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Local organization ensures students have lunches

One of the biggest concerns right now across the nation is how schools are going to open up safely during the ongoing pandemic. In Washington County, the academic curriculum coordinator for county schools, Becky Brackin, played a major role in the creation of a plan of action.

She explained that all seven Washington County schools will be reopening face to face on Aug. 31, which was delayed from the original start date of Aug. 12.

This decision came about due to the community response when the governor of Alabama issued a mask ordinance, causing more parents to consider distance learning rather than in person. This put a projected strain on resources and staffing, and the school chose to move all of the allotted professional development days to the front of the year to allow more time to train teachers and prep for school.

Washington County, Brackin said, has worked to make sure the needs of all the students are met, not just the students who chose to return to the school building. The school is still providing breakfast and lunch to online students, as many students rely on free lunch to eat for much of the year.

Brackin said, “We are still providing breakfast and lunch to all students, but the caveat to that is it has to be picked up, due to health and safety laws.”

However, to ensure that those without transportation can get food, a local group that runs an annual Turkey Hunting Calcutta, where the funds go to charity, have donated to the school and to local churches to help students receive the food and supplies they need.

Zac Turner, a local lawyer in Chatom and one of the founders of the Calcutta, said, “We formed the official Calcutta committee. We do the turkey hunting Calcutta in March or April, and we do the deer hunting Calcutta in December. And ultimately what we decided to do was to form this Washington County public school system food bank.”

Turner, along with Blane Dolbear, Zeb Dickey, Jay Thornton, and Caldwell Adams, started this committee, and it soon grew to both a Turkey hunting Calcutta and Deer hunting competition annually, raising around $45,000 and offering a grand prize of about $10,000.

The committee donated almost $20,000 directly to the school, which is enough to cover students in need for over a full year of meals.

The committee also worked with the school to provide nonperishable foods for students to take home, but worked in a way to keep it confidential. The committee is now working with local churches, such as Chatom United Methodist and Chatom Baptist Church, and others in the community to try and get meals to students who don’t have transportation.

The county schools have worked to stock up on necessary cleaning and disinfectant supplies, such as gloves, hand sanitizer, and anti-bacterial wipes, many of which are in short supply. “We have spent the last few months making sure we have enough supplies to last us for a couple months alone. We feel very confident we have enough cleaning supplies. We’ve ordered months of supplies in advance, so we don’t get caught without them,” Brackin said.

As for daily operations, schools will group students in pods, and have teachers move around the school rather than students to keep class changes from being hectic and high interaction times for students. This allows for safer maneuverability around the schools, but also allows the school to identify students who might have been in contact with other sick students more easily.

Brackin explained, “We were doing everything we could, and we are able to because we are a lot smaller [than neighboring counties]. We created what’s called a pod system. So, students would be assigned a pod and that’s where they would remain all day.” Busses will also be staggered while off and on loading around the school.

Chatom continues to pull together as a community in hard times, such as the difficult situation of sending kids to school during the pandemic. Working together with local churches, members of the community, and the city school system, they made sure that the underprivileged aren’t the ones hit hardest by the virus.

The decision to continue or cancel the fall sports has not been made by the BOE yet. However, school football teams are practicing in full pads so it is expected that residents will be able to return to the long-anticipated Friday night lights.