Marengo County school leaders face COVID-19 fall with confidence

Marengo County prepares for new school year

Marengo County Ala. (WSFA) - Gov. Kay Ivey recently awarded $170 million to state public schools to help deal with the coronavirus in the upcoming school year. For one such school district in west Alabama, a slice of that big pie is giving the school district the confidence it needs to plunge ahead with hope and a can-do spirit.

When classes resume at Sweet Water High School in Marengo County later this month, 15-year-old Lydia Brewer won’t be sitting with her classmates. She’ll be home, away from it all, but not from learning.

“No, I’m not really nervous because I can pretty much make myself focus. ‘Hey, you need to do this and do that,‘” said Brewer, who will be a freshman this fall.

“It was the best thing for us because Lydia is Type 1 diabetic,” said Lydia’s mom Andrea Brewer.

Lydia Brewer is the face of how school district leaders hope virtual learning will go this fall. Superintendent Luther Hallmark is currently the longest serving superintendent in Alabama at 21 years and counting. He’s never seen anything like what he’s about to encounter this fall but feels prepared and confident.

“I’ll say it’s been a challenge,” said Hallmark.

Of the $170 million Ivey awarded last month, Marengo County’s portion will be just short of $220,000 for remote learning.

“We are setting up hot spot locations throughout the county like a church parking lot or a community center,” Hallmark said.

The blended learning of brick-and-mortar and virtual learning comes with consequences, but they’re not necessarily bad. The school population at Sweet Water High School, for example, is normally 620. Close to 200 students have opted out this fall to learn remotely.

“I don’t have any doubts about it,” said Lydia Brewer.

School district leaders say masks will be required in school. And should students feel the need to return to their brick-and-mortar setting, they can’t return until they complete the first 9 weeks of virtual learning.

“We don’t want checkerboard, jumping back and forth,” said Hallmark.

On the flip side of this, if a student isn’t comfortable remaining in the traditional school, they can always get out and enroll in the virtual learning program right away.

“The best situation would be for us to maintain safety,” said Sweet Water High School Principal Becky Williams who prefers everybody to be under one roof but has accepted the current COVID climate for what it is. Williams says she misses her students.

On campus or away, public school officials and Lydia Brewer are determined not be “bullied” by the coronavirus this fall. The new learning experience for all in Marengo County begins in less than two weeks. Teachers return to work on Monday, Aug. 10 to begin intense training for the blended year ahead with students arriving the following Monday on Aug. 17.

Marengo County also received a little more than $153,000 from that package to help with health and wellness in the school district.

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