Charlo School District

Updated May 15, 2019

Providing World Languages in a small district

Charlo, Montana

Charlo is a town of approximately 400 in Lake County, located within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation. Agriculture and ranching drive the local economy, and a significant number of residents commute to work in other towns, some as far away as Missoula, 50 miles to the south. The Charlo School District has about 264 students across three schools, including Charlo Elementary, Charlo Middle School, and Charlo High School. Although located on the Reservation, Charlo has only a few Native American students and is predominantly white.

The bulk of online activity in the district occurs in Charlo High School, where roughly a quarter of the 94 secondary students are taking an online course. Bonnie Perry, the K–12 Principal, employs online learning specifically to address teacher availability issues in foreign language courses. “We offer all of our Foreign Language courses to any high school student seeking a foreign language credit online through the Montana Digital Academy [the state virtual school]. We do not have the means to hire full-time language teachers, so this fills a very critical need for our students,” said Perry. “We have had students complete German, French, Spanish, and Latin all online.”

Students work in either a computer lab or in a dedicated classroom on Chromebooks with a teacher in the classroom who provides supervision. Learners make a recording of language readings and pronunciation once per week. Using the technology poses one of the more significant challenges, as students continue to develop necessary technical skills to take full advantage of digital learning opportunities.

In Fall 2017, Charlo made an online Middle School Language Sampler course available to sixth graders. “We learned a lot from this first year. It gave the students a chance to get to know the basics of French, how to navigate the Montana Digital Academy online environment, and how to communicate with their teachers online,” reports Shane Bartshi, Counselor. “Our sixth graders have previously taken tests online, but learning to use online curriculum is very different. It was great for the students to learn new skills.” Both students and teachers felt comfortable and successful by the end of the 10-week course. “Our teachers thought this was beneficial on many levels: academic rigor, organization, persistence, academic stamina,” notes Perry.

Online learning addresses several equity and instructional challenges faced by small districts like Charlo, but it is not without its challenges outside of school. Many Charlo students have limited access to computers and Internet at home. Consequently, Charlo provides online students with a flexible schedule, computer access, and supervision to complete their online coursework during the school day on campus. “We have to have a place for students to access their courses—sometimes in a computer lab or on Chromebooks in a standard classroom—and since this is on campus, the students must be supervised,” noted Perry. “I am thankful for flexible teachers willing to go the extra mile and take on [online] students...Without online learning available to our students we would have a tough time meeting accreditation standards, and course offerings would be limited for our rural students.”

This profile was developed from a case study published in the Digital Learning Strategies for Rural America report.

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