Montana gets $12.5M for school climate, safety, student mental health

Well, this is big news. Before you read the official news release trumpeting the $12.5 million Montana is getting, I recommend you check out this video that explains what the Montana Behavioral Initiative is and how it is changing education right here in Missoula.

Montana Wins $12.5 Million in Grants
to Address School Climate, School Safety and Mental Health Needs of Students
Helena, MT – Superintendent Denise Juneau announced today that the Office of Public Instruction has received three grants totaling more than $12.5 million to improve school climate and school safety and support the mental and emotional health of Montana students. The Office of Public Instruction was awarded a $3.75 million School Climate Transformation grant, an $8.5 million Project AWARE grant, and a $250,000 School Emergency Planning grant.

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When students love their teacher/coach, and the teacher/coach has cancer, this is what can happen

Today – this afternoon – the Beavers from Beaverhead County High School in Dillon will face Billings Central for the Class A state football title. The game will be in Billings, and coach Steve Vezina will be there.

Word is that Vezina wouldn’t miss it for the world, even though he was recently diagnosed with prostate, colon and liver cancer, and he just returned to Montana from another round of chemo in Salt Lake City.

This guy is clearly dedicated to his students and team. And they are very clearly dedicated to him.

Yesterday, a five-minute video made by his students – actually, it looks like every student, member of the faculty and staff at Beaverhead took part – was posted on YouTube. They’re singing Katy Perry’s “Roar,” and it’s inspiring to say the least.  You can tell just how much Vezina – they call him “Vez” – means to them all.

The video is meant to inspire Vezina to keep up his fight against the cancer – but it’s also inspiring a lot of people to donate to a fund that was set up to help support Vezina’s family during this financially trying time. The Vezina page at gofundme lists a fundraising goal of $5,000 – but the total amount raised so far is more than $27,000. Wow.

Watch the video, and you’ll see why. Be sure to have a hanky ready – the video is making everyone cry buckets.

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Crowded students and long-range school facilities planning

I seem to remember some years ago, before I had kids in school, that Missoula County Public Schools student enrollment was in steep decline. As recently as 2004, MCPS was closing entire schools.

Now, enrollment is increasing so much that schools – including Rattlesnake, Lowell and Russell – have had to tack on extra classrooms to accommodate extra classes of students.

The new modular building at Rattlesnake is pretty nice. It looks like this:

TOM BAUER/Missoulian

But at least 200 more elementary students, 100 more middle-school students, and almost 30 high-school students are projected to join MCPS within the next four years. That would be a lot of modulars.

Fortunately, MCPS is currently entering the second phase of its facilities planning process. The process casts a wide net over the future of Missoula’s public schools, and fluctuations in student enrollment numbers is only one consideration.

A guest column from MCPS’s Hatton Littman will be on tomorrow’s Opinion page; it urges the larger Missoula community to get engaged with the process.  It also notes that the next Community Listening Session will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 6:30-8 p.m. at the Broadway Inn Hotel and Conference Center at 1609 W. Broadway.

Consider attending. If you can’t, however, there are other ways to get involved, starting here.


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Kindergartners causing big increase in Missoula school enrollment

In today’s Missoulian, K-12 education reporter Jamie Kelly takes us all the way back to the baby boomer generation and explains how the “echoes” of that generation have affected local school enrollment.

To wit: Missoula County Public Schools enrollment has been on the decline for the past seven years. But not this year.

MCPS this year saw a big increase in kindergarten enrollment. The 660 kids it took in is about 120 more than its 10-year average.

These kindergartners are among the 8,555 students currently attending school in Missoula, up from 8,381 last year.

So if you have a kiddo in school, and it seems like there are more kids in your kid’s school, now you know why.

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Kids and guns at school in the news

We all remember the recent incident – it was just after Thanksgiving – in which a Columbia Falls teen faced suspension for bringing her hunting rifle to school in the trunk of her car.

Columbia Falls High School student Demari DeReu, upon learning that the school was conducting a “sweep” through the parking lot, volunteered the information that she had stored the rifle in the trunk following a Thanksgiving weekend hunting trip. She was suspended, but allowed to return to school following a open hearing before the board of trustees.

Then, in Great Falls, a C.M. Russell High School student was suspended for bringing a gun to school. It too was stored in the teenager’s car, but in this case it was found following a report of an off-campus “altercation.” Following a closed-door hearing, the student was expelled.

Now, in the most recent case that I’m aware of, two eighth-graders in Florence have been suspended over a BB gun found at Florence-Carlton Middle School. One of the boys brought the plastic Airsoft to school in his backpack, apparently intending to move it from his grandmother’s house back to his own house. The second boy found the unloaded toy gun in the other boy’s backpack at the end of the day.

Their full punishment is yet to be determined, but was arrived at in a close-door hearing that decided the boys will not be expelled.

I wonder if stuff like this happens as often in other states.

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Physical education trend has kids taking classes online

Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is only the latest school to allow students to take combined health/physical education classes online:

In one semester, students complete 40 written assignments, which cover topics such as body composition, nutrition and the benefits of fitness. At the same time, they must log 60 activities, which their parents verify.

The article reports that some students are thriving under this new, non-competitive model. After all, it lets students themselves choose their own activities.

And therein lies the rub for me. I admittedly don’t have a competitive bone in my body. I’ll do my level best at Scrabble or chess, but if my best turns out to be worse than my opponent’s, I really couldn’t care less.

