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Learning to cope


By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 


Late in the afternoon of March 12, 2020, as word began to spread throughout the land that COVID-19 would suffocate towns, brick by brick, and that the only way to escape its wrath was to go home, people fell into a panic mode, unlike anything they’d ever experienced before.


By Monday, March 16, the world stopped.


Within a week, teachers began teaching school via Zoom, and with the click of a mouse, virtual technology became the norm. 


In hindsight (and everybody wins in hindsight), Alma High School Principal Brian Kirkendoll still believes now what he believed then that the 2019-20 school year could have played out.


"I know it was a state mandate, but we could have had school," Kirkendoll said. "It wasn't until later on that things started ramping up in the 



"I just wish we hadn't spent so much time worrying about things that never came."


By the time COVID-19 began tightening its grip on Crawford County, let alone America, the Airedales were weeks into the 2020-21 school year. 


Alma Superintendent David Woolly and Assistant Superintendent Travis Biggs mapped out a plan to keep schools open by instituting an after-school cleansing of each building, usually from 4:30-6:30 p.m. 


This ritual continues today. 


Is there a way to outrun COVID? The short answer is no, especially when it came to weekends as students tried to resume normal weekend activities last fall. 


But, in the 12 months, since American schools were thrust into lockdown (some schools throughout America are still in quarantine), Kirkendoll and Alma’s administrators have learned some valuable lessons and that one of the safest buildings in town is a school. 


"I feel bad for kids in California and Chicago who, for whatever reason, have been robbed of the opportunity to step on campus and learn," Alma assistant principal Jason Reeves said. "We've shown that you can be on campus, learn at a high level and that you need to be on campus."


Six months ago, as Alma administrators (with fingers crossed) prepared to welcome back students, Reeves admits he wasn't sure schools would be able to outrun COVID.


"If you have asked me in August if we were going to make it to Labor Day, I would have said probably not," Reeves said. "Then I was like, 'Are we going to get to Christmas? Are we going to make it to spring break?' We've made it through every bit of that. 


"If you do things the right way, this is the safest place for everybody to be."


"I think we'll come out better and stronger and more knowledgeable," Kirkendoll said. "It will completely change the way we look at education. I think it really showed the value in the importance of extracurricular activities; it showed the value of having school on a social scale."

AHS Students

Alma high school students are seen changing classes. 


That's true of adults, too, Kirkendoll said. 


"They're (teachers) eager to teach kids life lessons, and that's hard to do sitting at home," he said. "They don't want to sit at home in isolation and not have communication with people."


Alma started school without much of a hiccup. Teachers, and students, have missed time because of quarantine something Woolly and administrators had planned for.


But the doors, as of late last August, have remained open. 


"We're all grateful that we started school," Kirkendoll said. "One of the biggest takeaways is that we worried about a lot of stuff that never came to fruition. The clarity comes after the fact, so things are a lot clearer now about how we're going to look with remote students and how the logistics were going to work out.


"We just found a way through trial and error what worked and what didn't work."


`As much as students don't like to be in school and on campus, they do like it in the end," Reeves said. "When everybody was stuck in remote and quarantined the last quarter of last year, it was bad for people. Adults struggle to learn remotely, and kids are a stronger risk of learning remotely. 


"Remote learning, in my opinion, is not what's best for kids."


Most successful remote stories begin at home, Reeves said. 


"They have to have good structure at home to have a chance, and they still do not learn the depth of knowledge they get in the classroom, such as having a conversation between peers and teachers," Reeves said. "You're not going to get that online."


"For us, the big thing we've learned is that they need to be on campus, and it's safe on campus," 


Kirkendoll agrees.


"To me, this year has reinforced the importance of face-to-face, eye-to-eye, in-person learning in education," he said. "You can't replace in-person education with virtual (education). There's no better way to learn than in person. There are some who can learn virtually and be just fine, and it's (virtual learning) going to be here in a smaller capacity.


"We've been moving toward that."


With students still wearing masks and doing their best to social distance one another, Alma's baseball team won its season opener amid a throng of fans. Fans, socially distanced, have flocked to similar sporting events as well soccer, track, and softball, among them.


But, while athletic events have played out since August, starting with football and volleyball, and continuing into the spring with soccer, baseball, softball, and track, Kirkendoll is ready for students to enjoy the fruits of other extracurricular activities band, choir, DECA, robotics.


"There's a lot of incentive-driven activities for people to do with DECA, choir, band, and robotics, and other things," Kirkendoll said. "There are rewards for being able to go places. Well (with COVID), that was all taken off the table, so obviously that set us back in some areas. Hopefully, we can see those restrictions removed so those kids get back to normal."