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Each principal of the three high schools in the Mission Consolidated Independent School District has seen their students, teachers and staff adjust tremendously in the wake of an unprecedented spring semester.
When discussing the new routines and issues faced at each campus, all three expressed pride in the district population for everyone’s continued unity throughout the end of the 2019-2020 school year.
Sandra Rodriguez – Mission High School
In her first few months as principal of Mission High School, Principal Sandra Rodriguez had to oversee the closure of her campus and ensure instruction continued through the pandemic.
“The adjustment phase was so abrupt,” Rodriguez said, explaining that they thought they were only going to be closed for the week of Spring Break. “But they were champions, and basically transformed teaching and learning overnight.”
While both students and teachers were initially anxious, Rodriguez said the teachers adapted to the changes and found new methods of communicating with students and parents in terms of instruction and curriculum. Rodriguez, who served as the Instructional Technology Coordinator for the district prior to her principalship, had been preparing teachers and staff for COVID-19’s impact on the way curriculum and instruction is distributed six years ago by getting them experienced in remote teaching technologies like Google Classroom.
“It was an entirely positive way that teachers were approaching them [students],” Rodriguez said. “They had to learn as much as possible the best way to communicate with students in their given circumstances. It was how much the students could receive on their end.”
In monitoring their Google Classrooms, Rodriguez saw teachers send inspirational messages throughout the remainder of their socially-separated year.
“They were some of the best announcements that motivated students to stay positive,” Rodriguez said. “It showed how much the teachers understood that it was more important to ensure the person was receiving the message.”
Rodriguez anticipates that school protocol will completely change – in fact, it’s already changed everything.
“The beauty of it is that the teachers are now implementing things that they may not have done if they would have stayed in-person with students,” Rodriguez said. “We will never go back to just the same old way because of the circumstances and the challenges they’ve faced.”
She noted that even something as basic as visiting the school will not be the same – when before, parents or adults would usually sign in to a sheet of paper at the front desk, now they’ll have to rethink the process through Google Drive, so things are more remote but timestamps and monitoring who wants to enter campus can be maintained.
“They’re big things that we never thought about before,” Rodriguez said. “[Students] won’t be sharing the same pen, not sharing the same paper – that will go for textbooks and library books – you’re going to see an entire paradigm shift from hard copies to digital. We’re not going back to the same old same old.”
Students will still be encouraged and taught to use their critical thinking skills and participate, and many more students will have access to technology training as well as teachers. Rodriguez said that the senior students have been resilient in the face of cancelled proms and baccalaureates.
“It got real, and when it got real for us, I can only imagine how real it was getting for the seniors,” Rodriguez said, adding she quickly wrote a letter to the Class of 2020 recognizing their steadfast dedication and hard work throughout the year academically, athletically and with extracurriculars. “If there has ever been a graduating class that can rise up and come out of any type of adversity, it’s this class.”
Rodriguez noted that the MHS Class of 2020 joined their peers who were born between 2001 and 2002 in a post-9/11 world, and have had to weather several national tragedies.
“This pandemic may have stolen their senior year, but it will not steal their dreams or their future,” Rodriguez said. “They have to stay positive. I ask them to stay strong and to remember that instead of being bitter, they need to be better and change their thought process to a growth mindset.”
Fidel Garza, Jr. – Veterans Memorial High School
Principal Fidel Garza, Jr. has been happy to serve students in Mission, where he graduated, even during the unexpected closure caused by the pandemic.
“It’s uncharted, unprecedented times that we’re in right now,” Garza said. “Our staff and students responded in a way that rose to the occasion.”
Garza said their top priority was keeping everyone healthy and making sure they were being educated.
“When this broke out, we had daily meetings,” Garza said. “Dr. Carol Perez and our district leadership team did a tremendous job.”
Virtual meetings via Zoom or Google was another first for everyone, according to Garza. He noted that they wanted to ensure every question was answered and everything was in place.
“Once we got into the routine, it made it a little easier for us,” Garza said. “We transferred that to our students and our learning.”
Getting devices and hotspots to students was one of the first obstacles MCISD had to adapt to.
“The district was already ensuring that they were ordering enough Chromebooks and hotspots, and we ended up having Wi-Fi at our campuses, where our students could drive up and work from there,” Garza said. “It was also a learning experience for our teachers – even though we use Google Classroom, Blackboard and other kinds of media – they’re so used to that face-to-face interaction of having the student in the classroom.”
