Editor’s note: This is an article produced by Greenville ISD for the July 2020 edition of Texas Lone Star magazine, published by the Texas Association of School Boards.
One of the most remarkable hallmarks of the human spirit is its resilience.
That resilience was tested in many arenas when our world turned upside down this spring. In Greenville ISD, we saw three specific stages in the global COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike any other crisis, this one touched every life and provoked unparalleled emotions, problem-solving and resolve.
Stage 1 – The flurry
Stacie Wilson and her son Carter were in the Phoenix airport when her phone started blowing up with calls, text messages and notifications. School had been called off for at least two weeks, and the adrenaline was coursing through the veins of teachers, parents and students all over Greenville, Texas.
“There were so many questions. My heart was racing, and here I was about to get on a plane,” said Wilson, the principal at George Washington Carver Elementary. “As a principal, my heart and mind immediately went out to my students. Would they be safe? Would they have enough to eat? When would I see them again? When would I hug them and high five them again?”
She said the time on the plane gave her time to think.
“I took a breath and put on my principal’s poker face, got back home and started planning with my team. I told my teachers, ‘You’re still their teachers, and you’re going to keep doing what you’re great at, just on a laptop instead of in person. Walk around your house, find a place that’s pretty and set up a little Zoom classroom. Then we got a master Zoom schedule together, and we started rolling with it.”
Like his mom, Carter Mosely considers Carver Elementary his second home. And suddenly, the halls were dark and empty.
“I got confused about it … we’re wearing masks and staying at home most of the time and not going to school every day and trying to learn how to stay protected,” he said. “Everything was different. I missed seeing my friends, and I really missed my teachers.”
The final stretch between spring break and the last day of school is always frenetic. Then suddenly, this year, everything was up in the air. What about spring sports? Fine arts events? STAAR testing? Attendance? Funding? Grading and GPA? Banquets and receptions? Prom? And, perhaps the most important ceremony of all, graduation?
Stage 2 – The long wait
With the exception of graduation, events were canceled one after the other, and soon enough, the five stages of grief played themselves out, ending with acceptance.
The reality sank in that the rest of the school year would be spent teaching and learning from home. Problem-solving and innovation kicked into high speed. Suddenly, everyone was on Zoom. Teachers posted YouTube videos explaining hard-to-understand concepts. Entire learning units were converted to digital formats, and for those students who either didn’t have internet and devices at home or who preferred lessons on paper, packets were organized, picked up and returned with completed work.
For parents like Abigail Luna, who has three students in Greenville ISD – two at the high school and one who just completed fifth grade at Bowie Elementary – it was a crash course in teaching. Suddenly, she and her husband were fielding questions about pre-calculus and physics.
“I could help Tabitha, who was in fifth-grade math, which had some algebra, but that higher math, I just couldn’t do it,” Luna said. “It gave me a new appreciation for our teachers. We’ve been blessed with so many excellent teachers over the years, but this year, we saw them in a new way. We were in it together, and we’ve gotten really close. They are so committed. They’re zooming every day, doing FaceTime, texting and calling. Anything they can do to help our kids learn and stay in touch.”
Tabitha described her teachers in one word: “amazing.”
“At first, I thought it was just going to be a long spring break. Then we all realized we really weren’t going back,” she said. “My teachers have been doing a really great job of adjusting. I remember my first Zoom call; I was upside down on the screen. I had no idea what I was doing. My teacher was so funny, and she helped me figure it out. I’m very grateful.”
Abigail and Tabitha said they began noticing messages of encouragement everywhere. The one they remember the most was a billboard on I-30 that proclaimed, “Nothing Stops a Lion” in honor of the Greenville High School Class of 2020 and their lion mascot. After it went up, the district produced a video using a fly-over drone to capture a bird’s eye view of the billboard and declaring, “We believe in you. Your future is bright.”
“We watched that video together and got goosebumps,” Tabitha said. “To me, what it said is, ‘We’re never going to give up. We’ve got to keep moving ahead.’ ”
The saying has caught on, and “Nothing Stops a Lion” has appeared on social media hashtags, T-shirts and business marquees throughout town. And with it go all the yard signs, car parades and home deliveries.
Behind all of this is the spirit of the will to push through the long wait.
Stage 3: The future
As for what the future holds, there are many hands at all levels of government working on that question. There are many executive orders and guidelines still to come.
But one thing is certain. Educators will remain committed to their craft. They will be sure their students’ basic needs – including meals and access to healthcare – are met. They will be sure their emotional needs and educational needs are met. And they will never forget about the importance of human contact, even if it’s virtual or six feet apart for now. They will stay connected with their school families.
Greenville High School valedictorian Wyatt Spivy had this to say during his speech at graduation:
“I want to stress that, as difficult as these last few months have been, and as robbed as we may feel of the memories we were supposed to experience, the best days are yet ahead,” he said. “The point I am trying to make here is that, yes, this year did not go the way any of us expected. Despite all that has happened, we have yet to allow this coronavirus to kill our spirit.”
Ask Stacie Wilson, Carter Mosely, Abigail and Tabitha Luna what they are most looking forward to in the future, and they all have the same answer: being reunited in person.
“In the fall, I am hoping that everything goes back to normal. I am always looking for ways to show people I appreciate them.” Abigail Luna said. “I just want to hug the teachers, the principals, the counselors, the coaches and everyone who has helped us through this.”
Wilson said her hopes for the future are shaped by what she has seen this spring.
“The most surprising thing to me is the overwhelming response of our parents and students and their commitment to learning and to keeping the relationship strong,” she said. “It’s a testament to our teachers, who have done such an incredible job of building those relationships. Now our kids are putting everything they’ve got into keeping up with the work and pleasing their teachers.”
“I think I took a lot for granted before when things were normal,” Wilson said. “I’ll tell you what I’m looking forward to. Being in front of school every morning hugging and high-fiving my kids. I just can’t wait to be back with my Carver family.”
Reprinted with permission from the July 2020 edition of Texas Lone Star magazine, published by the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB). Copyright 2020 by TASB. All rights reserved.