As the coronavirus pandemic impacts the world, our news feeds are full of tragedy and sacrifice. These stories of financial hardship, sickness and death dominate the news cycle.
This is not, however, the full story.
Across the state, the private sector is stepping up to meet the challenges of today. Churches are partnering to offer food to those in need, gyms are offering free at-home work outs, and Alabama farmers are hosting virtual field trips to students stuck at home for the rest of the year.
Amidst it all, it is clear that schools have been dealt a most difficult challenge in this crisis. In a relatively short period of time, they have been required to adapt to an entirely new way of managing student learning.
There is a sense that sub-par learning is inevitable. Smaller gains in performance and student growth are expected.
I can tell you, from my behind-the-scenes view as Board Chairman of Cornerstone School in Birmingham, however, that many schools are operating above that perceived inevitability.
Before I give just a few examples of how Cornerstone has addressed this crisis, I want to tell you a little bit more about our school.
Cornerstone’s presence in the Birmingham area has been felt ever since we opened our doors to thirteen students in 1993. From then on, we have continued to offer a high quality, Christian education to students who otherwise would have had no such opportunity. Ninety percent of our students, in fact, are low-income. Their cost is heavily subsidized by our donors. Over 300 of our roughly 700 students are recipients of Accountability Act scholarships, the state’s primary school choice program. Our per-student cost is beneath that of public schools.
Last year, 100% of our seniors graduated. Cumulatively, they were offered over $1.1 million in college scholarships. Every single one of them is now enrolled in higher education, the military, or career preparation.
We could not be prouder of them. They are the clearest evidence of the hard work and dedication of our faculty, staff, and hundreds of volunteers who help our students in academics, sports, and spiritual growth.
But back to the crisis at hand.
To my knowledge, Cornerstone was the first school in the area to cancel an event because of the coronavirus. It was clear, early on, to our teachers and our staff that change was coming. So when it was announced that schools were going to be closed, they were not caught off guard.
In fact, our faculty immediately got to work and were ready to operate within seventy-two hours of that announcement. Seventy-two hours! They made sure students had internet access (at times working with parents to connect their homes to the internet for the first time) and a reliable computer, offering our school’s laptops for checkout to those who needed them.
In the days after the initial launch of our distance learning program, students were (believe it or not) clamoring for teaching and assignments, and our faculty was happy to oblige. Thanks to the platforms our faculty has implemented, we are able to track how much time our students spend doing schoolwork and it is far more than we ever expected. We’ve not lost even one student!
In addition, our character-building program continues as teachers find creative ways to promote service and care for others over self.
While we are incredibly thankful for our teachers and faculty who have made the academic and spiritual well-being of their students their top priority, we are also grateful for those in our kitchen who are dedicated to meeting our students’ nutritional needs as well.
In fact, even as many public districts end their meal programs, Cornerstone has resolved to continue to provide warm meals through pickup until the end of this school year.
Again, we could not be prouder of Cornerstone. Our team is meeting the task head on.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Ask the parents, the students, or our faculty. They all have a deep heart for our community and for each other. Our school motto is “Excellence Together”, and we think it’s this heart that makes Cornerstone special.
Cornerstone is not the only school that is working hard and diligently for its students. Many schools we know are doing so because, like Cornerstone, they have the resources they need thanks to the State’s continued support of the Alabama Accountability Act.
In times like these, I am full of gratitude for the responses of Cornerstone and other schools receiving tax-credit scholarships.
I am also hopeful that these responses remind our lawmakers and the general public that the Accountability Act, which makes much of this possible, is an investment worth making.