Jean O’Connor-Snyder intern Addison Peacock reflects on how the pandemic affected education in Collinsville and how schools found ways to adapt despite the chaos.
According to newly appointed Collinsville High School principal, Bradley Crawford, the year 2020 will be remembered by his students as “one for the history books.”
He is referring to the world-changing event on the minds of students and educators all across the nation since March: the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Collinsville, education matters. “That town loves that school,” said Devin Bouldin, a science teacher at Collinsville High School. “If that school needs something, the town will find a way to get it.”
However, the threat of COVID-19 sent much of Alabama into mandatory stay-at-home orders, limiting the in-person activities of schools across the state. So how did Collinsville continue meeting their educational goals remotely?
The transition to remote learning started on a district level. The Dekalb County School District, which Collinsville is a part of, gathered a group of teachers from all across the county who Crawford described as “lead teachers in their content areas.”
These teachers wrote a standardized curriculum for each subject in each grade level, which was followed by every student in the county no matter which school they attended. These lessons were made available both online, as well as in a paper format, for students who did not have access to the internet.
Like all contingency plans, however, this plan had its own unique challenges.
Unequal access to technology is an obstacle that many rural Alabama towns, including Collinsville, have had to face for years.
Many do not live in areas where access to an internet tower is easily available, and some students do not own a computer or similar device on which to do schoolwork.
Crawford described how staff and administrators of Collinsville High faced this challenge by holding “drive-through and evening pick-up times” for parents and students to collect their printed school materials.
However, even this plan involved some struggle. Parents had to know when and where to pick up their materials. This proved challenging not only because of the internet inequities, but also because of language barriers.
Collinsville High’s student body has a Hispanic population of about 59 percent, and some parents do not speak English.
As a teacher, Bouldin often had to rely on her co-workers to spread pertinent information to students she could not contact. “All of us teachers had to work together, but somehow we pulled it all together.”
Despite these challenges, Collinsville High School experienced many unexpected positives while in remote learning. One of these came in the form of a community-wide food distribution initiative.
Due to the Coronavirus, nation-wide unemployment rates rose rapidly across the nation during the months of March to May. As some students’ families were being affected by this national change, food insecurity became a struggle for some.
School provided lunches are a huge part of battling food insecurity for children in Alabama. “For a lot of those kids, it is the only meal they get,” Bouldin said.
However, the town stepped up to the plate to help ease this burden. The Dekalb County School System, as well as local restaurants, churches, and other organizations, provided weekly food distribution during the month of March, as well as free meals and canned food items.
“As far as I know, every request that came to the school we were able to fill,” Crawford said. This food drive exemplifies what he describes as Collinsville’s “giving spirit.”
In the midst of a crisis one important tradition, the Collinsville High School commencement ceremony, almost did not happen.
According to Crawford, the ceremony was originally planned to take place May 18, but had been postponed due to Gov. Kay Ivey’s Stay at Home orders enacted earlier that month.
That order was relaxed as COVID infection numbers temporarily slowed, so Collinsville High was able to hold their graduation, complete with correct social distancing protocol, during the week that it was originally scheduled on May 20.
Crawford stated that the graduation gave seniors a “sense of normalcy” during a year in which many high school “rites of passage were robbed from them.”
He added, “It was one of the best ceremonies we’ve ever had. I know that it was very special for some folks.”
As Dekalb County students and educators prepare to return to school in August, Crawford said he wants to assure parents and students that the school will do all it can to comply with district and governmental policy in regard to safeguarding from the virus.
He said he hopes this crisis can bring more understanding about what education is to students. “I hope that people see the important role that a school plays within the community. It’s more than just the education they receive.”
Addison Peacock is an Auburn University junior majoring in musical theatre and an ensemble member of the Mosaic Theatre Company. As a Living Democracy JOIP intern, she worked remotely with community partner Jennifer Wilkins, head librarian at the Collinsville Public Library.