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Student Spotlight: Ava Arrowsmith of Laurel High School

Ava Arrowsmith of Laurel HS Student Spotlight

Ava Arrowsmith
Laurel High School, Class of 2023

Ava Arrowsmith discovered MTDA as a freshman at Laurel High School, when the Spanish class she wanted to take didn’t fit into the rest of her schedule. She was able to take it online through MTDA and discovered she liked it. “I like working on my own and at my own pace.

When things are all due at the end of the week it’s easier for me,” said Arrowsmith. Ava’s experience isn’t unique at Laurel High School, where they have a significant number of students taking a wide range of courses through MTDA during any period of the day. “We designed it this way for more flexibility. We offer MTDA courses for our students to discover,” shared Brent Edgemond, Arrowsmith’s guidance counselor at Laurel High School.

Ava has discovered. She took criminology and mythology her junior year, neither course is offered in person at Laurel. This year, her senior year with eyes on a future business degree, she is taking AP Microeconomics and AP Macroeconomics. “MTDA has given me the opportunity to introduce myself to courses that Laurel doesn’t offer, and be more competitive with students at AA or AAA schools for college,” stated Arrowsmith.

“Ava is a spotlight kid,” said Edgemond. Not only does she carry a 4.365 GPA, with all high A’s in her MTDA courses, she is involved in pep band, drama (managing the sound for school plays and musicals), speech, debate, and honor society. As an accomplished oboeist, Ava received the Arts Without Boundaries Standout Student Award last fall.

For all of her accomplishments, her advice to future MTDA students is simple and straightforward, “you need to put yourself out there and ask your teacher the questions when you need to. The teachers are on top of it, but they just aren’t right there in the moment like they would be in person so you have to be patient.” Ava found the website easy to navigate and the services, including tutoring, to be very helpful. 

Ava is graduating with the class of 2023 and will be heading off to MSU-Bozeman in the fall to study business. She is interested in HR, where she can help people, be a problem-solver, and help improve team performance. Edgemond is confident in Ava’s future success, his advice to her, “Keep on keeping on, you’re on the road and you know how to drive.” 

Sienna Conaghan of West Yellowstone High School

West Yellowstone High School
Class of 2023


Sienna was first introduced to MTDA when she took the Language Sampler class in middle school, a requirement at West Yellowstone– a small district with under 300 students– when they were down a language teacher. She found she liked the self-paced nature of online learning, which actually helped her focus, giving her a chance to re-set when she needed.

She decided mid-way through her freshman year that she wanted to graduate early, as her older brother and older sister had, and MTDA was the only way to accomplish that goal. So she got busy. Sienna has completed 14 courses, from Latin and German that first year, to electives like sports marketing and digital photography, and dual-credit History. This fall she is taking AP Government and French 3, and plans to add journalism to her schedule next spring. and will be graduating early, next June, 2023.  

Terry Harris, the MTDA site facilitator at West Yellowstone, describes Sienna as a dedicated student. “She wants to push herself and explore her options. MTDA offers the opportunity  to explore.” Harris’ role is to support the MTDA-enrolled students who come to her classroom during dedicated periods. She monitors their time on task and grades and will contact a parent if there is an issue. There never has been with Sienna. “She’s a student I don’t have to chase. Instead, she’s in my office asking which class she should take next.” Harris credits Sienna’s individual drive for her success. And it shows, 11 of those 14 final grades were A’s.

Sienna stays busy outside of class too, holding a full-time job over the summer, and playing both volleyball and basketball. Time management has been Sienna’s biggest challenge, juggling her course load, especially during basketball season. She admits that it’s hard to manage classes, sports, and social life. “I had to figure out a schedule on my own, figuring out the pace of each class so that I’m not drowning on a Sunday night,” says Conaghan. Her advice for other students is “manage your time well and set time aside for the work. It’s ok to say ‘no’ to hanging out with friends if you have schoolwork to do!” 

After graduation next spring, Sienna plans to study journalism. She is applying to colleges in Montana and around the country. Wherever she ends up, the sky is the limit for Sienna’s future!

Bryce Kammerzell of CJI High School

Bryce Kammerzell

Chester-Joplin-Inverness High School (CJI)
Class of 2022
Attending Stanford University


By his sophomore year at CJI, Bryce Kammerzell knew he was going to have to take language courses that his small school didn’t offer if he was going to apply to out-of-state schools for college. He signed up for Spanish I through MTDA that fall to meet that requirement, but also as “a test to see if MTDA was for me.” 

Over the next three years, he enrolled and completed 13 more MTDA classes. “I loved the freedom it gives a student. You get a week’s worth of assignments on Monday, all due Sunday night at midnight. It’s up to you to decide when and how you want to do it,” Kammerzell explained. He feels like it made his life easier, and he feels better prepared for college.

He describes himself as a hardworking, independent student. His teachers describe him similarly– “hardworking,” “motivated,” “focused,” and “responsible.”

And while Bryce admits that self-pacing might not be for everyone, he does want to dispel the myths that online classes are harder and lack a personal connection. While MTDA courses are asynchronous and you do have to manage your time and initiate contact with the teacher outside of school, the classes were not any more difficult, and he found the teachers to be very responsive. “They expect you to be in touch.”

