Detention. For many, the word conjures up memories of cold desks, uncomfortable silence and boredom, but Javier Gonzalez takes a different approach for students with learning or behavioral issues.
Rather than castigating students for mistakes, Gonzalez, a University of Texas Pan American alumnus, teaches self-improvement through McAllen Independent School District’s Academic Success and Transition Program.
The program, however, was cut from funding this year due to budgetary restrictions, Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez hopes to provide more than just a “wake-up call” and to inspire the students by showing them that many have seen the challenges they live with and have gone on to do great things. The AST Program at Morris Middle School has seen one-third of its students return to their classes. Now that the program is defunded, Gonzalez argues that it is more important to reaffirm Morris Middle School students of their potential.
“People struggle and people don’t always get the support that they need,” the history graduate said. “I saw that there was a need. There were a whole lot of students that nobody wants to help them, nobody wants to take the time and to me that hurts because I have a lot of friends who have been in their shoes. It’s important [for students] to think that, ‘If that person made it, well why can’t I.’”
This year, the AST Program at Morris Middle School served about 50 students.
Gonzalez argued that by holding class in a smaller setting with a different structure, students could do their work, get better and be successful. A student making bad decisions does not make him or her a bad person.
Nick Taylor, UTRGV-TV faculty adviser, found himself in the same position as a young student as well as the five leaders in the UTRGV Student Media department who spoke to ASTP students at Morris Middle School on May 24. The speakers from UTRGV-TV and The Rider newspaper shared stories about their personal achievements and the many obstacles they faced along the way.
UTRGV graduate and former UTRGV-TV Producer Beatriz Aurora Pinzón Solano emphasized the value of finding oneself and getting used to change to defy the stigma of being a “bad” or “disadvantaged” student.
“Find something that you’re good at, and if you can’t, open yourself up to opportunities to learn more to better yourself because, eventually, you will end up where you have to end up,” said Pinzón Solano, who now works for KRGV. “Work on yourself and you will get it.”
The concluding speaker, Yesenia Yvette Guerrero, a UTRGV student who is competing in the Miss Texas beauty pageant, echoed this sentiment, arguing that students can make their own success by setting goals and working toward them.
“Many people have told me about the things I can’t do or accomplish because I’m a girl or they thought I wasn’t strong enough. When I wanted to join ROTC, people would tell me, ‘You can’t make it,’ but I have,” Guerrero said. “When someone tells you that you can’t, say, ‘Watch me.’”
Gonzalez stressed the importance of these encounters, claiming that for at-risk students meeting new people and seeing different perspectives on success can change their outlook and help them learn how to work on self-improvement.
“Why can’t I help these students?” Gonzalez said. “McAllen ISD doesn’t have the funds to cover this program anymore but these students still need the help. It’s important to reach out so that they know that they can do anything they want if they try.”