March 6 was a learning day for our faculty at Bonham Academy and a student holiday. We used the day to plan for the last nine weeks, create our plans for STAAR review, look at data, and enjoy morning wellness sessions. Then we all said our hasta luegos and goodbyes, heading into the break to recharge.

A few days later, my family and I set off to Port Aransas for what we thought would be a relaxing spring break just like any other. My cousin, who is a teacher, was visiting from Nebraska and we were looking forward to the sun and the beach. We saw the news of what was happening in other countries as well as on the west and east coast, but it all seemed so far away. Other than the North Star incident, COVID-19 still was not hitting close to home. Yes, we would take extra precautions with hand sanitizer and washing our hands, but going into spring break, I had no idea how drastically things would change for us as educators and for our community. 

When superintendents across Bexar county announced extended spring breaks, text messages and emails began to fly. I exchanged ideas with other principals about how to face the challenges ahead, grateful to have colleagues to navigate these new waters together. 

We began building online learning platforms and assessing the needs in our community through surveys. Our assistant principal and administrative intern called all of our teachers to check in with them. Our teachers then called our families. Our counselors began to check in on families and students we knew would need assistance. Our custodians disinfected our school. 

Then the Zoom meetings began – daily principals meetings with more questions than answers. In spite of the uncertainty, our assistant superintendents and chief academic officer, Patti Salzmann, sprang into action. Ken Thompson, our chief information technology officer, and his team began to gear up for what would be the largest distribution of laptops and hot spots in our district’s history, all in partnership with the amazing SAISD Foundation. Food service employees began to prepare for providing meals to our kids at 29 curbside locations and 65 mobile locations. 

I cried as we saw our first families at tech and food distribution. I got inspired seeing our faculty at our first full Zoom faculty meeting. I was overwhelmed with pride as our teachers and students came together to create our morning announcements remotely to help with a sense of normalcy. 

These quick actions taught me so much about what it means to serve. Schools serve as the hub of many communities. At Bonham Academy, we serve almost 650 students and have over 60 staff members. The school has a strong legacy and community that has embraced creativity and innovation for years through our in-district charter that made us a flagship dual language campus with a focus on the fine arts and environmental science. Our students get to experience a full range of opportunities from extracurriculars to a rich diversity of experiences brought by all of our families. 

Little did any of us know that March 5 would be our last day of the school year with students on campus. No fun field trips, no Bonham pachanga, no awards ceremonies, or end of year parties. Our eighth graders who have spent nine years of their lives at Bonham will close this chapter at home instead of with the teachers and classmates who have shaped their learning experience.

SAISD’s Bonham Academy’s sign says “We Miss You” during the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

This transition has not been easy on any of us. Families are working to make sense of remote learning. Some have been laid off. Others are juggling working from home while their kids are at home. We hear stories every day of challenges with food insecurity.  

I cried when I saw the email from one of our grandmothers with the subject line that read “Help.” She and her grandchildren were without food and without a car. We’ve had parents and guardians being furloughed or losing their jobs. Thankfully the SAISD Foundation has stepped up to help more schools create campaigns to meet these community needs. We’ve used their platform to create our own Bobcats Lend-A-Paw campaign to help families and staff members in need. It’s the spirit of familia and ingenuity that have helped us meet our communities needs during these times.

Through this all, we continue to prioritize people first. We make room for our staff who are not only crafting learning for their own students, but many of them with their own children currently at home. We make room for sorrow and celebration, for solidarity, for equity and access. This experience has brought us sadness, anxiety, and the whole gamut of emotions. It has also brought us hope.

It brings me comfort to see strength and resilience of our community, of our district, and our city. It is why I chose to stay in San Antonio after teaching at Bonham. This community has a hold on my heart and it is the relationships my husband and I have cemented in our hearts that give us hope for the times ahead. These relationships run deep and were especially evident when we did our staff parade through King William and Lavaca. Families lined the streets and neighbors, both young and old, came out to wave. This is the spirit of hope and we can get through this together. Si se puede.

Now more than ever, I am seeing things more clearly and yet I have so many lessons I am still learning. I ask myself, what if we don’t go back to the world we know? What do we want to bring into this new world? What do we want to stand for? Our incredible SAISD Board President, Patti Radle, recently shared this: “I hear people say they’re so eager to come back to normal,” she said. “I say I hope we get back to better.” 

We are all building better right now, and we won’t stop. Tenemos las ganas, y sabemos que si se puede. Relationships matter now more than ever. We have made new and bright commitments to our city’s future. My hope is that this experience will bring within us a seismic shift in how we serve as schools and that our community continues to reflect on the value of people who work in schools around the country. I know I will never forget how we rose and how we will continue to rise. 

Bonham Academy Principal David Nungaray at Mexican American Studies camp on June 14, 2019

David Nungaray

David Nungaray is a bilingual consulting partner at The New Teacher Project.