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Teachers at Passmore Elementary School received a $10,000 surprise on Thursday. While they knew that journalist and former teacher Jenna Bush Hager was visiting to present an award to Northside Independent School District, they did not know that their school was the designated recipient, or that they would be splitting the funds between themselves.
The teachers will be able to use the funds to buy classroom supplies through the nonprofit Adopt-a-Classroom’s online shopping site. Each teacher will have $200 to spend on their own classroom.
Bush Hager presented the award on behalf the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) in recognition of NISD’s propane school buses. Passmore students sang songs in celebration of the cleaner, safer transportation, and Bush Hager became emotional when talking about the importance of safety as parents put their children onto busses every day.
“As a mom, it’s really important that we keep you guys safe,” said Bush Hager, “I didn’t get that until I became a mom.”
The busses, because they are quieter, allow bus drivers to hear what’s going on with kids on the bus. They have been called “anti-bullying” busses, because drivers can hear what is going on and intervene when situations arise.
According to case study for the Texas Railroad Commission the NISD fleet of 351 propane buses accounts for almost half of the district’s total bus fleet. Another 324 buses run on diesel and 31 run on unleaded fuel. This makes it the second largest propane fleet in Texas, covering 355 square miles and serving 85,000 students at a rate of 40,000 per day. Since their purchase in 2007 the propane buses travel approximately 8 million miles annually on 450,000 gallons of propane.
“We started having our buses run on propane in 1981,” said NISD Superintendent Brian Woods, “Our goal is to get to the point where 90% of our fleet runs on propane.”
Woods estimated that this could be possible in the next 10-15 years. With every bond, the district converts more of its fleet to propane through new purchases and overhauling older busses.
In addition to representing the districts commitment to cleaner, healthier energy, the propane-fueled fleet has saved the district around $225,000 per year as diesel prices have hovered around twice that of propane.
“Less money spent on transportation means more for the the classroom,” said Ann Ness, executive director of Adopt-A-Classroom.
To recognize the districts smart investment, PERC and Adopt-a-Classroom chose Passmore, a Title I neighborhood school, to receive the $10,000 donation.
“The average teacher spends $600 a year out of her own pocket to provide classroom supplies,” Ness said.
Bush Hager, a former classroom teacher herself, applauded the teachers and administrators of Passmore. She recalled that once, when she told someone that she was a teacher they replied, “Aw. That’s cute.”
“Teaching isn’t cute. It’s hard, and it’s difficult, and it’s awesome, and it’s important,” she said.
After her student-led tour of the school, Bush Hager complimented Passmore Principal Veronica Arteaga on the poise and ambition of the student ambassadors.
“I like how you empower the kids,” said Bush Hager.
The school returned Bush Hager’s appreciation, awarding her the “Passmore Pillar of Character for Citizenship” an award given to students and alumni regularly. Bush Hager received the award for her efforts with PERC and her book Our Great Big Backyard co-written with her mother, former First Lady Laura Bush. The children’s book encourages young people to care for and preserve our National Parks.
Top image: Jenna Bush Hager (center) and Passmore Elementary School Principal Veronica Arteaga (left) chat with students. Photo by Bekah McNeel.