Jones Elementary celebrates first day of school with new principal

Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 12:50 PM CDT
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - It was 21 years ago when Alma Velez was a fourth-grade bilingual teacher at Jones Elementary welcoming students for their first day. She did that again Tuesday morning but as the school’s new principal. Velez described it as a full-circle moment and said she’s excited for the year ahead.

Along with the academic work, the principal is looking forward to building community with students and their families through events. COVID-19 paused a lot of them, so she’s excited to host events like family nights and a fall festival. Velez is also eager about implementing increased safety measures to ensure a positive school year.

“We have a safety team that’s going to be conducting perimeter walks and walks within the building at certain times throughout the day as well as throughout the week, checking on doors, just making sure everything looks right and that everything is working well,” Velez said.

This year, the school has a superhero theme that’s displayed throughout the hallways and classrooms. Special education teacher Rachael Nemec said she hopes students embrace the theme and know they can do anything.

“They should just know that they’re loved, and this is a safe place,” Nemec said.

That feeling is a part of the reason Maribel Escorza is excited to be back at Jones Elementary. The first-grade teacher attended Jones when she was a child and is now going into her second year of teaching there.

“I’m looking forward to building connections with my students just like all my previous teachers,” Escorza said.

Yvette Barrera is looking forward to connecting with students who’ll be experiencing education in a new way. Barrera is a New Arrival Center teacher and will be teaching students who’ll be learning in America for the first time.

“They may forget what I taught them, but they will never forget how they felt meeting me and my partner,” Barrera said.

This is the same feeling pre-k teacher Terri Buckland hopes to leave with her students. This will be the school’s third year having a full-time pre-k program, and Buckland said she’s looking forward to expanding.

“Pre-k, we’re kind of the ambassadors for the rest of the school year,” Buckland said. “You start in pre-k, we want to make this great, so you’ll know that school is a great place to be.”

Third-grade ELA teacher Sarah Christison and first-grade teacher Cara Usrey believe the school also has great programs including “Reading Horizons.” This is a phonics program for first through third graders that helps reinforce foundational skills that were possibly lost during the pandemic. For example, Christison said the program is allowing third graders to re-learn first-grade skills without feeling judged or nervous.

“I’m excited because it’s really going to change a lot of kids’ lives,” Christison said.

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