Durden, ‘Hat Tipper’ build outdoor classroom for ECI


School and community pride cannot be ignored if you have ever visited ECI.


While many are focused on the pandemic and politics, I would like to focus on the positive and pause a minute to send some praise.


We have two generous men who would never allow me to brag on them, especially on this public forum. Surprise, guys!


“Do we have to stop? I want to keep reading! It’s just getting good!” These are the words from my students, which tear at my teacher heart.


Kids are nervous, news is full of violence or illness, and all the kids want to do is to be able to read while getting some fresh air.


When you have to move quickly in order to cover your grammar and writing standards before the end-of-year test (and yes, this still applies during a pandemic), you do not have much time for students to read what they choose for enjoyment. However, since we lost some in-person learning last year, we decided to have mandatory silent reading the first 15 minutes of 70-minute class. One beneficial part of this pandemic is students are getting more time to read at home. They are discovering reading allows journeys to far-off places or inspirational stories and hope from others who have overcome challenges that are often similar to ones they face in their own lives.


Leroy Lane and Dal Durden have no idea the importance or span of impact they have made on the students at ECI. I called “Hat Tipper,” also known as Leroy Lane, knowing he was an ECI alum.


Hat Tipper—that’s what my friend from metro Atlanta calls Leroy because she thought it was just a thing in movies that people tipped their hats to greet women. When I got the job at ECI, he rushed over to my dad’s farm to brag about how ECI was the greatest place. He also told some stories of his high school shenanigans, which I won’t repeat so they won’t give students any ideas. I will let him tell any of y’all who know him the stories of his good times and memories here.


Since a little before COVID was around, I told him what my students were saying and how it was heartbreaking to me that they had places here to read outside but not enough for a whole class, certainly not enough room to socially distance. This is a small school, which is the charm of it, but not so much when you need 30 kids to socially distance.


To my surprise, once the call was made, the ECI alum called another alum, and the problem was no longer a problem. Dal Durden, a man I had never met, asked me how much was needed and when I needed it to make the kids a space to read outside. Dal also had stories of his love for ECI, which I will also let him share with you, but they varied from Leroy’s. Dal was valedictorian of the Class of 1981, which is an amazing accomplishment, so it definitely needs to be recognized, as well as being the owner of Swainsboro Supply Company.


ECI is a distinctly different place of pride and community love, which is clearly generational. This is such a rarity I have to brag on these two men and this place during such an isolating and divisive time in our world.


They had no idea by the time all was built and placed outside the middle school that the COVID pandemic had made it even more important to have a space to spread out while continuing classwork. It has become a haven for students during break, an outdoor classroom that not only does the middle school use, but also the Spanish students use it for projects they are working on with Senora Rowland.


The suggestion of having the students build them in shop class was amazing. Thank you, John Harrison, his shop students, and Mike Williams for helping make this project come to fruition.


Thank you, Dal and Leroy.

– An appreciative ECI teacher

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