BISD ‘Walks for the Future’: Event looks to bring back missing students

BISD Superintendent Rene Gutierrez, center, stands with his Walk for the Future team on Sept. 11 at Rivera Early College High School. (Courtesy Photo)

Brownsville Independent School District trustees, principals, top administrators and teachers from every BISD campus spent a recent Saturday morning rounding up missing students, telling parents the schools are safe and urging them to send their students back to school.

For years Brownsville ISD has held a Walk for the Future in the fall when school leaders visit the homes of students who haven’t returned to school. This year the walk was even more important due to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Superintendent Rene Gutierrez said.

“This year we were looking at both populations, the ones that haven’t shown up at all and the ones that were reluctant to come back because of COVID,” he said.

“We had a very successful Saturday. We split up into teams and covered the entire community of Brownsville so we could go out and talk to parents so they could bring their child back to school, back to BISD, and specifically those parents that were concerned with COVID, we wanted to assure those parents that our schools are safe and that we welcome their child back to school and that if they don’t have the vaccine we also have the vaccine.”

Gutierrez said his team visited two homes. At both he had to explain the protocols BISD is taking against the virus, including the mask mandate. In the second home, the student was staying at another home because both parents had COVID and were quarantining.

“We talked to the mom, we were out in the street but we were communicating. That’s the reality of what’s happening out there, at least in the two homes I visited,” Gutierrez said. “Hopefully, we made an impact, and the assurances I got were that they were going to look into bringing their student back to school.”

As of Thursday, BISD had a registered enrollment of 37,713 compared to 40,775 during the 2020-2021 school year, a difference of 3,062 students. In 2019-2020, BISD had 43,028 students, the district reported.

At Oliveira Middle School, Principal Martha Medina thanked Gutierrez for bringing back Walk for the Future, which she ranked among BISD traditions that have gone on for years and felt good to be doing again. She said the parents she talked to were interested in the information the school officials brought.

“We also talked to some parents who said they were helpless, that the children were suffering from depression, that they couldn’t snap out of it after we went into the COVID phase last year and they seem to have become very withdrawn and depressed and suffered from depression in combination with anxiety,” Medina said.

“So we brought to their attention that we have services like 504 services to provide counseling support, to provide a health plan, and all of that would be eventful if they would take the first step and put their child in our hands so we can begin the process of working with that child on the unexpected consequences that this pandemic has caused.”

Medina said her school found 78 students who had not returned to school, but after calling parents determined that 42 families would need to be contacted, the rest having gone to a charter schools or left Brownsville for employment or other reasons.

If each of BISD’s 54 schools had similar numbers it would mean BISD representatives visited more than 2,000 homes during the walk, held Sept. 11.

Medina, a 33-year BISD employee who has served as a high school assistant principal and dean of instruction, said she emphasized during the event, and when meeting with parents generally, how highly qualified BISD teachers and administrators are, that they receive continual trainings to stay current in their profession.

“We got to go out there and knock on their doors to show that we’re truly invested, not just in getting the students back in school but to go on and graduate,” she said. “We were also able to fold in Senate Bill 15, which allows online instruction for some students and those who are homebound and fragile.”

Gutierrez characterized the walk as a “total team effort” that brought out legitimate concerns about COVID-19 in a community where many moms and dads live in the same household with grandparents and students.

“It was an awesome event, very touching,” he said. “The most important thing was we were sending a message to our community that we care about our students and we can run our schools safely.”

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