallgarth said. “If you hand someone a piece of paper that I am not used to seeing these directions and messing with a device you have never been on before — its all foreign for some of these parents.”

It’s been a shift for teachers as well. Billy Colson, a middle and high school math teacher at Prairie City, hadn’t facilitated an online class prior to the pandemic.

“I work with an amazing group of small school math teachers throughout Eastern Oregon, and I’m amazed by what they are able to do with technology, and there is a lot of online things you can do,” Colson said. “I’m making links to tutorial videos, and I’m also trying to give them things they’re familiar with and refer to our curriculum when I teach.”

Colson said challenges have been getting students used to a new computer program and motivating them to do work after an extended spring break.

“About 10% of kids will excel at it, but most kids need more interaction from people,” Colson said. “Hopefully, kids will be more familiar with video conferencing or calling us with questions as time goes on.”

One goal for the school is to not overwhelm students with school work and make sure to have a balance between work and a student’s well-being.

“We are not here to overwhelm parents and students with a ton of work,” Hallgarth said. “We are here to give them our support and teach them a little bit, but we also want to make sure everybody is doing well socially and emotionally.”

Hallgarth said a majority of staff is available from 7:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays by phone for students to call if they have any questions.


Rudy Diaz is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. Contact him at rudy@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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