For the first time in many years, Bonham Middle School has a Communities in Schools representative on campus to help ensure students are passing their courses, have the proper attire to wear and even enough food to eat.
Communities in Schools of the Permian Basin Inc. helps students stay in school and make the right choices by connecting schools with needed community resources. Mike Alva, Bonham’s Communities in Schools campus coordinator, started at the campus in October.
The CIS Permian Basin website said the agency serves Crockett, Ector, Wilson and Young Medal of Honor, Bowie and Bonham middle schools, and Odessa and Permian high schools and the Alternative Education Center. Alva said plans are to include Nimitz Middle School, as well.
Along with dropout prevention, in cooperation with the West Texas Food Bank Alva has started a food pantry for students and their families. He said those who use it don’t have to be in Communities in Schools; it’s for the whole campus.
Ector Middle School also has a food pantry.
Principal James Ramage said Bonham has 954 students and about half of those are economically disadvantaged.
Alva said he can take a maximum number of 95 students. He currently has 63 in CIS. Some of the families are considered homeless under federal law, meaning they are living in their cars, in motels or doubling up.
“I have about seven kids that come after school, so far, to pick up full boxes. Then I have parents who come up here and pick up boxes. Then I have some kids who come in for snacks and to eat,” Alva said.
The food boxes include snacks, such as cookies, oatmeal, pancake mix, canned food, rice — “anything they might need for two or three or four meals over the weekend.”
Alva said he tries to make sure the boxes are as condensed as possible to make sure he doesn’t overload people and he can transport it to their homes, if needed. He’d like to obtain some backpacks to put the items in.
“But it’s also available to them throughout the week. I’ve had two students that come almost on an every other day basis. As long as they’re a student here on campus, I can cater to them and their family,” Alva said.
He said he’s not sure yet how the food pantry will work during breaks and over the summer. Alva said he has talked to Ramage about moving to a portable building which would make food available Saturday, Sunday or over a break.
He noted that quite a few parents have gone through some rough times and didn’t know what else to do. The first 37 kids he had in the CIS program were considered homeless under federal law.
Alva also offers small hygiene backpacks for boys and girls donated by the Salvation Army.
He added that students selected for Communities in Schools may be having academic, attendance or behavior issues, or they may have economic issues or uniform needs.
Eighth-graders Giovanni Nunez and Ian Garza are in the Communities in Schools program and have found it helpful.
“It’s a really fun program,” Nunez said. “It’s a really good stress reliever. If you’re really having a hard time at home, you can come here and he’ll talk with you. It’s really relieving sometimes to know that someone’s been in something like your situation and he can connect with you and stuff.”
Garza said he met some “pretty cool people” through the program that he didn’t know before.
“I built that connection with him. I can go to them for the problems I have and they’ll help me throughout the whole thing. They just make me feel like I’m home,” Garza said.
He added that he thinks the program could be “really great for kids that don’t have food at home,” or clothes.
Garza said everyone has been through a day in their life when they didn’t have anything to eat at home.
“It’s really like relieving that I know that if I’m ever having a really hard time at home with food, I can just come here and he’ll give me a box and it will really help me out at home,” Garza said.
Communities in Schools, said Garza, also put him on the right track academically. He said he was making trouble for no reason and failing on purpose.
With Alva’s help, Garza said he’s starting to pass again and staying out of trouble.
Nunez said he was always one of the students at the top of the class.
“And then sometimes stuff impacts you at home and it’s hard to focus in school and you’re struggling. One day I was having really trouble and then my grades starting dropping and stuff. I talked with Mr. Alva. It helped me out. I got a lot of stuff off my chest and it helped me pick up what I dropped,” Nunez said.
Alva, who went to Bonham, said he can connect with the students because he has experienced a lot of what they have gone through.
“My mom was a single mom. We’ve been homeless before. We’ve lived in a park. We’ve struggled. I’ve watched her try to raise four kids … when my dad left. It created a world of struggle,” Alva said.
He went to what used to be the Career Center and is now George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa, studied business administration and leadership at Odessa College and graduated from the fire academy there.
For six years, he was a car mechanic. He heard about the Communities in Schools job from a friend.
“That’s what I want to do is give back and I want to show these kids that I was able to do so much positive with my life and I’m able to give back so quickly. I want them to understand that all they need is a hard surface underneath them to run with and they can stay on the ground,” Alva said.
Students now stop by his room during passing periods just to tell him about their day. The women in the front office of Bonham have helped him settle in and the teachers are like family.
“They’ve opened their arms to CIS,” Alva said.
Ramage said he’s pleased to have Alva on campus.
“We’re real excited that we got a Communities in Schools representative. Bonham had not had one in many years, so it’s something that’s very much needed to help with services for our kids, especially for our kids who don’t have much. Mr. Alva came in and immediately started working with the kids. He’s very positive, very energetic. Whether they need food, clothes, uniforms resources for classes he helps with all those, plus he helps them get organized at school,” Ramage said.