Somos Familia

Thanks to scholarships, Bonham Academy students discover
how much they can succeed.

In the front office of Bonham Academy, a K-8 school in downtown San Antonio, a secretary is speaking into a phone in Spanish when she sees a student slipping out the front door.

“Your dad has to sign you out,” she calls out to him in English.

“But he’s right there,” says the student, pointing through the glass doors, his backpack already slung over his shoulder.

She gives him a firm smile, and he waits for his dad. Spanish, English, a certain smile—it’s all part of this bilingual school’s special blend of bustling hospitality and high expectations.

Students move through the colorful halls of Bonham with apparent purpose and pride. The historic 1889 facilities, named for a hero of the Battle of the Alamo, were recently renovated by Marmon Mok Architecture, the firm that assisted with the renovation of the Tobin Center. Today, the school’s 600 plus students and teachers embrace their Hispanic heritage. Their motto? “Un Mundo Dos Idiomas. One World Two Languages.”

Their social media accounts tell their story in each bilingual post, like this recent update about a former student featured on a local news show:
Somos Familia. We are Family. We work together. We support each other. We make opportunities together, no matter the obstacles.

This spring, Bonham attended the H. E. Butt Foundation Outdoor School, the school’s first year time to participate in the program. Students and teachers let the Frio River Canyon be their classroom, paddleboarding on the river and ziplining with their teachers.

But their retreat almost didn’t happen.

“Bonham faced really steep financial challenges to come out here,” says Erik Silvius, director of Outdoor School. Although the H. E. Butt Foundation provides facilities and staff at no cost, schools are still responsible for their transportation and food, and those costs can add up quickly. Thankfully, an additional scholarship from the Foundation helped the group address a funding gap.

Seventy one percent of Bonham students are at risk, 26% have limited English proficiency, and 61% are benefit from a federal free lunch program. As a “choice school,” Bonham’s bilingual program does not pull its students from the immediate neighborhood. The area around the school was once considered economically distressed, but in recent years it has quickly escalated. The house next to their parking lot is valued at $852,000. Another home two lots south is valued at $1.36 million.

Why add unnecessary complication of coming to camp to the school year when the students and teachers already face so many challenges?

“It’s such an easy ‘no’ from Central Office,” Erik says. When you add in the logistical challenges, recruiting volunteers, and evening programming, it’s no surprise that so many schools find themselves unable to participate in Outdoor School. Only a truly life-changing experience would be worth so much effort.

“How many principals get the opportunity to go ziplining with their kids?”

David Nungaray, Principal of Bonham Academy SAISD

Principal David Nungaray, who just finished his first year as the school’s principal, had started planning this trip before he was even officially the principal because he knew how important it would be.

“How many principals get the opportunity to go ziplining with their kids?” David asks. Education is filled with formal engagements, classroom activities, attendance, assessments. At Outdoor School, he explains, “the kids have a chance to be themselves. They do something funny. It catches our attention, and we can build on that.”

“There is a deep community here,” says Erik. “They are just positive people. Fun to be around.”

“When given the opportunity, students find that they succeed.”

Mary Westfall

One student brought his guitar and led songs around the campfire. Another student brought a thumb harp. “She had this a small wooden hand piano,” David says, gesturing with energy. Another student brought his dad, a chef who amazed everyone with cooking and grilling skills.

Every day, in every activity, the students had new chances to challenge themselves and choose success. “Some of the students are apprehensive” at first, explains the Athletic Coordinator, PE Teacher, and Volleyball Coach Mary Westfall, “because they don’t think they have the ability. But when given the opportunity they find that they succeed.”

On the zipline. On the alpine tower. Paddle boarding. Kayaking. Whatever activity they are in is the best one. “Do we have to go to the next station?” they would ask.

“Yes,” Coach Westfall told them, “and it will be just as wonderful.”

And it turned out that returning to their newly restored building was wonderful, too, with memories of camp and a new appreciation for each other.

“It’s the ripple effect,” said Principal Nungaray, “when we get back to campus and there’s buzz and deeper relationships and all the parents that we depended on while we were there” are even more committed to the school.

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