By: N. L. Preston
HOUSTON — It’s 6:30 a.m. and Dr. Carlos Phillips rises and gets ready to shine for yet another day – even when it seems like COVID-19 gloom is looming constantly in the atmosphere. After getting himself dressed, he assists with getting his three boys ready, then the four of them say goodbye to the woman of the house – his beloved wife Tyechia Phillips, who’s now pregnant with their 4th child. Phillips loads his boys into his pickup truck and drives from the Pearland area to Independence Heights, while traditionally eating his bowl of cereal at stops along the way.
First stop — dropping 2-year-old Carlos III (Tre) off at the daycare, then continuing on with the two older boys; Kameron, 12 and Kory, 9 as they head to their final destination at Booker T. Washington High School.
The principal and his sons pull into the noticeably empty parking lot — compared to the good old days of a couple of months ago — for their “new normal” activities.
Principal Phillips logs his boys into available computers so they can do their online learning as he attends to the needs of his students and staff.
“I go to my campus every workday. We are required to work from a web-based platform, and I want to make sure I am there with my teachers who sacrifice daily,” he said. “I want to make sure I see what the needs of the community are, and be there for whatever all of our kids need.”
Phillips admits it’s hard seeing the empty halls.
“One thing I have noticed is how much our teachers genuinely miss our students during this absence,” he shared. “The fact that our kids are now separated from us, we see how much they really were a part of our daily lives.”
Due to the COVID-19 / Coronavirus outbreak, it has been decided that Texas schools will remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. It’s an adjustment period for all as educators and students were forced to immediately switch to an online learning platform, which is new for most, and Phillips stresses balance is key.
“It’s really exciting to see what everyone is coming up with and shines a light on the high-flying teachers; the ones who’ve always done great things in their classrooms and seeing how they are using out-of-the-box thinking to get the job done,” Phillips said. “I really want my staff to understand that you have to take care of your family first, make sure that you are healthy, and we will work together to make sure our students have the best.”
It is known that many students depend upon their schools for food and safety. With that in mind, Phillips says he and his staff are taking extra measures to personally stay connected.
“We know that we are a home away from home for a lot of students, especially at Booker T. Washington. We have a caring atmosphere. Even before the pandemic, when our students got out of school early, many were not in a rush to get home,” he said. “As principal, I give my cellphone number to all students and some have reached out letting me know if they are OK. And our teachers reach out to every student on their roster to check on their well-being and we document that. If any student or family is in need, we have a wrap-around resource specialist to provide assistance.”
When it comes to his own kids, the same priorities remain high, practicing what he preaches.
“My wife and I make sure the boys know what’s going on. We ask them if they have any questions and we help them to understand. We play card games, we go to the gym at school to exercise, and we spend a lot more time together,” he said. “I don’t show panic because I know they’ll pick that up.”
He wants his children, and all families, to make wise decisions at home, knowing that the days will get better.
“At my house, we calculate our steps to be frugal with our spending and continue to take care of business because when things go back to normal, we are still going to be normal,” he said. “We are not going to let what’s going on outside of our control make us mentally unstable. We are also conscious of recognizing that there are some who do not have the things that we have so we try to help wherever we can; food drives, etc., and continue to be humble.”
Phillips added, for next school year, the Booker T. Washington family will look at the educational deficits from the learning curve that may have taken place during this time period, and use this as an opportunity to better serve the students.
African-American News&Issues asked Phillips to share a few lessons learned and words of encouragement.
Message to parents and guardians:
“I hope this experience gives a new level of respect to the field of education, to the quality of our teachers and how much they are so important to the development of our young men and women. We make the leaders; the doctors, the lawyers, the practitioners and the future politicians. This is what we do,” he said.
Message to graduating seniors:
“You made it! Now all the training that you have received in the classroom setting, you are responsible to give that back to the world and to help strengthen our society. Take this experience and use it to catapult you into the journey that life is going to bring you on,” Phillips said. “Everything happens for a reason and some things are beyond our control. Just as you have been resilient from Pre-K through 12th grade, you can be resilient now as these new challenges arise. I am proud of you. I always shook your hands in the hallways and just know, I will find a way to shake your hands one final time to say congratulations.”