The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

Zurich Elementary Goes Hybrid and Welcomes a New Teacher


August 26, 2020

Zurich Elementary School began their first day of the 2020-2021 school year on Wednesday, August 19, with nineteen students and one new staff member: K-2 teacher Sherry Hofman.

Originally from Belgrade, Montana, Hofman has taught since 2017 in Lustre, a community in Valley County with an elementary school that served 43 students last year. At Zurich, she has six students, two who were previously home schooled.

For her students, Hofman identified one important goal: “I want them to learn what they need to know, not only about social distancing but about academics. Any time they struggle, we’ll just redo the concept or skill in a different way. Repetition and routine are key for the littles.”

Hofman, who learned about the Zurich teaching vacancy on the Office of Public Instruction’s website, has gathered all of her experience in rural schools with multi-grade classrooms like those at Zurich Elementary. She believes this accumulated experience will contribute to a successful school year.

Living in Zurich at the teacherage, Hofman expressed pleasure at being closer to groceries and other services. With Chinook and Harlem both within eleven miles, that distance is much more manageable than the 35 miles from Lustre to Wolf Point. However, she was especially happy to be 183 miles closer to her six grandchildren in the Belgrade and Three Forks areas.

All three teachers at the school reported being somewhat exhausted on Wednesday, after a first day of trying to keep everything sanitized and everyone energized on an especially hot day in Zurich, where temperatures reached 94 degrees.

“Everything from playground equipment to classroom spaces required sanitizing,” lead teacher and school administrator, Colleen Overcast said. A sign in her classroom reads: “Just a few clowns short of a circus,” and she claimed that Wednesday felt just like one of those days.

Overcast went on to report that the school’s plan is a hybrid one with an offsite option. “Most of our students will be in school, and we hope that our Phase Two conditions do nothing but improve because we have a lot of siblings and families with vulnerable members. So, if one gets sick, we’re sunk. We just don’t want to return to another school closure like we had this past spring. Having students physically in school is our best option for learning.”

In an effort to minimize the risk of infection, the Zurich School Board did decide to shut down any out of district enrollment. School officials are also performing daily temperature checks, staggering recess and lunch periods, following all social distancing guidelines, and sanitizing everything.

“Despite the adjustments that everyone is making, the students seemed generally ready and glad to be back,” Overcast reported.


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