A skyscraper perspective

By Hermann Pereira

As I watch my hometown Houston Rockets play in the Western Conference Finals, I am reminded of one of my favorite memories of growing up in Houston. There is nothing better than to look out at the different views from the downtown buildings. What fascinates me the most is how the perspective changes as you climb to the top. As you go up you see more and more of the surrounding landscape, busy streets, neighborhood parks, and houses. When you get high enough you start to appreciate the view because in Houston you can see for miles.

This perspective change very much aligns with what we do as educators. We are nearing the end of the school year and teachers and students are all fatigued from the year. We gave it our all, learned a lot, and grew as a campus, but what I hope is that our student’s perspective has changed due to the supports and systems that are in place at Connally ISD. This perspective change hopefully becomes a catalyst for a shift in overall attitude towards post-secondary plans. As a principal of a CTE focused Early College High School, our mission is clear and our focus is to change our student’s perspectives about their post secondary plans. We hope to engage them in rigorous coursework that is centered on the career ready skills that they will need as they enter the workforce. One thing I forget at times is that all students need to be career ready. Their path might be straight to work, a technical school like Texas State Technical College, or maybe a 4 year university, but once they complete that step they are entering the workforce.

At Connally ISD we have made a conscious effort to give our students skyscraper perspectives and thus their attitudes about their futures have evolved. We have put a high premium on offering more dual credit courses all while giving students the support structures they need to engage in college coursework. There are a variety of reasons why we are promoting dual credit courses more with each cohort of students. We live in a city that has 2 colleges that are willing partners with all area high school students, whether that be on the college campus, the high school campus or online. Texas State Technical College and McLennan Community College have some amazing folks that want nothing more than to help public school educators offer dual credit courses that can truly change a student’s perspective. They understand that in order to change the landscape of our great city, education has to be attainable, so why not in high school? Another reason why our district and others are pushing for dual credit courses is the Texas Education Agency has made them an integral part of our accountability system. Out of House Bill 22 the A-F accountability system was birthed and now school districts will be given a letter grade based on standardized test performance, graduation rates and how many students are College, Career and/or Military Ready. Therefore, one of the many measuring sticks are the amount of students that have taken dual credit coursework in their high school careers. Offering these types of rigorous courses is also aligned with our district mission, so lots of resources have been put towards preparing students for these kinds of steps. Programs like Connally Career Tech ECHS, Advancement Via Individual Determination, and grants such as Gear Up and Upward Bound have helped give students a broader perspective to their future. This is for sure a process that takes slow and deliberate steps but so does climbing the stairs in a skyscraper in downtown Houston.

Recently we received a technology lending grant from the Texas Education Agency. We are very excited about what this will mean for our students who are trying to see a broader and higher perspective for their lives. All high school students that are taking a dual credit course will have the opportunity to check out a Google Chromebook for the entire school year as well as check out mobile hotspots as needed. Making our dual credit courses 1 to 1 will allow our students to now have tools as they engage in college level coursework. Due to our socio-economic constraints as a campus we would not typically have the ability to give students this kind of access, but now with this grant we will be able to give them the necessary tools to be successful.

I am proud to work for a campus and a school district that takes the typical barriers such as schedules, money and/or time and treats them like opportunities. These perspective changing efforts, paired with the right tools, are already yielding positive results. We don’t gauge our success based purely on data; we gauge success on how prepared our students are entering a college or career field. If at the end of the day we as a district can say that we adequately prepared our students for a college or career of their choice then we have been successful.


Hermann Pereira is the Principal of Connally Career Tech Early College High School, CTE Director and AVID Coordinator and has been in education for 11 years. He is a Houstonian who roots for all Houston sports teams but has called Waco home for the past decade. He is married to Kristi for 14 years and has two children, Hudson who is 9 years old and Ruby who is 7 years old.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

 

A School Infused with Leadership

By Josh Caballero

One thing most people seem to agree on is that it takes strong leadership to turn things around at a school. If you’ve paid any attention to the Waco Trib recently, you may have read that Waco ISD currently has 5 campuses on the Improvement Required list. Superintendent Dr. Marcus Nelson and his team have proposed a bold plan to begin making improvements on these campuses which includes a partnership with Prosper Waco.

Brook Avenue Elementary School is one of those schools on the IR list and the faculty, staff, parents, and students there are also working hard to turn things around. Principal Sarah Pedrotti and her staff have implemented numerous things on campus to improve student achievement, teacher satisfaction, and parent engagement and they are already seeing success.

One thing that seems to be bringing together the leadership of the many different campus stakeholders is the development of an outdoor classroom. According to a recent article in Teacher Magazine, learning outdoors in nature not only has a positive impact on student learning, but also increases student engagement once they’ve returned to the traditional indoor classroom. (Earp, 2018). The idea for an outdoor classroom was first mentioned by a parent who really wanted to see the old school garden revitalized. Over the past year, campus administration, teachers, community members, parents, and students have all helped make this idea become a reality. Administration at the school was able to cast a vision to secure and utilize grant funding for the creation of an outdoor classroom. Teachers have brainstormed ideas about ways they could utilize the space to enhance their current lessons. Community members have offered support by giving their expertise in gardening and other needed areas. Parents have organized work days and students have already started planting in the garden area. Everyone has been hard at work planning, building raised beds, building benches, moving soil, and planting and the space is almost finished.

