Last March, educators at Bonham Academy wanted to create opportunities for students to expand their interests. They introduced Friday Fenomenal, a day when students could pick from a menu of activities. They could take a tour of Geekdom, learn to make tortillas, or practice yoga.

Students loved it, and educators looked forward to the next Friday Fenomenal. But when coronavirus spread and campuses were forced to close, it looked like orchestrating a similar event wouldn’t be possible.

That was until mid-April when Bonham teachers decided to do reintroduce the programming virtually. They planned for several weeks, reaching out to community leaders like San Antonio Poet Laureate Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson and organizations like the San Antonio Museum of Art.

Last week, students got to participate in Bonham’s first Semana Fenomenal, a weeklong program with activities planned every day to engage students of all ages. It’s an example of how educators are having to think creatively during challenging times.

Even though Bonham Academy has been in touch with 100 percent of 650 students, engagement fluctuates from week to week, Principal David Nungaray said. Last week was packed with virtual activities but absent of additional assignments, giving teachers the opportunity to catch up with students and students the opportunity to feel some agency in choosing their daily activities.

“This whole week also gave kids the opportunity to explore interests as well as complete the academic work they hadn’t finished,” first grade teacher Sara Sherwood said.

Bonham Academy students wave to their teachers in a parade hosted by the school on South St. Mary’s Street. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

On Monday, the week began on Facebook Live with State Rep. Diego Bernal reading Eight Little Planets and Corduroy and taking questions from students and families.

In the comment section, one student asked when it would be safe to hug people again, and third grader Michelle asked if Bernal always liked reading. Bernal said not at first, but it changed when he found the right book.

“My mom, to get me to read, she bought me comic books,” Bernal said.”As I got more and more into comic books, it was like a runway back into books.”

Later on in the day, students participated in a virtual science experiment, watched former first lady Michelle Obama read Miss Maple’s Seeds, and learned how to draw pictures of popular characters from the movie Frozen.

On Tuesday, the school’s behavior specialist held a Zoom session to talk about dealing with grief and motivation during the time of coronavirus. Later on, a teacher talked about his mariachi experience and played the violin for students, and Nungaray hosted a lotería game online.

The day after featured a highly anticipated event, Nungaray said. Latin Grammy-winning duo 123 Andrés performed via Facebook. At times, teachers would appear on screen dancing or singing along.

The concert was a favorite of Victoria Moreno-Herrera’s first and fifth grade daughters.

“A bunch of the teachers got to participate and be special guests in that and they were showing pictures inside their homes dancing with their kids,” Moreno-Herrera said. “It was a really cool way for kids to interact with teachers for the first time in weeks.”

Nungaray wanted to bring the pair to Bonham for an in-person concert, but found booking to be expensive and challenging with their travel schedule. But when the principal saw 123 Andrés doing concerts on their own Facebook page, he decided to reach out and create a special experience for Bonham students.

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A few hours after the concert, “Vocab” Sanderson addressed students, performing for those watching. After, she took questions, advising students on how to submit their own creative work.

“They should not be discouraged if they get told no,” she said. “I get told no quite a bit when I submit stuff but that doesn’t mean I stop.”

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Programming continued on Thursday and Friday with students learning yoga in the morning, partaking in an art lesson with the San Antonio Museum of Art, and learning about plants with Nungaray. The week culminated with a car parade of teachers through the neighborhoods surrounding Bonham to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week.

Videos from the guest speakers and activities are posted on Bonham’s Facebook page, available for students to revisit or students from other schools and districts to discover, Nungaray said.

“It actually helped us bring some experiences that we might not be able to bring to the community traditionally,” Nungaray said. “You can’t take 650 kids to Ms. Torres’ backyard to read stories by fireside, but you can use technology to do that.”

“We’re trying to figure out how we close out the year, and this is a way to help with some closure as we are all still struggling with not being able to be with one another.”

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the Rivard Report.