Students, educators react to Abbott’s school closures

HARLINGEN — Last year, Camryn Hale had looked forward to visiting Disney World.

That’s when Camryn, 17, and her fellow musicians at Harlingen High School began planning this year’s band trip.

But it was not to be. The COVID-19 pandemic has thwarted everyone’s plans this year, and Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement Friday that schools would remain closed the rest of the school year came as no surprise.

Still, everyone’s disheartened about the situation, on many levels.

“ My friends and I had been planning for the Disney World trip since the end of our sophomore year,” said Camryn, a junior who plays the trombone and baritone.

“ It is disappointing that we cannot go,” she said.

However, her concern extended well beyond what she is losing this year.

“ It is sad that we cannot finish out our school year, especially the seniors that have had to miss their prom and graduation,” she said. “But safety is the number one priority. HCISD has been prepared for this to happen and is being as accommodating as it can.”

Adrian Garcia was looking forward to walking across the stage with his much-deserved diploma. The Harlingen School of Health Professions senior has made a name for himself as a leader and had earned himself a spot under the bright lights at graduation.

“ As a student I have mixed emotions after Gov. Abbott announced the executive order,” he said. “On one hand I am sad that my HCISD journey has come to an end. On the other I am mindful that the best way to care for the students and educators that have given me so much is by ensuring that health of our students and staff is of top priority.”

Educators and parents throughout the area conveyed a sense of balance about the situation.

“ As an educator, my heart is broken, mostly for my students who I’m sure feel cheated out of their end of the year and UIL activities,” said Beth M. Castillo, who teaches theater at Jo Nelson Middle School in Santa Rosa.

But …

“ I feel like this step was necessary,” Castillo said. “We all miss and love our students so much, but their health and safety takes priority.”

Pamela Garrett, a teacher at Dr. Rodriguez Elementary School, said the news about campus closures was heartbreaking to hear.

“ But it is necessary for the safety and well being of our students,” Garrett said. “They are more than just kids, they are family. We love each and every one of them and want nothing more than for them to continue learning in a safe and loving environment.”

She spoke further about the endeavors teachers have taken in response to the situation.

“ Teachers have adapted to remote learning and are working well into the evening to accommodate individual students’ needs,” Garrett said. “Our main focus has been to sustain current skills, and now we will begin moving forward with the introduction of new skills. We as educators will band together and with the help of parents we as a community will overcome this trying time.”

Diana Gonzalez, who teaches juniors at San Benito High School, said that when Abbott first announced school closures in March, she suspected those closures would remain in place the rest of the school year.

“ Even as an educator, the adjustment hasn’t been easy,” she said. “Trying to remain in contact with my 90 students, attending Zoom meetings with my colleagues while staying on top of my children’s education has kept me on my toes.”

She described how teachers had to flip to remote instruction, parents had to become teaching assistants overnight, and students had to cope with challenges even their parents or grandparents haven’t had to face.

“ Many teachers were creative while others struggled, trouble-shooting software programs for the new platforms of communication between students and fellow colleagues,” she said. “This has taken a toll on students, especially those who lack motivation and structure.”

She believed, however, that this will make everyone stronger.

“ I’ve never seen communities pull closer together and families spend more time with their children playing board games, bike rides and other non-technology activities,” she said. “It took me back to the early 90s when we spent more time out playing.”

twhitehead@valleystar.com