Once retired educator ARLENE COLBERT glimpsed James B. Bonham Elementary School’s inner beauty, she became determined to improve the campus’ outer image. She commissioned the help of neighborhood groups and area businesses to raise funds for improvements. She’s also intent on boosting morale by letting hardworking teachers know they are appreciated.

Why the focus on Bonham?
I went to school there myself but hadn’t really looked around recently until, during the primary elections held at Bonham, I was precinct chair. It was a little slow, so I got a chance to wander around. I saw a lot of activity going on and heard children singing. I stopped in and talked with some of them. I was just really impressed with the teachers and the principal. Most people don’t realize this, but Bonham has received “exemplary” status the last six years. Not only that, but they had 100 percent of the students passing the TAKS test. The school itself, though, I noticed was poorly maintained. Things were broken. The grass was high. It was depressing in that respect. Like a lot of schools in the district, Bonham had an image problem and, looking around, I could see why.

Then what?
I talked to the principal [Sandra Fernandez] a while and told her I wanted to help. She explained that a lack of money was the problem. In the area near Bonham along Henderson, a lot of apartments have recently come down, and Bonham lost about a fourth of its population. Schools are funded based on number of students. For a small school, a loss like that really hurts. A friend and I went in, and we fixed up the teacher’s lounge. It had been just pitiful looking, and no one even went in there. But I realized that was just a symbol. They needed real help. So I formed a group called The Bonham Boosters … I talked to people in my neighborhood [Cochran Heights] and in the Vickery Place and M Streets neighborhood associations for support. I went to area businesses. A lot of people pulled together to help.

What were you able to get done with the help?
One of the biggest things … Borders offered to do a book drive. I thought that was nice, but I remember thinking I’d need to go donate some books because no one was actually going to just buy us books. Well, about a week later one of the Borders folks called to ask me to come get these books — there were so many that they were getting in the way. Turns out the Borders staff had been telling people about Bonham, and the customers would actually go back to the children’s section and pick out their childhood favorites to donate. When I brought those books back to the school and laid them out on the table, those teachers couldn’t believe it — their eyes were big as saucers. So were mine. It was just amazing. Andres Brothers [Construction], which is doing most of the work along Henderson, has helped the school out a great deal. Another focus for Bonham Boosters was Teacher Appreciation Week. On the last day of the week, Pulcinella restaurant provided lunch — it wasn’t just lunch, but a fabulous spread. And La Duni restaurant gave a delicious cake that was enough for everybody. These are teachers who give so much … for example, the school was offering Saturday School [where students can study specifically for the TAKS test], but when it got to a point where they couldn’t pay the teachers, a lot of them said, ‘We’ll do it for free’ … they just really deserve this appreciation.

What other plans do you have for improving Bonham’s condition and image?
Right now we are focused on the school supply drive. We’ve also started a group called Henderson Avenue Preschool Organization, a network for parents with children preparing to enter kindergarten. We want people to feel that sending their children to Bonham is the natural thing to do. I had [DISD Trustee Adam] Medrano meet me at the school and showed him some of the maintenance issues, and a week later several of the issues were already being addressed. We also want to take Bonham from being K-3 to K-5 — that’s one of the next areas of focus.

To donate to the Bonham Elementary supply drive, or to get involved in the Henderson Avenue Preschool Organization, contact Arlene Colbert at arlene.colbert@hotmail.com or donate supplies at the school office, 2617 N. Henderson.

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