Grand finale: Principal finds creative way to finish school year

HARLINGEN — The kids couldn’t come to their graduation, so he took the graduation to the kids.

Harlingen’s schoolchildren missed so much this year when campuses closed in response to COVID-19. Proms were canceled, trade certifications delayed, and high school graduations went virtual.

However, there was nothing virtual about the fifth grade graduating class of Treasure Hills Elementary School. Principal Roland Ingram came up with his own novel idea for making it happen in face time while practicing safety.

“This fifth grade class has missed out on so much this year,” Ingram said. “I just wanted to give them their memorable moment if I could.”

Ingram came up with the idea of a stage made out of a trailer hooked up to his jeep he could pull to each of his fifth graders’ houses. He knew family members would want to be there and the arrangement would allow everyone to follow CDC guidelines.

“We could maintain our six feet of distance if we fabricated the stage correctly,” he said. “They could still take pictures, it would be brief, but it would still be something to remember.”

Crazy idea, right? But he knew his staff would come through.

“I have a wonderful staff that doesn’t mind my crazy ideas,” he said with a chuckle. “They don’t say, ‘No,’ they don’t say, ‘That’s crazy,’ they don’t say, ‘We don’t have time to work on that.’ They say, ‘OK, how can we help? Let’s get together and talk about it.’”

And talk they did, and more. They built the stage on a trailer, complete with a podium six feet away from the X where each student would stand.

“When we pulled up, we would have a fully functional mini stage for the students to walk onto,” Ingram said. “Then I gave a little two-minute speech, and then I introduced the new sixth grader to those who’d gathered in the front yard. Everybody clapped, we gave them their certificate.”

And that’s how it went one house after another. The first night, they began at 5 p.m. and continued until midnight.

“We underestimated the amount of time it would take to drive to 40 houses in one night,” he said. “We included our open enrollment so we went out to Rio Hondo. We were going out to San Benito, we went to all these places far, far away.”

But did families mind the late hours?

Quite the contrary. He and his staff members began calling ahead to each house offering to come the following day and the parents replied, “No, no, no, come on!” And when Ingram and the stage arrived the families and kids were awake and happy and celebrating.

Of course, the following two nights Ingram and his joyous staff adjusted the schedule and visited their young graduates between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. and all were served.

“They loved it, they absolutely loved it,” Ingram said. “Parents crying, kids are excited you know because they miss their teachers, our teachers miss them.”

Now, after one of the strangest years in recent memory, teachers, parents and the kids get some closure before moving forward.