Mexican Education in East Donna

by: Gladine Bowers
Posted: July 15, 2021

Reprinted from Texas Outlook March, 1931

Building:  That the Mexican child in the Donna Public Schools is not discriminated against in his school environment is conclusively established after an hour’s visit to what is popularly known as the East Donna School, a $75,000 one-story brick structure, which was first put into use November 1929.

There are twelve classrooms, each of which is equipped with modern furniture.  The rooms used by the first, second and third grades have group tables and chairs. The fourth and fifth grade rooms are equipped with the individual tables and chairs.  The classroom teachers in the East Donna building take special pride in giving the rooms a homelike appearance.  In fact, in the majority of cases, the room is the child’s best home, and he is taught to respect it for its cleanliness, its attractiveness, and its conveniences.  From the windows stream freshly laundered curtains.  The blackboards are gayly decorated with drawings and sketches appropriate for each month of the school year. The bulletin boards exhibit the handiwork of the children of that room.

In addition to the large well-lighted classrooms, the building, which is the only steam- heated one in Donna, contains the principal’s office, a teacher’s rest room with an adjoining clothes closet and lavatory, a book room, a supply room, janitor’s closets, an emergency room, shower bath and toilet rooms, and an auditorium, which will seat 300 persons.

At present the building and the spacious playground care for five hundred students, who are just a part of the 1600 children enrolled in the five buildings of the Donna Schools.  These 500 students are given the work of the first five grades of the elementary system in the East Donna School.  Eighteen teachers administer to their needs.

Curriculum: The course of study provided for the Mexican and Spanish-speaking child of the East Donna School compares favorably with that outlined for other white children of the Central Elementary building, which also houses the first five elementary grades.  For instance, both buildings have the same public school music instructor and art teacher, who divide their time equally between the two buildings.  The physical education director who is in charge of the playground activities of the fourth and fifth grade boys in Central Elementary does the same work with the East Donna fourth and fifth grade boys three one-hour periods each week.

Health and sanitation are stressed in the East Donna building.  In order to carry out an efficient health program, morning inspection in each classroom is regularly conducted.  Any dirty children are required to wash before they are permitted to begin in day’s activities.  If the clothing worn by the child is hopelessly tattered or insufficient, he is supplied with clean clothing from the store which the teachers always keep on hand to use in emergency cases.  The school health nurse conducts the sight and hearing tests in the East Donna building as in the other schools.  Vaccination for smallpox is almost one hundred per cent.  The mid-morning lunch plan for underweights is in daily operation.

Two special features of class activity were added this fall.  One was the introduction of home economics classes for the older girls.  The classes are held by a young woman who is specially prepared for the work, having had several years’ experience in teaching home economics in high school.  The girls studied sewing the first semester.  This semester they are studying foods.  The other new feature is the kiddie band of fifteen members, which has appeared in two public performances thus far this year

For two years the East Donna School has had an opportunity room.  Some of the children of the present group of fifty adolescents have made remarkable progress since their first admission to the opportunity room in September.

Intelligence tests and ratings are given all the children annually under the guidance of the research director of the Donna Schools, who gives a generous portion of his time to the Mexican child.

The East Donna children are encouraged to attend the Junior High School after they have finished the work in their own building.  Each year an increasingly larger number enter Junior High.  The junior high children accept them into their groups with little or no feeling of racial prejudice.  In fact, the Mexican children who can show their skill in art, music, scholarship, or physical prowess soon become favorites with the other white children and are wholeheartedly admired by them.  Several of such Mexican children have gone on to Senior High after Junior High and have made outstanding records there.  The other white children of these two buildings now present a tolerant and sympathetic attitude toward the Mexican and Spanish-speaking child.

Social service:  The teachers of the East Donna School make a study of each child, collecting data as to the child’s environment, his economic status, his mental ability, and his natural traits and characteristics.  In the month of December alone, the East Donna teachers made one hundred sixty-one visits to the homes from which their children come.  A missionary zeal characterizes their handling of the child and his parents.  A good illustration of this is contained in this incident.  Just before the Christmas holidays an eight-year-old boy came to school bearing marks of having been eaten by something on his face, neck, and ears.  An investigation of the situation revealed that the child has been gnawed on by rats while he was asleep.  His teacher immediately cleansed and disinfected his wounds, taking care of them until they were entirely healed.  Very often the teachers go into homes to doctor a sick mother, brother, or sister of some child in their room.

Programs:  Two public entertainments have already been given their year by the children under the direction of the classroom teachers, aided by the special instructors.  Practically every child in school appeared on one of the two programs.

Gladine Bowers
This 1931 article in Texas Outlook by Gladine Powers – Mexican Education in East Donna – in an excellent record of a teacher’s perspective of segregation in the south Texas segregated enclaves and efforts to rationalize the practice. Prior editions of IberoAztlan have included essays about segregation in south Texas. Serious readers may wish to visit those editions for a comparison with an Anglo teacher’s perspective with that of a Mexican American perspective. Ms. Power’s article is uniquely relevant for it addresses a particular segregated elementary school in what was considered the segregated Mexican American enclave in “east Donna,” a school district along the Rio Grande Valley. Consider as well the interview of Mike Lopez, in the Spotlight, elsewhere in this edition of IberoAzltan. Lopez was a chicano activist during the late 1960s and early 1970s, including organizing a Mexican American Youth Organization group in Donna. He would be one of first Mexican Americans elected to the Donna ISD school board of trustees in the early 1970s.

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