The Best Kind of Neighbor
July 15, 2020
On the east end of Houston, Milby High School has engaged students in thoughtful curriculum and in-depth learning opportunities since 1926. Over the years this institution has accumulated accolades, including being recognized for their unique STEM program. Nevertheless, their drop-out rate is still higher than they want it to be. Nearly 45% of adults in the surrounding area did not graduate from High School and many of their children are following suit.
Milby High School’s problem with dropouts is not unique to their school, but their neighbor’s solution is.
Mission Mibly sits right between Mibly High School and Deady Middle School. It was founded in 2002 in an effort to improve student lives, giving students the opportunity to see what careers were available to them, if they graduated. Through strategic programs, Mission Milby is ensuring more students cross the graduation stage and have additional opportunities at their fingertips. They are the kind of neighbor every school wants.
They are the kind of neighbor who employs Maria Aguilar to be their Program Director. Maria wants the absolute best for these students. After 30 years of service in education and administration at these schools, she has leveraged her connections and skills to start a mentoring program that will increase graduation rates.
“Our mentoring program is designed to reach 150 students,” Maria said, describing their work. “We hired juniors to mentor eighth graders and spent every Monday training them to be effective. Then, they worked with the eighth graders on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and we would debrief on Fridays. In the fall, they will be seniors and they will continue mentoring these same students. They build trust and friendships with eighth graders who are being exposed to gangs and drugs, so when these students reach ninth grade, they already have connections at the High School and they can see positive avenues for their life.”
Her work is critical and it is expanding. The first round of mentoring went so well, she is gearing up to have two groups running simultaneously. Of course, a global pandemic was not on her radar when she developed this mentoring model and it hasn’t made her work easier.
The mentoring program she designed had to move to a digital space, mostly focused on texting, when the pandemic closed the schools. Luckily, she had already established texting connections with students and parents. This enabled her to reach out, make socially distanced visits, and get food to families who needed it.
Mission Milby’s neighborliness during the pandemic goes beyond the mentoring program, however. They are also offering socially distanced class space with wifi, so students can learn even if they do not have access to the internet in their homes. They have a computer lab that will be staffed with a monitor who will ensure students remain safely distanced and keep the space sanitized. Additionally, they will provide disposable headphones, masks, and hand sanitizer.
“We want to continue being a safe haven for our children, regardless of external circumstances,” Board Chair Dr. Will Reed noted. “This has been such a challenging time. We have expenses we could not have anticipated, but our mission continues, and we greatly appreciate TMF’s willingness to give COVID-19 response grants. We expect sixty students will use our facilities to connect with their teachers and do their schoolwork in the fall. TMF’s funding will help us keep Maria employed, maintain her critical work with students, and purchase resources we need to keep students safe during the pandemic.”
With neighbors as invested in their success as Mission Milby, it is easy to envision the dropout rate declining at Milby High School, students embracing all the possibilities that are available to them, and brighter futures being the true “new normal” when the pandemic ends.