When Ellis Elementary sixth-grade teacher Antonio Young kicked Arlington ISD’s convocation into high gear with a catchy and timely rap tune written specifically for the occasion, the roar from the assembled crowd should have been thunderous, even inside the massive AT&T Stadium. Instead, most of the reactive commotion will have to come from teachers and staff when they’re able to pull up the recording on their laptops.
Even during an uncomfortable surge of area COVID cases, the Arlington ISD wanted its annual teacher and staff’s beginning-of-school pep rally to go on. So, to keep everyone safe, the district staged its convocation, called Ignite 2021, as planned, with the exception of about 8,500 screaming staffers representing its 76 campuses.
“We obviously wanted to have a live event with all of our employees,” Superintendent Dr. Marcelo Cavazos said. “We haven’t been able to bring all of our employees together in one venue. We also know situations change and we have to adapt, and that has been how we have been operating for the last year and a half.”
“We still have the energy behind it, still have the message, and the most important message is that we want to thank our staff,” Cavazos added about the convocation, “to thank everybody in the organization for the work that has been done, and we know the work that will continue to be done.”
Once Cavazos took the stage to deliver his convocation address, he quickly jumped into what the last year was like and plans and expectations for this year. He spoke of new schools and new buildings, Arlington ISD’s guiding principles, and its success with early college graduates which tops the state average. He spent most of the time gushing over the teachers and staff who braved remote learning through half a year and a mixture of remote and in-person instruction for an entire academic year.
“It was a struggle at times but you persevered,” Cavazos said. “You made it work.”
School Board President Kecia Mays also took the podium, echoing Cavazos’ sentiments on how the teachers pressed on despite the multitude of challenges.
“The message to our staff this year is very simple: Thank you,” Mays said. “We’re here to support you. Things have been a little challenging. And we still have things to work on. But you know what? Based on your past experience, we know that we have this and we want to be able to say thank you. Unfortunately, we could not be together and hopefully this will resonate the same.”
This year’s convocation may have lacked the robust shrieking of school roll calls and dancing in the aisles, but it remained as entertaining as it was informative. Part of the reason was the collection of school mascots playing musical chairs and competing in a one-legged race.
The other reason was emcee Reny Lizardo, Bowie High School’s principal, who showed his gift for comedic flair and DJ Ray, aka Ray Borden, Seguin High School’s principal who laid down the beats.
Lizardo starred in a series of video vignettes entitled “Reny To the Rescue” that showed how the self-proclaimed “hardest worker in district” could perform almost any job, from driving a school bus for transportation to buffing a floor for maintenance.
With Lizardo working the jobs to less-than-pleasing results (changing the oil in the school bus was just as difficult as driving it), the idea was to show appreciation for the skilled people in those jobs.
“This is really about how hard these departments work,” Lizardo said.
Motivational speaker Chad Porter ended convocation with a keynote address on overcoming obstacles and maximizing potential.
Porter used his own life as inspiration. He was a young, brash athlete when he lost his left leg in a horrific boating accident.
“When life becomes challenging, we all have a choice,” Porter said. “You quit or you fight, and as long as you have a breath, you have a chance. All the good things in life are worth the fight.”
Porter said that his journey as an amputee has come with a multitude of challenges. His advice to teachers and staff was to use whatever challenge they have to energize their lives.
“We will be facing many challenges this school year with student engagement and things like that,” Cavazos said. “But we’re excited and optimistic for the school year because I know we have the right people in our organization to give the students an outstanding experience.”