VIPs glad to head back to school

After more than a year away due to COVID-19, longtime Volunteers & Partners Debra Sailors and Pat Lopez are glad to be back on campus at Edward K. Downing and Burleson elementaries, respectively. But it is a little different.

Sailors returned to Downing on March 22.

“All those sweet lovables are still here,” Sailors said, but there’s something missing.

“We still have our teamwork; everybody’s doing that. … The kids are still a little apprehensive about what is going on. I mean, they’re having to get used to people with masks on. …”

Students have to pay attention to people’s eyes and how their voices sound and get used to air greetings and celebrations.

“… The excitement is kind of like, it’s there but it’s not as deep as what it was, if that makes any sense.

I mean, you can tell they’re definitely glad to be back. Their buddies are here. And they’re actually getting used to the high fiving … in the air. They’re really handling it well,” Sailors said.

Sailors has been a VIPS leader at Downing for three years.

She has fewer volunteers, as does the whole VIPS program. Some are logging hours from home. The volunteers do anything that’s needed on campus for teachers and staff such as running the laminators, decorating bulletin boards and printing things out, among many other tasks.

“… My biggest deal is to make sure that these kids know that this place is extremely important to me. And I always tell them … I went back to school and I’m in teaching classes now. … It makes them a little more comfortable. Because they’ll ask me ‘Well, did you do your homework last night?’”

She’ll tell them she didn’t and that she’s grounded.

Sailors said her classes are through Odessa College and she hopes to graduate within the next year.

“I’ve got to keep these kids interested,” Sailors said. “That’s the whole deal about it. We have so many that are just not completing you know. I just i need more graduate …”

Sailors added that she’s glad she came back because it gives her something to do. And from helping her three grandchildren with remote schooling, she’s gained a real appreciation for what teachers do every day.

Sailors and her husband, Cecil, have two children and she has full custody of her three grandchildren. Through Child Protective Services, she said she’s cared for about 12.

On the other side of town, Pat Lopez has been volunteering at Burleson for about 25 years. She is the VIPs chair at the school.

The past year has meant fewer hours at the campus and she’s missed everything about it.

Currently, there are very few volunteers. Lopez said her two daughters help her with PTA. She’s hoping it picks back up in the fall.

What’s kept her going all these years are the students.

“I like going up to the kids. I feel good when I’ve gone to the school. I’m a volunteer and I’m also a sub and I like it when the kids go on to high school, or they’re out of high school and they see me and they’re like Miss Lopez!”

“The kids have kept me going, and the staff. … I’m down to five staff members that are still there that I’ve gotten really close to and one that we lost in December because of COVID. I like seeing the kids grow up,” Lopez said.

Debbie Lieb, community liaison specialist for ECISD, said the volunteers are approved to serve in strategic places to meet identified needs by campus.

She said the number varies from year to year. Last year there were 584 until spring break when schools shut down. The year before, she had 908.

“Some of our people have moved, lost jobs, or taken jobs that weren’t working previously. People’s lives have changed in the past year,” Lieb said.

The feedback she’s received from volunteers says their happy to be back helping the teachers.

“The teachers and staff were really thankful for them to be able to come back because they really needed them, needed their support,” Lieb said.