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LESSONS LEARNED | Gilmer ISD focuses on endurance, flexibility and grace to get through 2020

Between quarantines, virtual learning and running school safely, there's no doubt 2020 has been chalked full of "Lessons Learned" for Gilmer and other local schools.

GILMER, Texas — After Governor Abbott shutdown campuses last spring, Gilmer ISD Superintendent Rickey Albritton knew the uncertainty of a new school year in the middle of this pandemic would be tough to say the least.

Albritton clung to three words that carried a lot of weight at Gilmer this fall – endurance, flexibility and grace.

"When we first went into remote learning, we all thought we could do it, you know, we can figure this out," said Albritton.

Gilmer ISD School leaders soon learned how critical teachers are to the students who depend on them, especially for the younger children. 

"Even in this type of a zoom type thing. You can't have that one on one conversation that you have in a classroom. And so trying to facilitate that in a virtual meeting, we found not only is it difficult, it's just almost impossible," explained Albritton.

But, Albritton also learned never to underestimate his teachers and their relentlessness to connect with students even in less than ideal circumstances.

"They figured out how to use some technology to heighten that lesson presentation to make it a little bit more interesting to the kids. Because the kids are used to that media. They enjoy it and the teachers have gotten better at integrating it into their lessons," explained Albritton.

That also means every student needs a device, which is a goal Albritton wants to achieve going into his 40th year in education.

"Going one to one, I want to make sure the school is there. We really haven't had a lot of money for technology. We're not, we're not a wealthy school district," said Albritton.

They did take advantage of Operation Connectivity, the statewide initiative to get districts laptops and modems at a discount.

RELATED: LESSONS LEARNED: More than 100 East Texas school districts to get devices, hotspots through 'Operation Connectivity'

"Well, we haven't received a computer yet, but we have about 150 devices that are on order that are supposed to be coming in. You know, when the state of Texas buys a lot of computers, apparently and with COVID and with the shutdown, there are many of the devices that have been on order that they say are going to come in. Now we're getting some time about a December time frame," explained Albritton.

Unfortunately, Albritton says internet infrastructure just isn't good in Upshur County.

"We have a lot of remote areas and that's one of the things that we found in the spring is that even when we gave kids a cellular modem that they still couldn't access things. So, we developed partnerships with a ETEX. They setup some some kind of remote learning site. They would partner with the church. They would partner with the community center and they would put a wireless device that would handle about a 300 foot radius," said Albritton. 

That still included an inconvenience for parents and students to get in the car and go somewhere else to learn.

"We need much better infrastructure across the state. I think that's something they have learned," said Albritton.

Even if equity in technology one day connects us better, Albritton says the pandemic really reinforced what he already knew about kids and their need to be with teachers and friends.

"Some of our kids need to be able to come to school and they find solace in school, both from a nutritional standpoint, but also just because it's a safe place."

RELATED: LESSONS LEARNED | Eustace ISD educating through a pandemic