The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

‘We don’t call them dropouts’

Truancy officer organizes community walk to help students graduate
Audrey Han and Haset Mekuria
Ugalde keeps soap, food, clothes and kits in her office available for students to use. “I will go out of my way to help them,” Ugalde said. “That’s why I have whatever they need.”

In 90-degree heat, around 10 faculty members from Bellaire and the district, three parents and two students set out to knock on around 30 different doors throughout Houston on Sept. 9.

To bring back students who have not graduated, truancy officer Maritere Ugalde organizes Bellaire’s annual community walk, dubbed the West Welcome Walk this year. Participants received a list of students who hadn’t returned to school from the prior year and then went door to door to find out why.  

Divided into four groups, participants joined Ugalde for the walk. Senior Ryan Davalos attended the event after being approached by Ugalde.

Seniors Benjamin DelAngel and Ryan Davalos stand together before the West Welcome Walk. Davalos describes the walk as a “fun experience.” (Provided by Maritere Ugalde)

“[The walk] gave me an opportunity to see that the school really cares about its students,” Davalos said. “It shows that Bellaire really wants them to achieve their goals and get ahead of everything so they won’t have to struggle as hard once they hit the real world.”

Story continues below advertisement

Davalos visited seven homes during the walk with his group, which included statistics in business teacher Ian Zlotnik.

“Going to some [houses] was easier than others,” Zlotnik said. “Knocking at a random person’s door is kind of an awkward thing to do, so I was kind of hesitant. But [the staff] gave us a chat and assured us.”

As the day went on, Zlotnik and the rest of their group never spoke to anyone.

“We knocked on the door of this apartment complex with a woman and I could hear a baby crying,” Zlotnik said. “The woman never came to the door, so we left the information. Sometimes they will let you in, sometimes they won’t. We had the problem where they didn’t.”

Despite this, Ugalde said the walk was successful.

“We had a lot of people give us a lot of information,” Ugalde said. “We got a lot of information about [the ex-students’] whereabouts and what they’re doing. Some of them have even left the country. So, that helps us.”

While on campus, Ugalde makes sure to help students in need. In her office, shelves are laden with odd items: cans of Crider’s white chicken, mini bottles of Dove lotion, Listerine mouthwash and other “just-in-case” items.

“I always call my office a safe place because [students] can feel comfortable [there],” Ugalde said. “My job is to help students — especially kids who are having issues and problems—stay in school. When I sit down and talk to a student and find out what is really happening, I get to be part of that structure they need.”

For students who decide returning to traditional school isn’t an option, Ugalde offers different pathways to obtain credits, such as Grad Lab.

Students who have not returned to school are not called dropouts. “We call them scholars because we do want them to graduate somehow,” truancy officer Maritere Ugalde said. (Made on Canva) (Haset Mekuria)

“I try to make them look at life differently,” Ugalde said. “Just because you didn’t make it in regular high school doesn’t mean that you can’t obtain a high school diploma.”

One student in particular completed around 10 Grad Lab classes in two weeks during Ugalde’s time at Westbury High School. 

“[The student] thought he wasn’t going to graduate,” Ugalde said. “He was just a kid that was in the wrong areas and not doing great, and it turned out he didn’t have a home.” 

After finishing the required courses to graduate, the student stayed to help others earn their credits. 

“He was the smartest kid ever,” Ugalde said. “It was an awesome feeling when he graduated and we gave him his cap and gown. That is my goal: to prove to everyone that kid’s going to walk across the stage. I will make sure that they will.”

Just because you didn’t make it in regular high school doesn’t mean that you can’t obtain a high school diploma.

— Maritere Ugalde

Ugalde plans to lead another community walk in October, as well as a call-out center to reach out to students who have not returned to school via phone call. To learn more about either event, stop by her office in Room 1103. 

View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

All Three Penny Press Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • W

    WestonNov 2, 2023 at 1:03 am

    Proud of the Bellaire community!