By 12:30 p.m. the high school water fountains were brown and all bathrooms in the college had also stopped working, so Henderson decided to close both schools for the day. A bell rang and Ellington stepped into the damp hallways. Water splashed over his persimmons, and other boys screamed and made their way to the front of the school. When Ellington found out, he looked for his bus, but didn’t see it.
Finally, after the teens walked around the parking lot for half an hour, the manager came yelling. The district did not have enough buses to free both middle school and high school students, he explained. “Get back to your Block A class now,” the principal shouted. “Get around. Let’s go.”
Ellington walked inside, but when he reached his classroom, no other students were there.
All spring, Ellington sent SMS complaints to Henderson. His algebra class didn’t have textbooks, so he spent half the time copying equations onto loose sheets of paper. The instructor tried to enrich his classes with online homework from Khan Academy, a non-profit organization that offers free video tutorials, but Ellington did not have a computer or internet access at home. , and he didn’t know how to teach the lesson on his phone, so he didn’t finish it. When the teacher berated him, Ellington felt so embarrassed that he argued with her until she sent him to the principal’s office.
A few nights before spring break, Henderson saw Ellington at a panel discussion and got to see how overwhelmed the teenager felt. He didn’t have a science lab. He couldn’t do his homework. Even part of the school day was a waste. “I just want to get out of Holmes County,” Ellington told him.
Henderson didn’t know how long it would take him to help Ellington. He might not find a drama teacher until the end of the semester, and the district likely wouldn’t build a new school until Ellington graduates, but Henderson promised the second half of the spring semester would be better.
Two weeks later, the coronavirus reached Mississippi.
Henderson knew that Internet access was spotty in Holmes, but he had no idea how bad it was: when interviewing families in the district, he found that more than 75% of his students had no way to connect to the internet. Many teachers either.
Like all impoverished school districts, Holmes receives federal money through a program called Title I. In a normal year, Holmes officials spend an additional $ 1,000 per student on tutors and teachers. teacher assistants, but after schools were closed by the pandemic, Henderson reallocated some of those dollars to buy Chromebooks. By the end of March, he had distributed 1,300 tablets. It also turned six school buses into traveling hot spots, but the infrastructure has not reached all families. The neighborhood had 3,000 students. Some families said they had multiple kids competing to use a Chromebook, and each school bus hot spot only broadcast 100 feet, leaving much of the county without access.