GONZALES — The folding doors opened, and about two dozen Pecan Grove Primary School teachers filed out of Connie Manning’s bus, and into the already hot Thursday morning in Magnolia Crossing subdivision.
Principal Marjorie Meyers and Assistant Principal Candy Wikman organized the tour of a few of the areas Pecan Grove serves, and spent the morning visiting the neighborhoods where their students live.
It was the first time they’ve tried the bus tour at Pecan Grove, Wikman said, though several other schools in Ascension make such visits an annual part of back-to-school preparations.
Highland Elementary in East Baton Rouge is planning a similar walking tour in the Gardere Lane neighborhood surrounding that school, according to a news release from Principal Kaye Van Sickle.
“We wanted to get out and show our students we’re excited about the new school year,” said Wikman, adding that a donation from Chicago Cubs player Blake DeWitt paid for the expedition. One of her new teachers, Jennifer DeWitt, is his sister.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Monica Irving, a new pre-kindergarten teacher at Pecan Grove. “When I worked in Houston, we had a lot of events and open houses that brought students and parents to the school, but never anything like this.”
Retired educator Richard Brown, who started a mentoring program at Pecan Grove, said he organized similar outings when he was a principal at nearby St. Amant Primary. “You know, some of those kids had to ride 45 minutes to an hour to get to school,” Brown said.
Knowing details like that, he said, can provide a lot of insight. “It worked great for the faculty there,” he said.
Despite the intense heat, and the lack of air conditioning on the bus, the parade of teachers wearing bright-orange Pecan Grove T-shirts knocked on doors at their first stop, Magnolia Crossing, looking for students and handing out gift bags stocked with pens, pencils, markers and stickers.
Teacher Courtney Dumas found one of her former students almost immediately when she knocked on Arlene Williams’ door. Williams immediately called for her son, Jacolby Reed, who will be entering fifth grade next year.
“Jacolby starred in one of our rap videos,” said Dumas, who often has students write scripts and perform videos explaining the concepts she teaches. “It was on multiplication tables. He’s one of those students that’s quiet, until you put him on camera. Then he goes all out.”
Both Williams and Reed were glad to see the crew from Pecan Grove, and Williams said she thinks Reed is ready to get back to school.
“He’s bored,” she added.
“I played football this summer, but since then, I haven’t had anything to do,” Reed said, waving goodbye to his teachers as they moved on to the next front door.
As the day heated up, finding students proved more challenging. The bus drove through the Golden Meadows trailer park, then to Deer Run, and down several other streets, but had no luck finding anyone outside.
Manning periodically picked up the public address system microphone that came with the bus and told teachers a little about the neighborhoods they visited, and how many students she picked up there.
While she had hoped to find more students, and give away more gift bags, Wikman said the exercise is still an important one.
“Even if we don’t see many kids today, it gives you that one moment of bonding, if you’re familiar with St. Landry Road, and they say, ‘Oh, you know where I live?’ ” Wikman said.
Knowing intimate details like that can help a student and teacher build the trust they need in the classroom, she said.
It’s something they hope to do again next year, Wikman said, “except we’ll let parents know beforehand that we’re coming.”