Photos – Jessie Garza
Recently I shared an article with you titled Westside Story – Who Pick, You Pick. I believe I succeeded in telling you more about pigeons than you ever thought you wanted to know.
As difficult as it to imagine, I have more pigeon talk.
Mr. Jessie Garza, Jr., whom I introduced you to in my previous article, was for many years (1982 – 2005), director of The Northwest Community Action Center (NCAC) in the Yakima Valley located in Washington State. Mr. Garza strengthened his skill-set by obtaining a degree in education. Jessie’s expertise was focused on developing new programs to benefit his community.
When you add 1 Jessie Garza, Jr. + 1 Jessie Garza III you get a whole lot of Garza power for doing good work and helping kids in their community.
What the Garzas did is amazing. Starting in 1997 and running through 2004, the two Garzas developed and ran what I refer to as the School Pigeon Program. That is school pigeon, not stool pigeon.
They took their proposal to Mr. Don Lee, Principal of Eagle High School and Ms. Eileen Beirersdorf, Toppenish School District (TSD) School Board Superintendent, and the TSD Board of Directors. With the school administration’s approval in place, the project was turned over to the students.
The students presented a School Pigeon Program proposal to the Toppenish City Council in their effort to obtain permission to build a pigeon loft on the school grounds of Eagle High School. This real-life experience provided an opportunity for students to learn how government works and to use public speaking as a tool to ask for what they wanted. City Council said, YES, to the project and the students were off and running. Or I might more accurately say, the pigeons were off and flying.
Jessie wrote a $2,000 grant to the Toyota Tapestry Foundation, a charitable organization that makes funds available for special projects. The funds were used to construct the pigeon loft and establish the program.
The students built the pigeon loft themselves with voluntary supervision being provided by local contractors. Ideal Lumber donated the materials for the pigeon loft construction project.
Eagle High School’s race team included 20 racing pigeons.
The first year there were 50 students in the program. Following the first year, most students wanted to participate. The program grew to 75 students per year with a waiting list.
JJ integrated racing pigeons into the school curriculum by including lessons in science, mathematics, history, and speech related to the pigeon project.
JJ would give the students math problems they could relate to; math problems that showed why they should want to learn math.
For example, if birds are released from Shaniko, Oregon at 6:00 am and travel 120.5 miles arriving at the pigeon loft at 9:20 am, how many yards per minute did the birds fly? Which bird flew the fastest?
Another real life applied math example involved the students measuring for a lumber cut to trim 2 3/4” off a 2″ X 4” during their pigeon loft building project.
Additionally, students learned to be responsible and caring. Students took care of watering, feeding, and training the birds. Students cleaned the pigeon loft. They learned how to load birds into specially designed training crates and then drove them in their own vehicles to a release location for training, which is called conditioning.
The students managed the pigeon breeding program too.
On Saturdays, students hung out at the school pigeon loft waiting for their birds to return from their races. They clocked the birds in as they arrived. The students worked side by side with adult members of the pigeon club to analyze race results.
The Pigeons In School Program received strong backing from multiple areas of the community, in addition to support from the American Racing Pigeon Union (AU).
JJ was careful to make certain every single student in the Pigeons In School Program met agreed upon student objectives. The graduation rate rose to 99.6%. Grade point averages (GPA) rose. School attendance improved. School pigeon students stopped dropping out of high school and started dropping out of gangs. Students started choosing pigeon activities and walked away from drugs and alcohol.
The Yakima Valley Racing Pigeon Club offered students free membership tied to an adult – student mentoring program.
Over the years there were many success stories. One such story based on a student’s relationship to the Pigeons in School Program involved a young lady named Letecia. She was around 17 and working on her junior year of high school. Letecia hated school choosing alcohol and drugs along with gang activity as her key focus in life. The only reason she was in school is that her parents forced her to attend high school.
Letecia’s life had deteriorated to a life of misery, which generated depression causing her to contemplate suicide. One day the Pigeons in School Program caught her attention. She got involved with the pigeon program. Instead of sleeping in on school days, she was up early and pushing her parents to get her to school on time.
The Garza designed pigeon program saved her life. The Garzas had no idea Letecia had thought about killing herself until they viewed her testimony in a video that featured Letecia’s life story. She told the audience, once she became involved with pigeons, she had everything to live for.
JJ recalls a time towards the end of Letecia’s senior year. Letecia simply was not herself and JJ was worried about her. JJ asked Leticia what was wrong.
Letecia told JJ she was sad because she was about to graduate. JJ said, “Letecia, normally graduating from high school is a happy time. Why are you sad?” She told him graduation would mean the end of her involvement with the Pigeons In School Program.
JJ’s answer was a new uplifting idea for Letecia. JJ asked her to return after graduation to mentor students involved with the pigeon program.
Letecia, who was destined, almost programmed, to become a high school drop-out, graduated and went on to college. She had a life of learning instead of a life of alcohol, drugs, and gangs.
In 2001, Jessie Garza, Jr. (dad) and science teacher, Jessie J. Garza (JJ) (son), served as keynote speakers at the AU Convention held in Florida with about 1000 attendees from all over America.
The father – son Garza team’s Pigeons in School Program generated inquiries by phone and email from all over the world asking for help in starting a pigeon program for their school.
Thank you, Jessie and JJ for making our world a better place and I especially want to thank you for saving Leticia’s life through your Pigeons In School program.
If anyone wants to know more about establishing a school pigeon program, let me know and I will connect you with Jessie Garza.