“MTDA opened up a lot of doors for me. I could take classes that really interested me,” said Kammerzell.

In the fall of his junior year, Bryce took his first computer science course through MTDA, AP Computer Science I. He was hooked, and continued to explore his new interest through more MTDA courses, Web Design and Dual Credit Computer Science I. Bryce now attends Stanford University where he plans to major in computer science.Without MTDA I wouldn’t have discovered computer science.”

Way to go Bryce! All of CJI and MTDA are rooting for you.

Ian Lafley of Lincoln County High School

Lincoln County High School, Eureka
Class of 2022 


Ian took his first two credit recovery courses through MTDA two years ago as a sophomore. MTDA’s credit recovery courses are designed for students whose education has been interrupted, either by life’s circumstances or by failing a course, providing a pathway to high school credits needed for graduation. He’s back taking credit recovery– English and World History– this year in order to graduate on time this summer. The change in Ian as a student from then to now is what prompted Lou Ann Gay, the MTDA support person at Lincoln County High School, to nominate him for a student spotlight. 

“He’s a much different student now. Yes, he’s under pressure to graduate, but he’s also more engaged and has taken ownership of his education.” This maturity has moved him from a “guess and go” student to one that will identify what he missed on a quiz, go back to his notes and learn it. 

Ian admits to just getting by in his classes sophomore year. It was his first online learning experience so there were a lot of unknowns which led to some stress. He credits his success this year to his motivation to graduate but also to be seen as a student that pushes toward his goal. And he appreciates the support he feels he’s getting from his MTDA teachers and Ms. Gay. “It’s an interesting phenomenon, when people are supporting you, you want to try even harder to prove you are worth the support.”

MTDA’s credit recovery courses are getting Ian to the finish line. “It really proved that even if I fell behind, I could catch up. It may be a long road, but it is possible!” His advice to other students taking an MTDA course for the first time, is “keep your pace, slow down enough to learn, and not rush through. If you fail a quiz, learn from it. Things happen, but it isn’t impossible!”

After graduation Ian plans to work for a couple of years, saving money for a culinary program. Beyond that, he dreams of working as a chef, traveling the world, and creating signature dishes before settling down “for a bit” to open his own restaurant. 

We’ll be cheering all of those dreams on, Ian.


Maddie Griffiths of Three Forks High School

Maddie Griffiths

As an eighth-grader, Maddie came to Kristy Powell, the counselor at Three Forks High School and asked how she could get ahead. “She wanted to get started!” Maddie wanted to know if there was anything she could do over the summer before ninth grade. They wouldn’t typically place a freshman in MTDA courses, but Maddie’s focus and drive far exceed typical. After talking to her middle school teachers, Powell enrolled her in Geometry and Earth Science in the summer of 2020. Maddie earned A’s in both, before coming into the high school as a Freshman.

She has continued to take two-three MTDA courses each term, many in the sciences and health sciences as her future career interests lie in medicine. Maddie also enjoyed the chance to take creative writing and journalism, both helped her develop different writing skills from her regular English classes. “I was looking for more of a challenge from my classes, as well as a way to get ahead,” said Maddie. MTDA gave her the opportunity to take classes she wouldn’t have been able to take otherwise. “And the connection I had with teachers was like nothing I had ever had before.”

Maddie’s strategy, which she would encourage other students to do as well, is to email each of her teachers at the beginning of the term to introduce herself and tell them a little bit about herself. She has found the MTDA teachers to be very communicative with individualized responses. Other advice for students thinking about enrolling in a MTDA course would be to just try it. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It might feel intimidating but that’s what they’re there for and they are happy to help.”

In addition to her stellar academic performance, Maddie also competes for the school tennis and speech teams,  placing second in state in speech (class B) this year as a sophomore. 

Three Forks has a significant number (almost 20%) of their students enrolled in original credit courses with MTDA. Their administration is happy to be able to give students more academic options.

“Big picture, I am so thankful to MTDA for opening doors. My school only offers two or three AP courses, MTDA has put me a step ahead and better prepared me for college.” Maddie is interested in psychiatry and psychology and plans to study biology or health science in undergrad before going on to a physician’s assistant program.


Emma Beebe of Gallatin High School

Emma came to Gallatin High School in the fall of 2020 when her family moved from out of state. During Covid, she chose the fully virtual option taught by GHS teachers because of family risk. She was no stranger to online learning; prior to Gallatin, she attended JeffCo Virtual Academy in Colorado. “Being in our small local high school wasn’t great for me so I tried this option.” She went on to say, “it helped me overcome the immediate challenges, but even more importantly and longer-term it has helped me mature and become a better student.” This school year (2021-2022) when GHS went fully back to in-person learning, Emma petitioned and was granted fully remote status. She enrolled in three MTDA courses in the fall and is currently enrolled in five this spring.

