MISSION — One by one, 15 proud parents of La Joya ISD students were called to the front of a classroom to receive a degree from the Parent Police Academy, the first of its kind as the school district aims to involve parents in safety and security procedures.
“I was just so clueless about what they do and about how they handle things… how would they react to shooting situations and stuff like that? What are they doing to prepare?” said Moises Andrade, parent of five La Joya students and sole male participant, about the questions he had going into the academy. “Sometimes as parents we think we know it all… there are so many areas that they cover, and I was just so clueless about what they do and how they handle things on overall safety.”
In the midst of continuous school shootings across the nation, and individuals on social media threatening similar acts of violence, it can be easy to create and spread panic among students and parents, leaving them uncertain of whether schools are safe.
With this in mind, La Joya school district officials decided to answer some of the parents’ most pressing concerns by involving them in a class that put them in the middle of the action. Their eight-week curriculum includes topics such as crisis intervention, active shooter and mental health.
“After the Florida tragedy, we started getting a lot of calls from parents asking what are we doing to protect their kids,” said La Joya school district Police Chief Raul Gonzalez. “So the best way to show them was to just show them. Get them involved.”
To kick off the first Parent Police Academy, the district police department partnered with the school district’s Department of Family and Community Engagement to get about 20 volunteers to participate in the academy.
Volunteers were required to attend a three-hour session every Thursday for eight weeks, in which they were not only told how the district police department prepares, but got them involved by taking them to shooting ranges, having them go through simulations and inviting the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office and Border Patrol to make presentations on their departments’ involvement with school districts.
Before the end of the eight weeks, word of mouth on how the academy works got them more than 120 new parent applicants. Due to the demand, Gonzalez said they are already getting ready for the second cohort to begin this week, but this time — because the school year is about to be over — they are planning to meet two days out of the week to finish sooner.
“We are only going to do it when school is in session,” Gonzalez said. “My intent is to have at least four academies from now on throughout the year. And we are going to limit the academy to no more than 30 parents, because we want to make sure that we give them the attention, and that way it’s more personal and they can ask questions.”
Because this is the first academy, he said they might change things up as they go depending on the needs and feedback from parents. So far they are already thinking of offering at least one course in Spanish and having a mini academy on the weekends for teachers and staff, who in many cases are the first to get safety questions from parents.
After their graduation, parents took group photos and shared a pot luck lunch with the district staff, and representatives from the sherriff’s department and Border Patrol. Right after their meal, their job was to choose applications at random to select the parents who will follow their footsteps.
“We learned that our kids are safe,” said Enedina Saenz, mother of a second-grader. “Our officers are prepared for anything. They are being trained on a daily basis, technology is helping them also; they have a simulator that they use to show them what would happen in different scenarios. This is important for me because I want to feel like my child is safe. I want to drop her off at school and know that my child is protected. I know what they go through now and I know that my child is safe.”