By Jose De Leon III & Jamie Trevino
This article originally appeared in the Friday Aug. 16, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.
Two school districts have put providing equal learning opportunities for students at the forefront of their missions.
On Thursday Aug. 8, 2019, the La Joya Independent School District and Mission Consolidated Independent School District held their respective Back to School Bash events. Despite the heat, families lined up outside for hours prior to the bashes.
Mission Consolidated Independent School District
Thanks to support from the community, 2,500 backpacks filled with school supplies were ready to be distributed at Mission CISD’s 6th annual Back to School Bash.
Held at Veterans Memorial High School, thousands of parents lined up to receive backpacks for their children-and other amenities the district was offering.
“It’s designed to be a one-stop, back to school event for families in the district where we try to provide as many of their back to school related needs in one event so they can get it all done at once,” district spokesman Craig Verley said. “This year we have a total of 2,500 backpacks that are available to be given out to Mission CISD students. It’s through the generosity of our communities and businesses that donated these items that we were able to do this. It’s solely based on community support. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to do it.”
According to Verley, several organizations such as the Greater Mission Chamber of Commerce, the Progress Times newspaper, The Lions Club and more pitched in to purchase the backpacks and the supplies they were filled with.
“It’s our duty and responsibility of the community to come together and for those of us that are able to give to others, to do so,” Greater Mission Chamber of Commerce CEO Brenda Enriquez said. “I feel the community has a responsibility to give back. We understand a child needs at least a backpack so they can put their stuff together, they’re our future.”
Enriquez said that thanks to their annual golf tournament, the chamber was able to donate $6,000 to be used to purchase 2,000 backpacks.
“I think we need to do more,” Enriquez said.
The Back to School Bash features MCISD cosmetology students providing free haircuts, local doctors providing sports physicals for $20, online registrations for classes and organizations such as The Lions Club and Hidalgo County Health Department providing vision screenings and immunizations, respectively.
Live entertainment was provided by performers in the district. Parents were also given information on various programs in the district available in each of the district’s 23 campuses that serves 16,000 students.
According to Verley-doors to the event didn’t open until 6 p.m. but many parents were lining up as early as noon to attend.
“It’d be more of a struggle for some families if they didn’t have this,” Verley said. “For families who have several children, it’s not going to be everything they need but it will save them a lot of money when they do try to complete their back to school shopping.”
Verley added that any leftover backpacks from the Back to School Bash are distributed among the district to be given to students on the first day of school.
“We want parents to know we’re here to serve the needs of the community,” MCISD Superintendent Carolina “Carol” G. Perez said. “We are opening our doors to our community’s children and we care. We want to make sure they’re prepared for school. It’s exciting to see parents and students here.”
Perez said the Back to School Bash alleviates financial strain for most families, as shown by Liliana Rodriguez, who attended the event with her husband and their two sons.
“Supplies can get expensive, so this saves us a lot,” Rodriguez said. “We’re getting nearly half of the school supplies my kids need for school today. It’s a beneficial event.”
According to a press release from the district, the event “is geared at bringing together each high school (with their feeder middle schools and elementaries) with the goal of providing their cluster community with free amenities that will prepare them for the new school year.” Attendees of the Back to School Bash were met with a showcase of La Joya ISD schools and a meet and greet with the principals of each campus.
At the La Joya High School location, Lorenzo de Zavala Middle School Principal Antonio Uresti said that events like these help the community as a whole.
“We service a geographical area where a lot of kids are living in poverty,” Uresti said. “It lessens the burden on the parents to buy school supplies, so it’s beneficial to a lot of our children and families.”
Uresti pointed out that the line outside prior to the event was quite long, and even though it was over 100 degrees outside, there were hundreds of kids and parents willing to wait.
Donations from city officials and sponsors funded the bash, and included representation from Sullivan City, city of La Joya, city of Peñitas and the city of Palmview. Their contributions included a wide range of school supplies for all grade levels.
LJISD Board President Claudia Ochoa said it was great to see so many families able to be taken care of as far as school supplies, haircuts and immunizations.
“I love to see their little faces,” Ochoa said. “It reminds me of what La Joya ISD is: it’s a community.”
Ochoa commended the community members who contributed to the event, saying it’s important they show up to support their children.
“It’s about supporting the effort to educate our kids and prepare them for the 2019-2020 school year,” Ochoa said. “It’s so good to see the kids excited about school supplies. It changes a kid’s mentality.”
Among other services being offered were individual immunization information, access to online registration, free haircuts and free books for La Joya ISD students.
Several school district departments were also available with information, such as transportation, migrant, athletics and parental involvement.
Dr. Gisela Saenz, the LJISD Superintendent, went to all three locations to see the outreach of the district’s Back to School Bash. According to her, it is important that school districts find every possible avenue that evens the playing field for all students.
“We already know that the first day of school is really exciting for kids,” Saenz said. “But when a student has a brand new backpack and brand new school supplies, I think they’re that much more excited to come to school. And they’ll all be proud and confident.”