FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The secret to the success of Fort Rucker Schools during the COVID-19 pandemic is largely one of grit.And not the kind that hurts when it gets in your eyes – it’s the one that means you have courage, passion, perseverance and strength of character: the one the staff at Fort Rucker Schools was honing well before the current situation, according to Principal Dr. Vicki Gilmer.“One of the things we’ve focused on in the last few years has been a growth mindset and grit, and really developing grit in our staff and our students,” Gilmer said, adding that with the changes brought on by the pandemic, “we got the opportunity truly to put it to use.”When the COVID-19 pandemic gathered steam in mid-March and decisions were made to send students home starting March 18, the staff was faced with a monumental task: how to continue the education of hundreds of students while maintaining social distancing.The solution came in the form of Google Classroom and Google Meets, a component of Classroom, Gilmer said.“We got in there and we trained in three days,” she said, adding that Classroom serves as a place for students to turn in assignments and such, and Meets allows face-to-face interaction and virtual classrooms with students via the internet. “We just took a crash course, and we jumped in there and started kind of working it as we were learning it. We were able to take the break before spring break and launch the platform March 23 with our parents and our students, and check out what worked and what didn’t work.”For the most part, the first week-plus “was fantastic,” she said, adding that with spring break this week, the staff is, fine tuning everything and making adjustments.Each class meets virtually three times a week, and when they’re not in the virtual classroom setting, children are working on assignments or watching instructional videos their teachers are making, Gilmer said.“We’ve had 93% average attendance, which is pretty much a normal school day,” the principal said. “We have had things come up, such as tech issues or not having enough laptops, but we’ve always been able to work with the parents and students to solve them.”Gilmer added that the schools have even worked with single parents to design alternative schedules to allow their children to take part.“I think we’ve been really successful,” she said. “We’ll continue to work with our kids and parents with a team mindset of getting this thing done.”The staff is also working to keep spirits up during the pandemic, Gilmer said, adding they have continued with dress-up and spirit days.“It helps keep a sense of normalcy for them: there is my teacher, I’m still in a classroom, there’s my friends, I’m still doing things that are normal,’ and gives that sense of stability to students,” she said.And it seems to be working.“We’re really on track with completion of assignments, and that’s what we’re kind of using for attendance right now – looking at completion and attendance on the live sessions,” she said. “We’ve been very, very pleased. We have our counselors in there for any kids that seem to not be logging on – we get with them right off the bat, and get them back and operating. We’ve had a lot of success with the students, and very few instances where we had to get in there and ask, ‘What do you need?’ Even in those instances, we’ve always come up with good solutions.”There’s been no letdown in what is expected of students or the quality of instruction, either, Gilmer said.“We continue with the excellent education we always provide – that’s why we started right off the bat continuing our focus on teaching and learning,” she said. “We’re looking at every critical standard that the kids have to meet by the end of their grade level and we’re focusing on those.”The successes continue even above and beyond the virtual classroom environment the staff created practically overnight, as the school issued more than 100 laptops for students in need of them, and also have been providing free to-go breakfasts and lunches to all children on Fort Rucker during the time of the closure, Gilmer said.“Our café staff extraordinaire have been the ones pulling this off,” she said of the free meal effort. “I give them huge props – they’re working through spring break, making meals -- 2,346 meals as of March 30 – serving them to parents.”All of the successes surrounding Fort Rucker Schools during this time of crisis says a lot about the entire staff, Gilmer added.“I’ve worked on this campus at Fort Rucker for 30 years, and I’m just going to brag,” she said. “I don’t know of a finer staff anywhere.“Our motto is inspired and compassionate learners striving for excellence, and that really is a reflection of the staff,” the principal continued. “They’re inspired – they want to do their best. They’re compassionate – they care about their kids and they want everyone to have excellent instruction, so they can go forth and do whatever they want. I can’t say enough about the team here. They are just really one team, one mindset and one mission.“I really want to thank the teachers and staff – they have adapted to meet the need of their students in an incredible manner and I am just very proud,” she added. “It’s an honor to work for them.”Gilmer also thanked all of those outside of the school staff for their help with the effort.“The community effort has been huge,” she said. “We’ve had great community support from the command, the installation and the Directorate of Public Safety. We’ve had terrific support from our parents in having grace and patience with us as we go on this journey together.”