FORT BEND, CO., Texas – Students across Fort Bend ISD returned to class for the new academic year, some started the day with pep rallies, while others were welcomed by TV show characters w like SpongeBob at Hunters Glen Elementary School.
“It is so exciting,” said Fort Bend ISD Superintendent Christie Whitbeck, Ph. D., “(Teachers are) welcoming all these kids.”
Whitbeck welcomed students at Hunters Glen Elementary School by passing out supplies and greeting parents. When speaking with parents, Whitbeck assured them of several things, including safety.
Following the Uvalde school massacre, the Texas Education Agency required every school district statewide to check every exterior door. Whitbeck said her staff did and will continue to throughout the year. On top of this, within the first 10 days, she said students will perform four drills, “just to be extra prepared, extra early.”
The drills include severe weather, lockdown, security, and fire drills.
“Each campus regularly practices safety drills to prepare for various scenarios and recent tragedies are a reminder that we must remain vigilant,” read a note on the district’s safety drills and training webpage.
“We spent more money per student on safety than most districts in the state,” Whitbeck said. “We have a rhino lock door. We have a lot of additional cameras and systems in place. This year, our board approved $4.4 million to fence our elementary schools.”
The district is piloting a weapon detection system at all high school football games to see how effective it is and whether they can expand it elsewhere.
At Travis High School, as students hopped off the bus, the drumline and cheerleaders could be heard in the back celebrating the return to school.
“I’m kind of nervous, but it’s exciting,” said Anvi Garyali. The Dulles High School senior is a recent recipient of the student hero award by the Texas State Board of Education for her work on mental health.
Garyali said she came up with the idea in the spring of 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns.
“I realized that I was getting negatively effective because of isolation and things like that, and because of that, I started a program not to only help myself but the people around me,” Garyali said.
She took that experience and created a program where students and adults could talk more about the stigma of mental health.
“It’s just about helping someone who needs help because helping one person could be a big deal,” she said.
Throughout the school year, the senior plans to host workshops throughout the districts and the community.
This school year marks the fourth year Sarah LaBerge heads Travis High School. She will watch the seniors she welcomed four years ago receive their diplomas; her son included.
LaBerge said since COVID-19 restrictions increased virtual learning, she said it hindered learning for some students. She said this year the district will continue working with students dealing with learning loss.
“We really dig in and look at our student’s strengths and opportunities for growth and we find ways to mitigate some of the loss so that we can get any unfinished learning taken care of,” LaBerge said.
At Travis High School and other schools in the district, support staff will pull double duty – as the district works on staffing shortage.
“I think teachers are exhausted, across the nation, they’re tired,” Whitbeck said. “I think that it’s really COVID related.”
Fort Bend ISD is seeking close to 200 teachers spread across areas and grade levels
“That’s out of about 5,400 of our teaching force,” Whitbeck said. “We do have a lot of long-term subs in those jobs. We will continue to look for qualified staff throughout the year, but we also have a lot of support systems in this district, we have instructive coaches. We have a lot of people there to help our teachers to teach.”