I believe we have strong leadership in Waco schools. I believe Dr. Nelson will get things where they need to be for Brook Avenue Elementary and the other schools in the district, but I also believe in the leadership I’ve seen on this campus over the past year working on this project. I believe in leaders like Principal Sara Pedrotti and Assistant Principal Jessica Torres who are dedicated educators who do everything they can to make sure their teachers and students have the tools they need to succeed. I believe in teachers like Mrs. McMeans, Mr. Jimenez, Mrs. Schuler, Mrs. Reeves, and so many more who are finding creative ways to help their students learn. I believe in the support staff like Carole Meriwether and Wade Mackey who are finding ways to provide additional resources to the campus. I believe in community members like Columbus Avenue Kid’s Hope USA Mentors, Klaras Center for Families, CIS, Antioch’s Star Mentoring Program, and the Garland School of Social Work’s BEAR Project who are finding additional ways to support the campus. I believe in parent leaders like Christy Perkins who are helping to organize efforts for the outdoor classroom space and I believe in the students at Brook Avenue Elementary. All of them are doing their part and each of them are leaders.

We hope you can join us to see our outdoor classroom space and meet some of our fantastic Brook Avenue leaders for a Ribbon Cutting Celebration on May 22nd at 6:00 pm.


Josh Caballero is a community organizer in North Waco for Grassroots Community Development and works closely with local schools, churches, businesses, and residents in the Brook Oaks and Sanger Heights neighborhoods. Originally from the panhandle of Texas, Josh has been a Wacoan for 12 years and enjoys living in the Sanger Heights neighborhood with his wife Jennifer and daughter Millee Grace.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

References:

Earp, Jo. (2018, January). Outdoor lessons boost classroom engagement. Teacher Magazine, Retrieved from http://www.teachermagazine.com.au

The Little Known Edge of Waco: Maker’s Edge

By Vivek Paudel

“Makerspaces like Maker’s Edge have great promise for the 21st-century economy.” – Jessica Attas, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.

 A hidden diamond in a coal mine can only get its worth if people who know the value of a diamond reach to it.

Located at 1800 Austin Ave, The Maker’s Edge is, to me, one of Waco’s hidden diamonds.  Maker’s Edge is Waco’s “makerspace.”  If you are not familiar with the concept of a makerspace, it’s like a big community workshop for making things.

Maker’s Edge provides a space for creation, customization, innovation, and experimentation in our community. It’s a place where people from nine to ninety-nine go to make their imaginations real. Whether you are an artist who wants to do some customization on a personal item or a student who needs to build a science project, Maker’s Edge provides all sorts of guidance and an expansive variety of equipment.

This is no small room with a few LEGO sets and a 3D printer.  Maker’s Edge provides a full shop experience with more machines and space than many might realize is available here in town.  Equipment available includes a CNC Router, 3D printers, plasma cutter, drill press and much more that makers can use for purposes from customizing a cell phone case to building a prototype of a new product.

Melissa Pardun, the owner of Maker’s Edge, calls it the “democratization of heavy machines.”  Through Maker’s Edge, and other makerspaces, anyone can use expensive tools that otherwise they would not be able to afford. Anyone can make a prototype of the idea they have been carrying around in their head.  This opens up the possibility of making tons of money as well as benefit to the community.

Not only does Maker’s Edge make the machines available to customize items and build prototypes, it also provides a place to connect with others and share ideas.  For example, if different people take advantage of this space to customize their stuffs — which can include anything from improving the look of their cell phone case to building a bookshelf — this will not only increase the creativity of those people, but can simultaneously help in exploration of new ideas for customizing.

All these options and machines may seem overwhelming.  But, I encourage anyone who has something in their mind to head over to Maker’s Edge and create it. The people at Maker’s Edge will provide the guidance and help to help you create your prototype.  I have seen people create remarkable objects from lightsabers from Star Wars, to Harry Potter wands and much more. When people participate and work on a project, that builds up and improves creativity. At Maker’s Edge people are able to polish their arts and imaginative skills.  The people at Maker’s Edge provide a helping hand and help in cases of failure because they believe in learning through failing. When people carry that perspective into the workshop, great results will follow.

It’s even a stress reliever.  Taking a pottery class at Maker’s Edge and getting your hands into some clay and mud is a great way to relieve the daily stress.  Getting involved in a class can also help you meet new people; some nice small talk with a new person can be a good stress reducer too.  If you are dealing with anger, use that anger and put it into building something that will be productive. If nothing else, Maker’s Edge is a place where slamming a hammer on a wooden plank is considered a productive task!

Maker’s Edge is a treasure chest for Waco, and more Wacoans need to know about it and take advantage.  We, as a part of community, need to invest our time in understanding about them and utilizing the things they have been providing. They provide free classes where anyone can test it out without risking finances. An engine of creativity like Maker’s Edge should be booming in the center of our community rather than being at the unfamiliar edge.


Vivek Paudel is a student at MCC pursuing an Associate in Arts for Digital Media.  He is an expert when it comes to eating and travelling, and he listens to rock music whenever he feels low. He loves to write stories that are posted on his blogspot account. He likes to interact with people about different stuff, and he knows how to fill those awkward silences.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.