BY SYDNEY BARRY
Casne-Fetz taught in Helena, Mont. since 2002. In that time she has experienced the closure of two schools. Casne-Fetz was teaching at Hawthorne Elementary School when the building had to be temporarily closed due to damage caused by an earthquake. More recently, Central School, where Casne-Fetz now teaches third grade, was closed in the first weeks of March due to structural problems.
Casne-Fetz may be considered an expert when it comes to situations like this. She said that the experience at Hawthorne Elementary School made her “more wise” when the situation at Central School came about. One of the first things she did was get in touch with teachers at some of the other elementary schools in Helena. That effort resulted in lunches being provided to the Central School teachers for a week while they transitioned to a new space.
Central School teachers and students have relocated to Lincoln Elementary School. Casne-Fetz came up with the idea to temporarily name the school “Central-Linc” in order to help make the Central School teachers and students feel more at home in their new space. According to one parent, Lindsay Esponda, Casne-Fetz has “worked hard to make the best of a bad situation.”
Casne-Fetz has been teaching for 15 years. She taught in Wyoming and San Diego before coming to Helena. She loves the creativity involved with teaching. “Teaching keeps my brain alive,” she says. One of the most difficult aspects of the whole situation with Central School, Casne-Fetz explains, is that she has received requests from parents to move some students to other elementary schools. She says she understands why, but it is still “hard not to take personally.”
Casne-Fetz is staying focused on the students she has right now. It is important to her that her students continue to perform in the classroom to the best of their abilities despite the changes that have recently taken place. In order to make her students feel more comfortable in their new classroom, she has decorated the room similarly to the classroom she had at Central School.
Central School is over 100 years old. Central School music teacher Abby Nyof says, “our community rallied around the school and its heritage and how important it was.” Many teachers, including Casne-Fetz, hope that Central School can be reopened in the future because of its rich history and the connection the students and teachers feel to the school. However, the main concern is that the building is safe if students and teachers are ultimately allowed to return.
Casne-Fetz hopes that a plan for the future will be made soon because right now no one knows what is going to happen, and that is becoming difficult to deal with. Community members, the school board, and faculty members are in conversation to find a solution that best benefits everyone. But until more is known about the specific structural issues of the building, not much progress will be made on that front. For now, Casne-Fetz is trying to stay positive and concentrate on being the best teacher to her students.