Erica Yagel, motions toward her daughter Alekssandra Tonge-Gonzalez during an interview with the El Paso Herald Post. Yagel said Alekssandra was interested in taking sign language at the Young Women's Leadership Academy.

Ysleta ISD’s Young Women’s Leadership Academy moving forward

The Young Women’s Leadership Academy, the first all girls’ public preparatory school in El Paso, which will open its doors in the Fall of 2016 under the umbrella of the Ysleta Independent School District has begun accepting applications.

The academy, a Dallas-based preparatory network, will be housed at Ranchland Hills Middle School (7615 Yuma Drive) for the 2016-17 school year.

“For acceptance into the academy we are looking at our young ladies discipline, attendance records, their STAAR exam from their former school year,” said Malinda Villalobos, principal of the Young Women’s Leadership Academy. “And they will also be doing a math and grade reading assessment. We will also have a student interviews.”

Villalobos said that interested girls must also submit a letter of interest. During the district’s first community meeting to discuss the school’s opening, held on Nov. 17, superintendent Xavier De La Torre said he was excited to introduce this academy to the district.

About 200 parents attended the first information session in November. “We’ve had an opportunity to visit these programs and we’ve grown close with the Young Women’s Leadership network. I think this is something that is extraordinary and unique,” De La Torre said. “With the goal of getting 100 percent of the young ladies that attend our program into the college or university of their dreams.”

The Young Women’s Leadership Academy’s focus will be on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) programs.

Advanced Placement courses will also be offered.

Principal Malinda Villalobos shows parents what the application form looks like for the Young Women’s Leadership Academy and provides them key dates and information to fill out the form

Villalobos, the former principal of Eastwood Middle School, said that one of the hesitations some students may have in applying to a STEAM-based school might be the lack of extra curricular activities or sports. This will not be an issue at the all girls academy, Villalobos said, because several sports are being considered, but student participation is key to insuring these sports are offered.

“We are hoping to offer cross country, volleyball, basketball, tennis, golf, swimming, wrestling, soccer, track and field, cheerleading and softball,” she said. “In addition to the athletic activities w will also be participation in the UIL and academic competitions.”

Instruction at the academy will also focus on bi-literacy, and several languages including Spanish, Chinese, American Sign Language and Latin, Villalobos said.

Throughout the presentation in November, Alekssandra Tonge-Gonzalez, a fifth grader at Alicia Chacon Middle School, urged her mother, Erica Yagel, to write down the dates of the academy’s deadline and questions she had about the academy.

Gonzalez was mainly concerned about the language requirements.

“She gets taught a third language (at Alicia Chacon) and she was asking what language she would have to take because they don’t have Japanese,” Yagel said. “She was asking about American Sign language because she has always been interested in taking that.”

YISD  Superintendent Xavier De La Torre announces the district's plans to open the Young Women's Leadership Academy to a crowd of interested parents
YISD Superintendent Xavier De La Torre announces the district’s plans to open the Young Women’s Leadership Academy to a crowd of interested parents

Aurelio Arias and his wife, Rebecca Arias, brought along their daughter Anabella Arias to the November session. Aurelio Arias said they were looking into the academy because it could present a better financial option for the family, while also preparing Anabella for college.

Anabella, sixth grader, currently attends Our Lady of the Valley and her older brother Nicholas Arias, 18, is currently attending New Mexico State University.

“We have traditionally had to pay for our children’s tuition since they were young, but now that our son is in college it’s getting difficult to fund both,” Aurelio Arias said. “So this is a very good opportunity.”

Aurelio Arias added that the academy may be the perfect fit.

“We are looking at a program that would have AP (Advanced Placement) classes and dual credit tat would help her reach her goal of getting into a college and getting her credits transferred” he said.

The Arias family also hopes that if Anabella is accepted into the academy, it will ease the transition for her from a private school to a public high school in the future. “I’m excited but a little nervous,” Anabella said.

Aside from the student’s transition to the new school, there are some physical transitions in store for the academy

During this first phase of the transition, into the district the Young Women’s Leadership Academy will be housed at Ranchland Hills Middle

Carolina Gomez, holds her daughter's hand, Caroline Montes as they listen to district officials plans relating to the Young Women's Leadership Academy.
Carolina Gomez, holds her daughter’s hand, Caroline Montes as they listen to district officials plans relating to the Young Women’s Leadership Academy.

School. District officials said during this first phase, students from Hillcrest and Ranchland Middle School will be housed together in preparation of the New Bel Air Middle School, Villalobos said.

The new Bel Air Middle School, which will be funded by 2015 Ysleta ISD bond monies, will be located at 7909 Ranchland Drive.

Voters approved the 2015 Ysleta ISD $430.5 million bond on Nov.4, and about $31.5 million of bond monies will go toward building the new Bel Air Middle School.

The bond will not finance the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, officials said. However, the Dallas based academy solidified their partnership with the Ysleta district earlier this year through a $1 million donation. The $1 million donation will go toward funding innovative programs such as summer camps and college visits, district officials said.

Once the New Bel Air Middle School opens its doors, district officials said the Young Women’s Leadership Academy will begin its second phase and move into Hillcrest Middle School at 8040 Yermoland Drive.

The expected date of the permanent move at Hillcrest Middle School is the Fall of 2018. Because the Ysleta district is an open district, and some families may live outside of the district boundaries.

Villalobos said the district would offer parents and students transportation to transport the students to and from school.

“Our district will be providing transportation for all of our young ladies from every one of our learning communities,” Villalobos said.

A preliminary district boundary map was shown during the presentation on Thursday that indicated the pick up and drop-off points which included YISD’s Central Office, Ranchland Hills Middle School and Hillcrest Middle School. But these drop-off points are very preliminary and may change, Villalobos said.

“At this point it would be very premature to say that these are the exact stops and this is exactly where they are going to be because we are going to see where the need is the greatest and where our girls will be coming from,” she said. “But we’ve already met with transportation and had the blessing from Dr. De La Torre to insure that regardless of where you are coming from – if you can get to one of our sites in one our four learning communities, or here at central office, we will take you to the school location.”

Parents are also given the option to drop off and pick up their children at the school site as well, Villalobos added.

Once the academy opens in the Fall of 2016, it will be the eighth in the state of Texas. The preparatory network has schools in Dallas, Forth Worth, Austin, Lubbock, Houston, San Antonio and the Grand Prairie.

Applications for the all girls academy are being accepted through Feb. 5, 2016. Students accepted into the academy have to accept their position by March 18, 2016.

Only 125 6th grade and 125 7th grade girls, will be accepted for this upcoming 2016-17 school year, district officials said. As the girls continue their education, the academy will add grade levels 8 through 12.

Interested parents are encouraged to attend community meetings relating to the new academy, which will be held from:

* 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., on Dec. 14, Dec. 17, and Jan. 7.

* 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 7

* 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Jan. 27.

The sessions will take place on Ysleta ISD’s Central Office Theater, at 9600 Sims Drive.

For more information contact the Ysleta ISD’s Central Office at 915-434-1300.