Ericka Dixon

Winfield Middle School principal Ericka Dixon talks to a couple of her students in her office before class. The Foley native has taught in the Winfield R-IV School District for 20 years, and has been at the middle school for 10.

In her 10th year at Winfield Primary School, principal Ericka Dixon has seen a lot of children come and go.

However, nothing prepared the 20-year veteran of education for the COVID-19 pandemic, which gripped the nation – and Lincoln County. Dixon and her teachers were put in a situation none of them had ever been put in before.

Plans were going to have to be made in anticipation of children returning to in-person instruction.

“We’re on even higher levels of education because we were teaching teachers and parents on how we were educating their children,” she said. “Plus, we’re still learning ourselves how to adapt different teaching techniques in ever-changing times.

“You have to start off with everything out of the norm, and you have to let teachers and educators know this is something we’ve never done before, so mistakes are going to be made.”

Dixon knew it would take a community effort for this to work, and that kind of leadership comes from growing up in the Winfield community. The Foley native and Culver-Stockton graduate has never taught in another school system, so she has keen insight into the needs of the students of the area.

Dixon said she wouldn’t want to teach anywhere else.

“I love it here,” she said. “I love the community. Everybody knows everybody here.”

Dixon’s dream of being in education was born in elementary school.

“Back when I was in elementary school, we got to shadow someone we wanted to be like,” she said. “My mom said I was good with people, and my stepdad was a music teacher, so I shadowed one of his friends – and I got hooked.

“That job shadowing put me on the road to where I am now.”

During the pandemic, Dixon knew many of the students at Winfield Primary School came from homes where both parents were working, so they were likely being cared for by older siblings or grandparents. ZOOM meetings were arranged to help with homework.

For parents who didn’t have Internet access, Dixon and her teachers drove to the homes to help with homework or teach them to download the apps themselves.

“The amount of home visits we made was amazing. We drove a ton of miles to help parents download the apps on their computers. Our staff was amazing,” she said. “We really tried to be there for all of our families. That’s why we were successful with our Internet learning – and we’re super-proud of them.”

Dixon works with Bright Futures, which allows her to become an even bigger part of her home community.

“We try to fulfill the needs of the community in 24 hours,” she said. “That’s how we do it in Winfield.

“For example, if a kid needs new shoes, we try to get him new shoes as soon as possible.”

She also helps with “Christmas in the Community,” where families from all over Lincoln County can get hams or turkeys and gently used gifts donated from people in the local community.

Dixon said Bright Futures wouldn’t work in Winfield without the help of its residents.

“Our families work hard for everything they have, so when times are tough, we’re here to support them,” she said.