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Amid Pandemic, Lydia Patterson Faces Difficulties Due to Border Closing
The good news for Lydia Patterson Institute is that the school was already technologically equipped for the coronavirus-related shutdown of all schools in El Paso, Texas, that began March 16.
“We were prepared to finish online,” school President Socorro de Anda said in a phone interview. “We’ve been pretty much doing everything electronically for almost five years.”
The bad news is that because of a shutdown of the Mexican border a few blocks away from the school, parents have not been able to cross from Juarez to pay their children’s tuition.
“What we’re getting back is they didn’t get let across,” de Anda said.
Lydia Patterson, a private United Methodist school, receives funding from apportionments from the South Central Jurisdiction, which includes the Great Plains Conference.
Every student is issued a tablet, and textbooks are almost non-existent, de Anda said.
“Thank God for the capital campaign that we ran that allowed us to bring the latest state-of-the-art technology into our classrooms,” she said. “I think we were the only school in El Paso that was prepared to do that immediately. No problem there.”
About 70% of the student body is from Juarez, she said, and many of them don’t have internet connectivity.
“These kids are amazing. Right away they said, ‘If somebody doesn’t have internet, they can come to my house and share my internet,’” de Anda said. “Everyone was taken care of.”
The lack of internet is also what’s keeping the students’ tuitions from being paid, she said. Online payments cannot be made.
“Very few of our parents have credit cards. Very few of our parents have checking accounts,” she said. “Most of them pay in cash.”
Rev. Dr. Andy Stoker, president of the Lydia Patterson Board of Trustees, said not being able to cross the border disrupts a routine for many of the Mexican-based parents.
“Trying to receive that tuition money will be very difficult because families will oftentimes pull together their tuition payment and make a special trip into the school and have not only a chance to pay tuition but a chance to visit with our wonderful faculty and staff and our president,” said Stoker, senior pastor of Dallas First UMC.
De Anda has had discussions with immigration officials about documentation that would let the parents cross the Paso del Norte International Bridge, and they have been agreeable, she said. But word does not filter down to the border guards who are checking papers and have the ultimate say about whether a person can cross.
“I need something official that they can carry with them so every officer on the bridge will respect that,” she said.
While their children can cross the bridge with their student visas, their parents need to prove that their job or mission is essential.
“This is an essential thing,” de Anda said. “If we don’t continue to operate, they won’t get their classes online. The problem is, who’s at the bridge to decide what’s essential and what’s not?
“It’s been a challenge for us, especially since we depend on that tuition monthly for operations,” she added.
Stoker, who grew up in El Paso, said Lydia Patterson would provide as much support as necessary for the families.
“For over 100 years, Lydia Patterson Institute has seen pretty dramatic shifts in the borderland in El Paso and Juarez," he said. "This is yet another crisis that we will weather. We fully place our trust in the one who calls us to this mission to serve these amazing students and their families with a meaningful education that moves them to college and then to fruitful jobs in the future.”
Like students across the country, the 85 members of the class of 2020 won’t get to have commencement exercises.
“I hurt for the seniors who looked forward to having it all year,” de Anda said.
De Anda is also the point person for connecting Lydia Patterson graduates with colleges, many of which are United Methodist institutions. She said Steve Wilke from Southwestern College, has guaranteed that the Winfield-based school will continue to accept several Lydia Patterson students for the next school year.
“Hopefully everything will settle for the beginning of next year,” she said. “That’s what we’re hoping for.”
The students whose tuitions aren’t being paid will continue to receive an education.
“We will continue to do it and finish up the year,” de Anda said. “But it’s going to be very hard on us.”
She said United Methodists in the South Central Jurisdiction can make donations directly to Lydia Patterson through its website to help make up for the shortfall.
“We’re trying to move forward. We’ve got a ministry we’re in together,” de Anda said. “We are not going to let our kids down, but we need the help.”
Karen Blake, Winfield, is among the 37-member board of trustees for Lydia Patterson.
“They’re still pursuing everything they can do,” Blake, wife of retired Bishop Bruce Blake, said of the school administration. “They don’t give up. They try everything. I have confidence Lydia Patterson will still be there.
“We need to encourage our conferences to keep that (financial support) up.”
The Rev. Larry Moffet, a retired United Methodist pastor from the Great Plains Conference, has been on the Lydia Patterson Board of Trustees for more than 20 years.
“From time to time we have to go through a variety of conditions from external and internal sources that mean we’ve got to refocus that mission," Moffet said. “We’re very clear that there is work to be done in the name of Christ, and that Lydia Patterson is a very effective tool for developing followers of Jesus Christ.”
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