Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the Silver Valley United School District had experience dealing with a certain kind of distance learning: The system’s only high school is 35 miles from Fort Irwin, Calif., where the parents of most of its 400 students are stationed.

“With Edmentum, we were already exploring a virtual high school independent study program,” Superintendent Jesse Najera told CMSI. “COVID-19 made that even more necessary, and we looked at ways to incorporate K-12 into the model.”

The system’s other schools are on base.

The head start helped the district react quickly when it was clear students would need to work from home.

“Within one and a half weeks, we had surveyed parents and figured out the needs for laptops and internet connectivity,” Najera said. “We gathered every laptop we could find, and we were able to give a laptop and internet to every family who needed them.”

The school’s nutrition team distributed meals to anyone under 18 who needed them. They served more than 100,000 meals between March and June.

Local leaders also credited close partnerships for their successful transition.

Base commanders do similar things to what a city does or what a district does, depending on if they have DOD schools, so to me it’s really a partnership,” said Karen Gray, the school board president. “All relationships depend on the personalities of the individuals involved.”

The garrison commander at Fort Irwin said the longstanding partnership has led to a higher quality of education for Army families.

“This collaboration enhances the quality of life for our soldiers, families and civilians and provides peace of mind that their children are in a safe and thriving academic environment,” Col. Jeanette A. Martin said.

There are similar sentiments at nearby Marine Corps Logistical Base Barstow.

“‘We’re all in this together’ is a common saying here,” said Col. Craig C. Clemans, the commanding officer of MCLB Barstow. “This togetherness encompasses the local schools and community.”

After community discussions over what Gray calls “adult issues,” Najera recently announced that the district plans to start the new academic year in early August with a distance learning model and then transition to a hybrid model by the end of the month, if it meets caseload requirements established by the governor.

One rising senior told CMSI she misses her friends and extracurricular activities.

“I’m kind of going a little stir crazy,” said Bela Fedorisin, the daughter of Fort Irwin Garrison Command Sergeant Major Paul Fedorisin.

Her mother said the pandemic and the community’s response are easier because military families know how to be flexible.

“We’re all working together,” Jessica Fedorisin said. “Everybody’s navigating it. We don’t exactly know what impact it’s going to have. It’s really important for all of us to work together to help our kids in any way that we can.”

Photo by DoD