Garza said that none of his teachers complained throughout the ordeal, and kept their interactions and questions focused.
“In the future, it gives us a great opportunity to see how we can do distance learning,” Garza said. “It gives us a different avenue to reach our kids.”
He added that he believes school protocol will change in the future.
“We’re planning to see what’s going to happen in the fall,” Garza said, noting that COVID-19 adds to the list of fall viruses like the flu. “I truly believe that if we have to transition, it’s going to be seamless because of the work that’s gone through and what we’ve been working on right now.”
According to Garza, the VMHS senior Class of 2020 has shown the ability to stay strong and ask questions.
“It’s great that our kids have reached out to us through emails and social media – rightfully so, they’re questioning what’s going to happen,” Garza said. “I think that the direction that we’ve moved in through distance learning has allowed for us to look into new possibilities.”
Hosting graduations in the stadium, old-school, like when he graduated from MHS, will give the students a sense of closure to their year.
“I think that’s important for them,” Garza said. “At the very end, for every senior high school is so important, because it’s the coming-of-age feeling of closing out 12 or 13 years of schooling. You need to have that ceremony and closure for our kiddos, so they can feel like that chapter is closed and they can continue with the next chapter in their life.”
Garza said as graduation approaches, students have been getting more excited.
“We’ve worked so hard, so close together,” Garza said, noting that all the high schools are friendly and look out for each other. “We just want to make sure our ceremony is the best it can be, and we’re throwing out ideas and helping each other out.”
The Mission community is strong because of the people and culture that fosters resilience.
“Everybody pulled together – our meetings consisted of city officials, doctors, Mission CISD Personnel,” Garza said. “The message from Dr. Perez is ‘how can we serve Mission CISD students?’ It’s about coming together as a family. Here, you feel comfortable. It’s amazing to see.”
For seniors leaving, Garza said he wants them to know that there are many opportunities moving forward.
“Live in the now,” Garza said. “Take that opportunity to see what you can do and how you can truly change this community and the world.”
Ana Lisa Flores – Mission Collegiate Early College High School
A long-time employee of the Mission CISD, Ana Lisa Flores was in her first year of her new position when administration found out they would be closing campuses through the end of the school year.
“I had an awesome first semester, and I had an awesome start to the second semester – but after Spring Break, oh my Lord, things changed rapidly,” Flores said. “But it comes with the territory, we adjust.”
Flores has seen the students adjust to a kind of distance-learning from home.
“It’s hard, because they all don’t have the same playing field,” Flores said, noting that not all students have access to the Internet. “It really created a concern for us, and it was challenging, but we managed and got it done.”
She noted that her teachers all had to learn new technologies and “step it up a notch.”
“We received training, and from there on we adjusted as we went on,” Flores said. “At the end of the day, it was well worth it. We were able to have our weekly meetings virtually.”
Flores commended the resilience of not only the students, but the teachers and staff as well. Their ability to adapt shows they were willing to do everything in their power so learning and instruction continued.
“It was very important that the children didn’t fall behind,” Flores said. “They’re natural as wanting to learn and desiring instruction.”
Flores is sure that protocol will change – so much so that the superintendent is already working on new methods for dispensing curriculum.
“We need to be prepared,” Flores said. “We need to be able to resort to technology and virtual learning, because it is something that cannot stop.”
She added that they are constantly ensuring students are ahead and aware of what they need to learn.
“Any setback in the school – whether it be a fire drill or an assembly, that sets them back – can you imagine this?” Flores said. “Protocol definitely has to be set in place, and I know for a fact that our district is already planning on that. Our staff development is going to be majorly geared toward technology, how to use and how to make the best of it.”
Keeping a united front is necessary so the community can be aware that everyone at MCISD holds education very dear.
“Education is the ticket to success,” Flores said. “We really care about our community. We came together.”
It’s not only families who celebrate, but peers and neighbors.
“We visited all 97 of our students to leave them their yard signs,” Flores said, adding that their neighbors would come out to cheer with the families from a safe distance. “Just their faces, the parents and students and neighbors, it was so good and heartwarming to see. People do care about their community, and it’s something that will hopefully motivate others.”
For the MCHS Class of 2020, Flores hopes they never let a detour stop them.
“That detour is going to take them somewhere else,” Flores said. “And all they need to do is face the challenges along the way and they will achieve their goals, as long as they stay focused.”