Historic School Buildings Stand Through Challenging Times
Public education in Mercedes has long focused on one street address – 837 S. Ohio St. – the location cited where the city’s first high school was built.
The same Ohio Street address today is home to a square block of historic education buildings. It includes a still-in-use red brick building that a plaque states was built in 1927 with the names of the board of trustees of the day as well as the superintendent on the sign. The nearly 100 year-old structure is today an early college high school where students can earn an associate’s degree while completing their high school education.
It’s a still magnificent looking building with white pillar entrances and rectangular window designs of another era. An assistant principal at the site commented that a second wing was added to the original structure in later decades and for years was Mercedes High School. It’s a testament to the school district that it has maintained the buildings and is being utilized today nearly a century after its first students roamed the halls.
Across a walkway area is another great structure. It’s Graham Elementary School and it predates even the old high school. The grand building with its bell tower is imposing. The Graham school is cited in one document as being where the city’s first high school once stood. The historic school was renovated over the years, with a plaque stating once such renovation occurred in 1983.
Graham is not in use today. The red-bricked Early College High School and Graham are among the collection of historic Mercedes school buildings that are in a fenced off in an area behind a sign that bears the familiar address – 837 S. Ohio. Across the fences is an old Mercedes High gym whose style is reminiscent of the ones seen in the 1980s sports movie classic, Hoosiers.
“We have some very old and historic buildings in our district,’’ said Carolyn Mendiola, the superintendent of the Mercedes Independent School District. “Mercedes is a community with a lot of pride in their mascot and pride in the generations that have come through our schools.’’
“Tiger Pride,’’ is how Mendiola puts it, and it’s been needed in the COVID-19 era. Mendiola recently completed her first year as the school district’s superintendent after a lengthy tenure with the Sharyland school district. She was a high school principal and assistant superintendent in Sharyland. She was only a handful of months into the job when the coronavirus pandemic reached the Rio Grande Valley.
“From one day to the next,’’ is how the superintendent described shutting down classes with about two months to go in the school year. It was a particular challenge for a district where many students do not have home access to the Internet. The district equipped three buses with Wi-Fi capabilities so parents could drive their children to close proximity of the vehicles as a way for students to complete school assignments.
Packets of information for students had to be printed up and delivered to students at their homes. There were curbside services set up for student meals. The district made it through those spring months and used the summer to plan for a fall semester where many classes would be done virtually via online instruction.
The district today has 12 Wi-Fi buses and they are stationed in neighborhoods throughout Mercedes so students can stay home and be linked to their teachers. More computer devices were acquired and distributed to students. Going back to in-class instruction will be a gradual process, Mendiola said, with a majority of parents preferring their children stay at home, for now, and learn through virtual classes.
“You have to remain cool, calm and collected,’’ Mendiola said of getting through the COVID-19 crisis.
The generations of Mercedes students that have been educated at 837 S. Ohio have done the same, with this challenge being one more to get through.
- Ricardo D. Cavazos