Back to the Classroom: BISD opens to to in-person classes

Pace Early College High School history teacher Adriana Garza teaches on the First World War Monday morning to one in-person student and the rest of her students virtually as the Brownsville Independent School District (BISD) reopen their schools for in-person learning. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in March, any BISD student who wanted to attend in-person classes could have done so on Monday, the Brownsville Independent School District’s first day of across-the-board classroom instruction for the 2020-2021 school year.

Although it was the first day schools were required to provide face-to-face instruction for any student whose family chose that option, the vast majority of BISD’s nearly 42,000 students continued to attend classes remotely, on laptop computers via Google Classroom for older students and on tablet computers via Seesaw for their younger peers.

At Pace Early College High School, Principal Joel M. Wood said the campus was planning for 100 to 120 students to come to school on Monday but only 60 out of an enrollment of 2,063 students actually showed up when the time came. For in-person instruction, Pace is operating on a hybrid schedule, with half the students coming in on Monday and Tuesday, the other half on Wednesday and Thursday, with Friday designated for students who are struggling or need extra help.

Pace has 150 classrooms, 150 teachers, and was planning to serve lunch in two shifts, but since there were so few students decided it was safe to serve them all at one time, Wood said.

In her third-period U.S. history class Monday morning, Adriana Garza, the Social Studies department chair, taught from a laptop computer using a 75-inch touch-screen smart TV and a program that allowed her to underline text and draw much like it was a traditional chalk blackboard.

Pace Early College High School history teacher Adriana Garza teaches on the First World War Monday morning to one in-person student and the rest of her students virtually as the Brownsville Independent School District (BISD) reopen their schools for in-person learning. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

The effect was to bring the sinking of the Lusitania and the U.S. entry into World War I to life. During the lesson, students could come to the board and underline important points. Video content was also available to add context to what was being taught, she said.

“When the pandemic happened, I was just thrust into this,” she said. “I was always just on the cusp of learing the new technology, and I decided, the kids deserve better and I will learn this. … I was basically pushed off the cliff,” she said.

Garza taught 17 students online and one in her classroom, Ronaldo Avila, who said being there for the first time since last year made him feel more confident being able to see his teacher face to face.

“Ms. Garza explains everything thoroughly,” he said.

Avila, who is the left tackle on the Pace football team, said he decided to come to in-person classes at his mother’s encouragement.

“He’s working hard and doing well,” Garza said. “His mom works all day, and his reward is he’s passing and playing football. I have a couple of athletes, and they’re doing a good job of balancing athletics and their classes.”

Pace was coming off of a 38-7 victory over Veterans Memorial Early College High School, so Avila was understandably still in a good mood after the win.

Wood said he expects in-person classes to make a difference as the year wears on, due to the rapport teachers develop with their students.

glong@brownsvilleherald.com