In a small isolated ranching town in Southwest Texas — a place with no movie theater, no Walmart, no car dealership, one drug store and only three or four places to eat — there is a little of the 1950s and 1960s that is alive and well.
It is not a new phenomenon to the locals but fascinating to those of us lucky enough to wander through for business or to visit relatives.
Travelers on Interstate 10 who stop for gas or a bathroom break, probably thank their lucky stars they are not stuck in “a place like this.” There is no McDonalds, Burger King or Taco Bell, no welcoming diner on the Interstate. Just some lower price point motels, gas stations and a few local restaurants, whose operating hours, the locals say, are sometimes mysterious, plus a Pizza Hut, a Sonic and the ubiquitous Dairy Queen.
People do not eat out as much as in larger cities, “After a while, with so few choices, it is just more enjoyable to stay at home, with our family” an oil industry official said.
So what is so special?
Parents from every economic and ethnic cohort are actively engaged in supporting their children and the local education system. Not just a few parents as is the case in larger cities, but virtually every parent with a child in school. It is overwhelming.
In a time when malls, movies and game arcades are a narcotic draw for kids in most communities across America, in this town all of the energy is directed to the children and their extracurricular activities.
The school superintendent, who says many of his colleagues envy the amount of parental engagement his system enjoys, explains there is a strong undercurrent of a lifestyle that was common in the 50s and 60s. It is one of this town’s little secrets. The other secret is their extraordinarily well equipped hospital, rated one of the top Critical Access Hospitals in America. Residents are equally proud of that, but the hospital is a story for another day.
“This town is all about the kids,” said one local rancher/civic leader in describing why he moved there. It is an amazing thing. “There are two things we worry about here,” a local businessman remarked, “water and high school football and in the fall we don’t worry as much about the water.”
This is not a huge school district — it moved up to 3A status when the University Interscholastic League added another level to designate the largest of the state’s schools — but there is a lot going on. From football, basketball, baseball games and track and field events, to band and choral concerts, 4-H events and academic competitions, the kids are involved and the parents are there.
Studies show that when parents are actively engaged with their children in school, they tend to do better academically and developmentally. And that is worth a lot more than a Walmart, shopping mall or a movie theater.
Sonora, Texas does not offer much in the way of glitz or entertainment outside of school events but the kids who are growing up here are pretty lucky.
© 2021 John Gregory Self