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Alma schools battle through COVID 1/14/22

Alma schools battle through COVID

By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 


Timing can be a good thing. 


Alma High School Principal Brian Kirkendoll said this week he's hopeful five days without kids in the building will lead to a refreshing start as the second half of the 2021-22 school year kicks into high gear next week. 


Alma sent its students home this week in hopes the ramped omicron variant will run its course. 


With Monday being Martin Luther King Day, a national holiday, Alma officials were optimistic five days out will help those ailing heal — and prevent others from becoming sick.


“We’re hoping that works out perfectly because that’s five days (out),” Kirkendoll said. “We know that kids don’t necessarily stay home, but if they will stay home at a lesser capacity as opposed to if you had thousands of (students) in the same building. We’ve learned what the word mitigate means, which is try and limit to the best that you can.”


First-year Alma boys basketball coach Dominic Lincoln sent his players home Wednesday afternoon and won’t see them until Monday. The Airedales’ game with Siloam Springs was canceled Tuesday (Siloam Springs had players out) and Friday’s game with Russellville was also canceled when Alma officials decided to go remote for two days. 


“I told my kids it’s important to make the right decision and stay inside,” Lincoln said. “I told them that if we have to do our part not to spread, then the quicker we’re all back. You have to trust them to do the right thing. We can’t control other parts, but we have to do our part.”


Alma will make up its game with Siloam Springs on Jan. 26. The Russellville game will be played on Feb. 2 — which was an open date preserved in case of bad weather. 


“I told my junior high girls to be smart and stay home,” Alma junior high girls basketball coach Angela Rushing said. “When we come back, we want to make sure we nip this thing in the bud and get back to playing.”


Rushing pointed to the obvious, too. It isn’t just COVID rearing its head but other things such as the flu and strep throat. 


“It happens every year, we just push through and go on,” she said. “We've already been here once; we know what to expect.”


Two years ago, when COVID essentially ended all spring sports in March 2020, athletes spent nearly three months working out at home. 


“There were so many things we didn’t know; we hadn’t done it before,” Kirkendoll said. “One of the things we’ve learned is not to be afraid. There were so many unknowns; people were stressed out and had a lot of anxiety, including myself. I was worried about how this was going to shake out. Initially, we thought it would be fine, then it turned out to be long-term. 


“What we’ve learned from an educational standpoint is that we’re going to do everything we can to keep the school going, even if that means that people get sick.”


Kirkendoll said Alma switched to AMI, in pact, because of a lack of substitute teachers. 


“We had six or seven positions that weren’t filled by subs (at the high school),” he said. “Then we had people we were going to fill those with, and then they got sick. We ran out of options. You get to the point where you can mix so many classes together it’s defeating the purpose of a really good intent.


“It’s kind of like when a war breaks out … after two years you kind of know what you’re doing — you don’t like it and you want it (COVID) to go away, but you know what to expect.”


Alma soccer coach Cory Sturdivant said some of his seniors reached out this week, some of whom were sophomores during the 2020 shutdown. 


“We’ve had several questions and concerns about it, probably the biggest one from one of my seniors who was a sophomore when 2020 hit and canceled our season,” Studivant said. “I’ve assured all the kids that we have pivoted to allow us a few days to try and get past this situation, with so many teachers and students out.”


Sturdivant was honest, too. 


“I’ve been upfront with them and told them, as far as I know, everyone making decisions has a better understanding that what we did in 2020 will never happen again — not just for sports’ sake, but just the developmental and academic setbacks for all of our kids.”


“We’ve come to the realization that we want to keep athletics and events going because of all the social anxiety that it causes kids; those are things we’ve learned,” Kirkendoll said. “We still don’t like it, but I don’t think we’re afraid of it.


“We’re still fed up (with COVID), but the worry and anxiety isn’t there — I don’t think we’re overly cautious like we used to be.”


Kirkendoll pointed out the Lady Airedales played basketball Tuesday without two coaches and one of its starters. “We wouldn’t have done that two years ago,” he said. 


“We know more now than we did then and I just want to make sure the kids understand in 2020 we had no clue how to prepare (or adjust) and just went with the nuclear option,” Sturdivant said. “Now we are better prepared and have an idea of how we can continue our academics and extracurricular activities with kids at school.”


Kirkendoll said the high number of missing students this week would have been more had it not been for the high number of vaccinated students. 


“We had 300 kids out Wednesday, the 12th of January (936 district-wide),” he said. “I think the number at the high school would have been twice that if we hadn't had some kids vaccinated.”