And back in high school, I despised P.E. I took every opportunity I could to skip it – usually to go snowboarding instead. Physical activity wasn’t the problem. Doing activities that didn’t interest me was the problem.

And that was also the benefit. If not for high school P.E., I would never have tried playing volleyball, cricket, softball, soccer or any other of the countless number of sports I suffered through over the course of four years. Thanks to P.E., I discovered unexpected affinities for things I wouldn’t have tried otherwise (hello weightlifting!) and interacted with other students in a way that I wouldn’t have otherwise (and in a way you simply can’t match on a computer).

Those are experiences I’d like my own daughter to have. Sure, I can kick a soccer ball around with her in the backyard, but I sure wouldn’t be the best teacher. And I could enroll her in an after-school sport, but given the expense of the classes and equipment, not to mention limited time, she would only be able to try out one or two new sports a year.

So I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that her physical education includes actual physical movement and practice with her peers – and that maybe sometime in the course of her school career, she will discover a love for some sport or other activity that will keep her moving her whole life.

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Valentine’s Day is for suckers. And ice cream.

Yesterday my daughter’s kindergarten class had its Valentine’s Day party, and I was shocked that not a single box of conversation hearts turned up in her hand-decorated oatmeal-canister mailbox.

I remember getting two dozen boxes of those things one Valentine’s Day when I was in elementary school.

But my daughter’s classmates seemed thrilled – absolutely ecstatic! – to receive pencils, bookmarks, cards and the occasional fruit leather. And, of course, there were pink suckers for everyone (my daughter picked them out herself).

And waiting at home for both myself and my daughter were two heart-shaped boxes of chocolates as well, courtesy of my very thoughtful husband.

With all this sugar coursing through our bloodstreams, we opted out of one of our usual (and one of my all-time favorite) Missoula traditions: the annual Valentine’s Day opening of the Dairy Queen on Higgins Street.

And it turns out we weren’t the only ones eschewing those Dilly bars yesterday, although the Paxson School students featured in this article did so for an entirely different reason: they were solving a hypothetical cookie theft as part of their after-school adventures in science and forensics. Sweet!

By KURT WILSON/Missoulian

By KURT WILSON/Missoulian

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Kids publish their first memoirs before reaching their teens

Memoir. Personal history. Autobiography.

Students at Rattlesnake Elementary School have not only written their life’s stories – they have had them illustrated, printed and bound into books.

The book designs and illustrations were provided by Sentinel High School students thanks to a partnership between the two schools.

And what did the students think of this collaborative process?

“I thought he did a great job,” said Rattlesnake student Jayden McDonald of the illustrations provided by Sentinel student Austin Finley. “I thought he really listened to my story, and really understood the personality of my dragon.”

Dragon? Sounds like some of these tiny auteurs may have taken a little creative license.



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Thompson Falls School Board may regulate students’ Facebook posts

News from Thompson Falls this morning is that the school board there recently took up a new policy that bans certain electronic devices – cell phones, mostly – in the schools, and that the policy may extend to cover most other forms of “cyber communication.”

The guidelines tighten the restrictions on the use of cell phones and other gizmos in “classrooms, locker rooms and bathrooms, where they can be used to cheat on tests or take objectionable pictures.” The policy also hints that the district has the right to discipline students who post “a disrespectful, threatening or disparaging comment on a Facebook page about another student, teacher or coach,” saying that the board may view this as “cyber bullying” and react “as if the student had made the comment face-to-face in a school hallway or within the practice facility.”

Superintendent Jerry Pauli explains that this policy may become a test case for other districts, and says that the district’s attorney has found the new policy guidelines legally appropriate. According to the article, “He said the policy must be in effect 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year because of the effects repeated cyber-bullying could have on a student’s ability to perform up to their potential in the classroom.”

Furthermore, “Principal Don Jensen said he would not become an Internet or Facebook policeman looking for violations, but that if a complaint was registered he would be obligated to look into it.”

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Frenchtown students show off their smarts in quiz bowls

Frenchtown High School’s A-Team is creaming the competition in regional quiz bowl tournaments, and preparing to hold a tournament of its own – the Frenchtown Fall Open.

As the Missoulian story explains, the tournament was scheduled for today but got postponed due to the weather and poor travel conditions.  Now, the teams from Missoula Sentinel, St. Ignatius, Browning and Dillon will take on Frenchtown on Dec. 6.

The winner will join the winner from Frenchtown’s February tournament in a national competition.

– MM

Frenchtown High School students Megan Fall, Mattea Prison, Molly Brooks and Abby Rose, front from left; Brady Baughman, Stephanie Schell, Mary Brooks, Zahra Tierney and Michael Rebarchik, middle from left; and Kyle Shear, Forrest Bauer, Eamon Thomasson, and Kilah Tierney, back from left, are members of the school’s academic team. The A-Team has been competing in regional and national tournaments, and is hosting its own Frenchtown Fall Open this month. Photo by TOM BAUER/Missoulian

Frenchtown High School students Megan Fall, Mattea Prison, Molly Brooks and Abby Rose, front from left; Brady Baughman, Stephanie Schell, Mary Brooks, Zahra Tierney and Michael Rebarchik, middle from left; and Kyle Shear, Forrest Bauer, Eamon Thomasson, and Kilah Tierney, back from left, are members of the school’s academic team. The A-Team has been competing in regional and national tournaments, and is hosting its own Frenchtown Fall Open this month. Photo by TOM BAUER/Missoulian

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