Bridgeport is tucked way away in the northeast corner of Alabama.  Just a stone’s throw from Tennessee and much closer to Knoxville than Montgomery.  Amidst the hills and hollows of the Appalachian foothills and almost on the banks of the Tennessee River.

A site so scenic that a New York family began investing in local property about 1887  New industry sprang up, new homes built and the Alabama College of Dental Surgery came to life.  The New Yorkers thought it would become one of the South’s leading cities.

But a nationwide economic panic in 1893 brought a halt to investments and grand dreams quickly vanished.  And though there have been flourishes of economic activity since (a beautiful train depot there will be 100 years old this year), for the most part, Bridgeport settled into the same rhythms that snared rural communities across the south over the last 50+ years. Today it is home to about 2,500 people.

Plus Bridgeport Elementary and Middle schools.  The former with 202 students, the latter with 146.

Lauria Merritt is principal of the elementary school and one of her teachers is Kathy Frizzelle who teaches 3rd-grade math, serves in the library and runs the after school program.  Kathy is a native of Pisgah and still lives there, a 30-mile one way commute from her school. Her route to the classroom is not traditional, yet not that unusual in many rural locations.

As a teenager she thought about becoming a lawyer, but since the real world has a way of sidetracking dreams, after high school she found herself working first in one of the sock mills that used to be as common in DeKalb County as dew on a summer morning.  After that, she worked in Scottsboro for a company making rugs.  Fortunately she learned that this employer would pay her tuition to take classes at Northeast Alabama Community College in Rainsville.  So off she went.

She was able to complete her degree taking courses from Athens State.  She has now been teaching eight years.

Always looking to help her school where resources are in short supply, Kathy applied for a grant last year from the national Rural Schools Collaborative.  She was awarded $1,000 to go towards an outdoor classroom.  This was one of nine awarded in Alabama.

Many of our students don’t have a lot of opportunities to experience some of the things many folks take for granted,” she said.  “We think the outdoor classroom will be a great thing for them.”

Total cost for the classroom is estimated at $1,300.  A local contractor is donating the labor and giving the school materials at cost.  Kathy hopes it will be finished this summer.

This year there have been a total of 56 grant applications from Alabama.  Unfortunately, many will not be able to be funded because of a lack of available money.  However, you can be a part of this effort by going to this web site and following instructions as to how to donate.  All funds from Alabama will be used in state schools.

Editor’s note: This school has no pre-K and the community lost its Head Start program a few years ago.  For many students, life is a struggle.  Kathy told me about one student who lives in a camper.  Kathy’s own story is an inspiration.  Going from a sock mill to a classroom takes determination.  It would only take $56,000 to fund all 56 requests.  Maybe less.  Knowing this, it is impossible not to think about the $750,000 no-bid contract Mike Sentance got for a CFO for Montgomery and the $500,000 he got for Massachusetts consultants to work in Alabama.

It is hard to think we have our priorities right.  But then, I doubt our state superintendent has ever been to Bridgeport or inside a sock mill.