Final Farewell: Teachers and students say goodbye at end of early school year

Fourth grade teacher Cecilia Vega and paraprofessional Mary Ann Gonzalez wave as a student leaves after picking up their school supplies Wednesday outside Lopez-Riggins Elementary School. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Teachers at Lopez-Riggins Elementary School in Los Fresnos cheered, rang bells, and held posters with messages to students who drove by the school with parents on Thursday to pick up belongings left behind when coronavirus hit the Rio Grande Valley in March.

One teacher announced the name and grade of each student as they pulled up to the tent, prompting claps, cheers, and grins.

“We miss you!” read a sign held up by a third-grade teacher who waved at students as a car rolled by. The student inside smiled back, clearly happy to see the group of teachers and volunteers who braved the heat and strong winds to pass out labeled, plastic-covered bundles of school supplies.

Some teachers provided goodie bags full of snacks for students. Others stapled personal notes onto the bundles. One particularly colorful stash of goodie bags for a class included mesh bags filled with beach toys ready for use at South Padre Island once remote learning officially ends this week.

The group of around a dozen wore masks and gloves as they placed bundles in the trunks of parents’ vehicles. A few students brought gifts, including a poster bearing ice cream cones for Rebecca Martinez, a third-grade teacher at Lopez-Riggins. The text of the bright pink sign read, “Here’s the scoop: We <3 you Ms. Martinez.”

“This is why we love this work,” she said, showing off her gift. Down the line of tables, a fourth-grade teacher was given two small canvas paintings done by a student. One read “Best teacher ever” while another, purple and blue, depicted a galaxy.

Jennifer Elizondo, Lopez-Riggins’ instructional officer, said it remains uncertain whether classes will begin in-person come the fall semester. “The expectation is that we would start, but until we get closer to that time, we’re not too sure,” she said.

In April, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered all school buildings closed through the end of the academic year. On Monday, he announced that schools could hold in-person summer school.

Elizondo praised the school’s 32-person teaching staff and other employees who have kept things moving for students and families. The transition to remote learning has been challenging for teachers and administration that must develop new ways to engage elementary school students from afar.

The crisis also happened on short notice, compounding the stress of transition, though Elizondo explained that a strong sense of community and the dedication of Lopez-Riggins’ teaching staff helped both employees and students pull through.

“The teamwork of the campuses, the district, parents, and kids has been very eye-opening. It’s amazing to see everybody coming together, sharing ideas, and working together to do what we needed to do for the kids,” she said.

“We’re missing our kids. We wish they could have been here; we missed them these nine weeks of school. We really did. But, we tried to do whatever we could that was best for them — to keep them home and to be safe, but to keep them learning and working, as well.”

esheridan@brownsvilleherald.com