On the Front Lines
May 5, 2021
Just prior to the onset of COVID-19, Chickasaw citizen Randi Wilkins had a difficult decision to make. Should she leave behind the hands-on student relationships of her classroom in Sulphur to accept a new position as Student Services Director of Hayes Grade Center in Ada?
She decided to make the move, knowing she would fulfill her goal to guide and touch the lives of many children in a new way. Stepping away from being a teacher, she became a director.
In the spring of 2020, she also began leading the Ada High School cheerleading team.
With one year in administration under her belt and a batch of young women trying out for the cheer team, the COVID-19 pandemic brought an entirely new set of obstacles.
"When March hit and COVID-19 was becoming prevalent in our area, there were lots of unknowns. We were all told, and we were all forewarned, but no one really knew what was going to happen," Wilkins said.
Leaving for spring break and not coming back was hard for everyone, she said. When students and teachers are accustomed to spending time together in the classroom, transitioning to virtual lessons left some things to be desired.
"You spend as much time with students at school as they do with their parents at home, so you learn to care for them and to take care of them," Wilkins explained. "When you don't see them, you can't check on them, you do worry about them and their well-being."
Wilkins has two children, Bella, 6, and Newt, 3. At points, she has had to work while also teaching her own children at home.
She noticed, on the other side of the fence, students missed being around friends and having face-to-face contact.
"The students leaving without any closure, teachers were in the same boat. We connect with those students every year and say our goodbyes and well wishes at the end of the year and none of that was able to be done," Wilkins said.
Preparation became paramount for educators at Hayes. No one was willing to be caught off guard again. With the new reliance on technology to teach remotely, the school pulled the funding to provide devices to students.
Still, at the center of it all was the connection between teachers and students.
"I think teachers themselves, a lot of times, don't see how important their role is. They see each student for just that year," Wilkins said. "It's not until you have an experience with a student who goes all the way through grade school and then comes back to say, 'You are the one who encouraged me to read, to push through this, the one that gave me a smile every day and gave me the hope to strive through all of this.'"
Wanting to share a message of encouragement to other educators, Wilkins said, "Just hold your head up and keep working ... you are still making a difference. Even if it isn't a face-to-face setting, you are making a difference."
She also mentioned the importance of grace in this moment.
"Everything is new to everyone, and we're all learning," Wilkins said. "These are new experiences for us and our kids, so let us just give that grace. We never know when we will need to be on the receiving end of it."