Avant School to hold classes at Shepherd's Fold Ranch

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

In an effort to avoid a fourth consecutive week of virtual instruction, Avant Public School arranged last week to have classes this week at Shepherd’s Fold Ranch, a nondenominational Christian camp just outside the city.

Avant is a rural community of about 300 people. Its school, which is a key institution, serves children in the municipality and the surrounding area through the eighth grade.

Avant Public School offered its students virtual instruction during the weeks beginning Monday, Feb. 8, and Monday, Feb. 15, due to extreme cold, as well as ice and snow. The school remained on virtual-instruction status last week, due to burst pipes that left the school without running water.

Facing the possibility of a continued inability to hold in-person classes this week due to the lack of running water, the school arranged to use the facilities of Shepherd’s Fold Ranch.

“We had to do this for the kids,” Avant Superintendent Mindy Englett told the Journal-Capital in an email Wednesday, March 3. “I like to have my eyes on kids and make sure they are OK. At home learning environments are not the best for all students, or parents.”

Englett said the decision to move classes to Shepherd’s Fold reflected the will of the community.

“Our parents have overwhelmingly voiced a preference for face-to-face learning,” she said in an email.

In a separate email Friday, March 5, Englett said the camp had offered the school the use of its property at a greatly reduced rate.

“They have been extremely generous,” she said of Shepherd’s Fold. “The teachers came together quickly and developed a plan and got all of our needed equipment and materials moved there yesterday (Thursday).”

The Avant Board of Education was scheduled to meet Friday night to approve the plans. The school used its Facebook page to provide parents with details about picking up and dropping off students this week.

The current problem for Avant Public School began when the town turned its water back on Sunday, Feb. 28, following repairs to the municipal water system. The municipal system had been nonfunctional twice since Feb. 16 – the first time because of damage that left the entire town without running water for several days. The second time the problem manifested itself was on the morning of Feb. 26, when residents woke up and found they had no water.

“The pipes (at the school) literally blew apart when they were pressurized yesterday,” Englett said in a March 1 post on the school’s Facebook page.

The water supply outage to which Avant Public School is responding is the third acute problem the school has faced in roughly three years. In the spring of 2019, unusually heavy flooding damaged its facilities and traumatized the entire town. Some residents had to be evacuated in boats.

As the spring of 2020 began, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Oklahoma. Now there’s no water at the school.

Englett explained that she has two students who recently lost a parent, and she has personally been affected by the recent deaths of relatives.

Englett is a member of the Avant community who has worked her way up to the superintendent job. This is her first year as the lead administrator for the school, and she has been dealing with the continued pandemic.

“They need their friends at this time,” Englett said of her students in an email. “This is a way to get them back to their peers.”