As a high school principal, I am a huge fan of the history of Kalispell and of Flathead High School. For the past nine months, the FHS class of ’20 yearbook sat on my desk. The class of 1920, that is. Every now and then, I turned the pages, reading about high school life in 1920.
Then, COVID-19 happened. On March 13, 2020, students graced the halls of Flathead High School for the last time in the 2019-20 school year. We completely revamped the public education system in one short week, and when students “returned” from spring break, they faced remote learning. Our staff scrambled to learn how to navigate Google classroom, create interactive video lessons, and condense learning targets. Students logged in, figured out the new system, and began to work remotely on their classes.
We learn a lot from history, and I remembered that the Spanish flu raged through our nation on the heels of World War I. I wondered how Flathead High School navigated that pandemic. An April 29, 2020, article in The Missoulian explained that “during the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, Montana was one of the four hardest hit states in the nation. More than 5,000 people – about 1% of the state’s population – died during the outbreak.” The Flathead High School yearbook of 1920 gave no indication of the pandemic or its impact. The annual contains the usual student pictures, poems about high school life, bits about staff and school athletics and activities. Nothing, though, about a pandemic. The lives of our youth, it seems, moved on in 1920, and students looked forward to adulthood and new adventures.
People tend to be critical of teenagers, citing self centeredness or insensitivity. I see a much different picture, though. In the midst of our two-month long school closure this spring, I conducted student council elections. At first I worried this wouldn’t garner much interest. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the number of students running for office doubled from previous years. When it came time for remote voting, voter turnout far surpassed our standard 25% and reached nearly 50%.
The quality of every student candidate was exceptional. The electronic election petition for office asked, “What is your most important job as a leader?” A sophomore responded that “using humility, not perfection, [and using] passion and courage to change not only our school, but to change the society around us, to provide a healthy environment for the generations to come” was most critical.
As this school year comes to a close, I am so proud of my students and their faith in the future and dedication to forging ahead in life. The class of 1920, memorialized in the yearbook on my desk, went on to experience the Great Depression and World War II. I have no idea what the future holds for the class of 2020 and next year’s Flathead High School students. I can say with great certainty that we will be in good hands.
Principal Michele Paine
Flathead High School
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