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Image: Flagged for Media – 2013 BCLP Bigfork – Marcel – Effie (41)

Strengthening relationships during distance learning

Participants at Blandin Community Leadership Program (BCLP) retreats invest a full week in building relationships across the many dimensions of their community. They also learn that just having social capital isn’t enough to sustain healthy community – leaders need to support their relationships so they can leverage their social capital and mobilize others for community action.

Siri Prato (BCLP alum from the Bigfork, Effie, Marcell 2013 cohort) found herself leaning on this lesson as COVID-19 created new challenges for wrapping up a year that ended with distance learning. As a K-12 Counselor at the Bigfork School, Siri is no stranger to jumping in and helping make “last days” and graduation special. A new reality directed by an emerging virus, however, created challenges that were unfamiliar to many districts across the state.


Siri Prato (left) with her senior son (right) on the last day of school prior to quarantine. Siri is a school counselor at Bigfork, 2013 alum of the Blandin Community Leadership Program (BCLP) and community leader who helped her K-12 school tap into local relationships during distance learning.


As parents were quick to support students and the school staff, community businesses also chipped in. One business donated balloons as decorations for the “last Friday of school” and for the gift bags for the seniors. Another business used their equipment to hang the photo banners in celebration of the 19 graduating seniors on main street’s light poles.

Focusing on the relationships staff had with their students and each other, they tuned in on the interactions they experienced via various online meeting tools. Putting students’ needs first, making necessary adaptations to curriculum to accommodate family’s new schedules, and actively observing how things were going for students during quarantine and distance learning, ultimately made these relationships stronger.

A few days prior to graduation, the valedictorian and the salutatorian went to the school to record their commencement speeches for their virtual graduation. They followed that up with an impromptu walk through the rooms of their K-12 school which they had attended for each of those years.

Making the “last day of school” special for the students was a priority. Staff had signed up for short timeslots between 9am-3pm to help make this happen.

On Friday, May 29, donning masks and gloves and observing social distance guidelines, staff was at the Bigfork School to meet and greet with students, to collect iPads, school supplies, etc. and to celebrate with the students, especially the graduating kindergartners and the seniors.

“Last day” emotions ran high – the students wanted to be at school! Kindergartners were super excited to see teachers and staff during their drive-by “out-of-this-world” themed kindergarten graduation.  Seniors drove through in parade fashion in their cars to receive diplomas and share smiles and words of wisdom with their now former teachers. All the staff members remained in the Bigfork School parking lot the entire 6 hours to celebrate with their students!

As she is uncertain to what the upcoming school year will bring, Siri is hopeful for continued strong relationships with her students and coworkers and is curious about new approaches with teaching and engaging students in the future.  And while it was nice being home with her family for the past few months and being able to do more things together as a family, she realizes it was not that way for everyone during quarantine. She knows there is still much to be done in maintaining the relationships that were strengthened during their distance learning period.


Written by Senja Morque. Senja is a Leadership Program Recruiter for the Blandin Foundation. Photo for story submitted by Siri Prato.




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