Ceremonies for the Classes of 2021 graduating from Dale County High Schools are set for May 27.
G.W. Long High School graduation is at 2 p.m. at the Ozark Civic Center; Dale County High School graduation is at 5 p.m. at the Ozark Civic Center and Ariton High School graduation is at 8 p.m. at Robert F. Zumstein Stadium in Ariton.
As Dale County Schools Superintendent Ben Baker announced the graduation ceremonies, he took a moment to reflect on the accomplishments of the schools—and express his gratitude to the communities for their support—during the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The success of the school year is a direct result of the dedication and passion of the employees that make up the Dale County School family,” Baker said. “Parent groups organized Homecoming activities and Proms. Student activities became a community effort to provide some sense of normalcy.”
The Dale County School System had earned an “A” grade on the Alabama State Department of Education Report Card immediately preceding the pandemic and the superintendent said he has strived to maintain that status despite the challenges of the COVID-19.
The annual accountability report on the 138-school systems released Oct. 18, 2019 showed the Dale County School System as the highest scoring county school system in the state with a numerical score of 93.
Baker said that right before the pandemic-created shutdown of schools, Ariton and G.W. Long High School baseball teams were anticipating the rivalry series and a strong push in the playoffs. “Dale County and G.W. Long softball teams were in a position to make a deep run in the playoffs,” he said. “COVID-19 ended those plans.”
Baker said that that year all the Dale County schools had scheduled spring field trips with destinations that ranged from Gulf World to New York City. “All of these activities also came to an abrupt end,” he said.
“In response to the shutdown we implemented a plan to complete the school year from home and the immediate needs of students were met by a feeding program and implementing a lesson pick up program to complete the spring semester,” Baker said. “Graduation ceremonies were planned, with limitations, to honor and recognize the Class of 2020. The school system pulled together to get students to the finish line and complete the 2019-2020 school year.”
Planning for the next school year began immediately, Baker said. “Warehouses were created to stockpile cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, hand sanitizers, computers and toiletries.
“A plan was created to get students back to traditional face-to-face school, classrooms were reorganized for social distancing and sanitizing stations were created,” Baker recalled. “A remote platform option was created and personnel hired to administer the program.”
Daily schedules were created for face-to-face learners to create static groups, preparation was made to eat in classrooms, new social distancing bus guidelines were created, Open House plans were created and summer workouts for athletes and band were critiqued for Center for Disease Control requirements.
“For the entire summer district leaders, administrators, teachers and support staff planned and re-planned with the same goal in mind—to open Dale County Schools on time and in a safe manner,” Baker stressed. “School districts across the state and nation were postponing or delaying until Labor Day or even October, but Dale County Schools was determined to start even if we were the only ones,” Baker said. “We knew that students needed to be in class and needed school for academics, social and emotional support, nutrition and physical health.”
The first day of school, Aug. 4, 2020, had to be postponed for a week due to the computer based remote learning platform but that allowed teachers an opportunity to receive additional professional development on the remote platform.”
One week later Dale County Schools opened and welcomed back 86 percent of students face-to-face. A schedule was put in place by all the schools with strict COVID mitigation guidelines.
As the year progressed more students returned and by the middle of the school year, 92 percent of all students were back in Dale County Schools.
Baker said athletics were allowed to resume. Ariton, G.W. Long, Dale County High School and South Dale Middle School had competitive football, volleyball and basketball seasons. “Currently the schools are competing in soccer, golf, track, baseball and softball. Clubs and student organizations continued to meet and find creative ways to do service projects.
“Dale County Schools is preparing for end of year programs and will finish the 2020-2021 school year as one of the few school systems in the state that did not close a school or modify a schedule due to COVID outbreaks,” Baker said. “In partnership with Dale Medical Center, we were one of the first school systems in the state to offer COVID vaccinations to its employees. Currently nearly 60 percent of Dale County Schools employees have been vaccinated.”
Baker said that all employees, students, and communities pulled together to offer a safe, productive option for students in Dale County. “Teachers and students have worked hard to maintain the system’s status as the highest achieving county school system in the state,” he said.