Patty Maddock, the Online Learning Coordinator at Gallatin High School, nominated Emma for this student spotlight feature because of her exceptional academic performance. “Emma is a remote-only student who received A’s in all of her classes last semester even earning 100% in Native American Studies. I’ve never seen a 100% in any class! She is on top of her work all of the time and communicates well if there is any kind of an issue.” 

“I have become so familiar with online learning now it suits me better,” reported Emma recently. She has appreciated MTDA’s format and the teachers, finding them very willing and eager to help, and more than happy to fill in any gaps and/or jump on a google meet. In fact, Emma chose MTDA’s program over other online options for her most difficult courses because of the strong teacher support.  

Personally, Emma loves the flexibility it has given her to be more involved in family life, especially with her sister living with Downs Syndrome. She also recognizes how online learning has made her more independent and she feels it has better prepared her for college. “It has made me take ownership of my own learning and taught me how to advocate for myself. This has made me stronger not just in school but overall communicating with others.”

Emma’s advice to other students taking an MTDA course for the first time? “Communication is key. Reach out to your teacher when you need them, don’t be afraid to ask questions.” 

After graduation this year, Emma will be going to Montana State University to study nursing. Her end goal is to be a neonatal nurse practitioner.

Nina Sederberg of Roberts High School

NinaNina took her first MTDA course freshman year of high school. She wanted to do more academically, but the traditional class setting didn’t fully work for her.  At a small school like Roberts, the administrators and staff have the luxury of knowing their students well, and they knew Nina to be a student who was not going to fail, but would continue to struggle with attendance, so they decided to be proactive and enroll her in more MTDA courses. 

Over her high school career, Nina embraced virtual learning because MTDA helped her achieve her academic goals and take courses that her school wasn’t able to offer. She has taken several classes almost every term, from core classes to electives ranging from Health Occupations to Personal Finance. “We bought into personalized learning for students like Nina and ran with it. MTDA has allowed us to better serve students like her,” said Alex Ator, Roberts Superintendent, in a recent interview.

Nina believes that taking these classes has helped her prepare for college and the future in general by strengthening her time management and organizational skills. 

“My experience was rewarding; I impressed myself by accomplishing so much in a short amount of time. Taking these classes meant that I could work ahead and start taking college classes earlier,” Nina shared.

Nina is on track to graduate next June (2022), with many dual credit courses also completed. She plans to finish her associate’s degree in general education and then decide on a major, possibly psychology or counseling. Nina’s advice to other online learners is to “work as hard as you can and if you can work ahead, do it.” 

The performance of Roberts’ students in a statewide program like MTDA is a point of pride for Ator. The class of 2021 had a total of six graduates, four of whom were first generation high school graduates, two of them graduated with the support of MTDA.  “In the end, I get to hand them that piece of paper that no one can take away,” Ator said.

Matthew Phillips of White Sulphur Springs HS

matthew phillips
Matthew Phillips White Sulphur Springs High School, class of 2021 (enrollment 71)

Matthew graduated from White Sulphur Springs High School, a school with 71 students, this past spring as co-valedictorian with high honors. A previous principal was instrumental in introducing first his older brother and sister to MTDA and Matthew was eager to follow suit.

He started taking classes from MTDA his freshman year because he wanted to push himself further. Over his high school career, Matthew took 21 MTDA courses, ranging from American History, English III, and Creative Writing to finishing up with AP Calculus, AP Computer Science, and Joy and Beauty of Computing (Dual Credit) this spring. 

Upon graduation this spring, he sent a note to all of his MTDA teachers, 

“Thank you so much for all that you have done for those, like me, that wanted to push themselves further than traditional classes at their schools would have allowed. I hope that you continue your work, and know that you definitely helped me gain a higher education than I would have otherwise in high school. Once again, thank you so much for your hard work and dedication to the students.”

Matthew is now attending Montana State on a full-ride scholarship (the Bair Family Scholarship), studying Computer Science with plans to work in software development.

Audrey Oltrogge of Stanford High School

Audrey Oltrogge
Audrey Oltrogge
Stanford High School, Class of 2019

Audrey graduated from Stanford High School, a school with an enrollment of 30, in 2019. Her guidance counselor introduced Audrey and many of her classmates to MTDA to expand their academic options with a wider variety of courses than a school this size could offer locally. Stanford also supported these students by providing study hall periods and local teacher support.

As a result, Audrey took ten MTDA courses over all four years of high school, eight of which were world languages. She credits these language courses for broadening her global perspective and for getting into two different study abroad programs, including the Congressional Bundestag Youth Exchange in Germany where she spent her gap year.

Audrey became the very first student in Montana to be awarded a scholarship from the nationally recognized Future of School organization. This scholarship rewards students for their courage to forge new learning pathways using online learning to enhance their academic success.  Future of School required recipients to submit a self-produced video describing their education challenges and successes.  Audrey’s can be viewed at

Today Audrey continues her studies at the University of Utah, majoring in anthropology with an archaeological science emphasis. She plans to stay in school for a masters program and then work for the BLM or forest service. 

“I highly encourage anyone who has the opportunity to take online courses; they open doors for you that you would not have had otherwise, and if you have the chance, taking these courses can change your life in many different ways.”