FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The 2020-21 school year kicks off Aug. 24 at Fort Rucker, and while it may not be the first-day at the newly completed LTG (R) Ellis D. Parker Elementary School that the staff, students and parents might have wanted, it is the one they need.
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing its devastation, students and parents were able to choose between two options shortly before the school year start date, according to Dr. Vicki Gilmer, Parker Elementary principal.
“Our awesome students had the opportunity to select from a Virtual School Option, which includes a semester commitment and is run by the Virtual Campus, or the Local School Option, which will meet remotely with Google Classroom when in Health Protection Condition C, which is the current level at Fort Rucker, and on campus when in HPCON Level B,” Gilmer said.
“We all had visions and dreams of what the new year in the new facility would be like; however, in this time of pandemic, we have to put aside the ideas of what we thought and tackle what we have,” she added. “Mission No. 1 is to keep everyone safe yet continue to serve our families with the very best. The new facility is a wonderful, state-of-the-art school with all the bells and whistles, but first we have to refocus and look at what our families need and how we can provide that.”
The hard work and flexibility the staff at the school displayed at the end of the previous school year will pay big benefits for the start of this school year, Gilmer said.
“We learned a great deal last year when we flipped from classrooms to remote in approximately 48 hours,” she said. “We listened to parents and teachers about the pros and cons of the schedules we used. We have refined our platform and we have also had to prepare for what remote learning looks like at the beginning of a school year. When we went into remote learning in the spring, students were very familiar with many of the digital tools used.”
While many of those students are returning this year, there are many “great new families,” as well, Gilmer said, and the school staff is committed to making sure they have a smooth transition into becoming Parker Patriots.
“We have totally designed the first day of school as a pre-flight day,” she said. “Just like a good pilot, we are going to walk through our platform, check our instruments and verify understanding with each child one-on-one. Every child on the first day of school will have a session with the teacher to make sure he or she is operational and can use all the basics of the platform.”
If the post is able to move to HPCON B during the school year and students are allowed to enter halls of the new facility for the first time, Gilmer said safety will be Job No. 1.
“We will follow all Department of Defense Education Activity, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and local Army guidelines to ensure a safe return to school when the HPCON level permits,” she added. “We had the opportunity to have our partners from the garrison, Lyster Army Health Clinic and our community superintendent join us for a tour recently, and really take a good look at what we have in place. We take these guidelines seriously and we will implement them with fidelity.”
Despite the change in plans, excitement still runs high for the new school year among the staff, and the principal also has a message she’d like to pass on to students.
“I would tell them that we have an opportunity to do great things,” she said. “We have the chance to take an unfortunate event and turn it into a history-making event. I want all my awesome kiddos to show their grit, and when we look back at this we will be so proud of what they accomplished.
She also had a message for parents.
“I am going to ask the parents to be our partners,” she said. “We are here 100% for the families. These are weird times and the unknown is unsettling. We are committed to being positive, problem solvers and service oriented.
“If families have an issue, such as dual parents working, students in child and youth services, etc., let us know and we will work a plan for you,” Gilmer added. “We have partnered with our friends at CYS to help assist those students who will be attending that facility while we are not permitted to be open per the DOD guidelines.
“We find, at times, that families will share with neighbors and other families their concerns, but they don't bring those concerns to us,” she said. “We are sincerely asking for the opportunity to assist them with any issues that may arise.”
The principal also thanked her staff: paraprofessionals, teachers, front office workers and all other employees, for the work they’ve done in getting everything ready for the 2020-21 school year.
“We have had staff members come in all summer long to prepare this great facility,” she said. “When we learned we were going remote, staff members showed up and started prepping for students, and there are so many more examples of the great efforts they have made to ensure everything is ready.
“I could not be prouder and more in awe of the heart and passion of this staff,” Gilmer said. “In these uncertain times, to me, they are truly shining a light of hope and they are showing incredible dedication.”
Even though the school year in the new facility won’t start off in the fashion most staff, parents and students wanted, she said that “being in one facility is amazing.”
“We have spent the last three years operating as one school on two campuses with two staffs. Now it seems like the whole family is home and it is a great feeling,” Gilmer said.