Summer Learning: BISD hands out books ahead of next school year

Brownsville Independent School District elementary schools spent the morning Tuesday handing out summer learning packs to their younger students in an effort to head off what previously was known as summer slide but is now being called “COVID-19 slide.”

The district distributed some 22,248 learning packs, which included three culturally relevant reading books and the latest edition of “Scholastic Weekly Reader” to pre-k through third-grade students. Reflecting Brownsville’s bi-cultural demographic, some 7,600 English language learners received their books in Spanish.

“It’s a great way to reinforce what they’ve learned during the year and to stay connected during the pandemic,” Hudson Elementary Principal Rachel R. Ayala said of the book packs. She said the information in the packs is based on reading, math, science and social studies concepts contained in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the state standard for what students should know and be able to do.

With schools closed since March, the book packs represent one way to bridge learning gaps that might have occurred because of the pandemic, Ayala said.

As Hudson staff distributed the school’s allotment of book packs it was evident they miss the students. Ayala said Hudson has an enrollment of 775 students, 98% of whom have stayed in contact with the school during the pandemic. One by one Hudson’s families pulled through the school’s drive-thru area to receive the books and staff recorded each student on a list.

Philip T. Cowen, who sits on the BISD Board of Trustees and whose wife Frances teaches second grade at Hudson, said like all teachers she misses her students and is anxious to get back.

“Her philosophy is to mix affection and love into the equation,” which is difficult without person-to-person learning, Cowen said.

Ayala said some element of distance learning is likely when the schools reopen, along with split schedules and other modifications.

Although Hudson is empty of the activities that usually take place during the summer, Ayala and her staff have been busy cleaning everything and getting the campus ready for what school might look like in the fall, or whenever reopening takes place.

“It’s an exciting time in education,” Ayala said of the period since the pandemic arrived three months ago. “We’re reinventing how we deliver education and we need to take the time to think it out well.”

To illustrate the challenges facing educators as they get schools ready to welcome students again, Ayala made these points during a building tour:

>> Before the pandemic, each classroom had a capacity of 22 students plus the teacher and teacher’s aides. Under current guidance from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, that capacity is reduced to eight students and a teacher for a standard-size classroom. Each student must maintain social distancing of six feet, plus a radius of 45 feet between students to meet the guidelines, she said.

>> Likewise in the cafeteria. Before the pandemic it took 30 minutes to feed 200 students. Now, cafeteria tables are a thing of the past. Due to square-footage requirements the cafeteria can only accommodate four classrooms of eight children at a time, with the kids eating at their desks, for a capacity of 32 students.

>> There’s also the matter of where to store all the extra furniture.

BISD will hold a Curriculum and Instruction workshop at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the administration building at 1900 Price Road. Ayala will present reopening options for elementary schools. Options for middle schools and high schools will also be presented.

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