Freshmen at Bowie High School this year kicked off the start of a new era of education at the South Side school. The new Small Learning Community Academies will give students an edge in college and workforce readiness unlike any other in the region.
A $5-million grant from the Texas Education Agency helped EPISD set up the academies at Bowie which will focus on three high-demand areas of career preparation or instructional approaches: sports science, global industries and STEAM OSO New Tech project-based learning.
“Although all of our schools met academic standards, the Transformation Zone will support further improvements to high-quality teaching and learning,” said Adrian Bustillos, executive director of the Office of Transformation. “The programs that will be created will address specific needs at each impacted campus.”
Starting this school year with the 300 incoming freshmen, every student at Bowie will pick one of the three academies based on their career or academic goals. Teachers and administrators will cater instruction at each academy in hopes of preparing students for college and the workforce.
“We designed these programs by hearing the voices of the students,” Bustillos said. “The small learning community fellows went down to Guillen and down to the elementary schools and heard their voices, their ideas, their vision.”
Principal Frank Ordaz sees the excitement in the eyes of his new students and is eager to see the program’s progress at his campus.
“The combination of tailor-made lessons plans, a focused academic path based on students’ high level of interest based on their chosen pathway, and teachers’ ability to affect a smaller number of students at a higher level will have a measured positive impact on all of our Bowie students now and in the future,” Ordaz said. “The best is yet to come for Bear Nation.”
The students are not just going to graduate with a diploma, but also have a certification and be able to jump into the job market or to help put themselves through college. Students will graduate with a minimum of 12 college credits through AP, dual credit or the UT OnRamps program.
While the freshman class is the first cohort of the academies, Bustillos said similar opportunities will be expanded all students.
“This way no one misses out on these opportunities, even though we’re starting with ninth grade,” he said. “All students that will be Bowie High School will have the same access to options as we go forward.”
The new global industry learning community will focus on building the skills and knowledge for successful careers as entrepreneurs in the fields of hotel hospitality, culinary arts, corrections, and agriculture options. This program will build on the former Bowie International Business School.
“Unlike other traditional high schools that wait until the junior or senior year to really start embedding them into their career and technology courses, we start immediately during their freshman year,” said Nuri Robles, administrator of the global industry program. “When we designed the small learning communities, we designed them so that 100 percent of our students would have the opportunity to get licensure or certified in their area of study. We want 100 percent of our students to have the opportunity to gain exposure to their future career.”
Sports science academy administrator Robert Padilla left a successful career as Bowie’s head football coach to help launch the Small Learning Communities at his alma mater.
The timing was perfect. He already achieved what he set to accomplish on the field – six trips to the playoffs, one bi-district title and a district title – and his son would be entering Bowie as a freshman. He expects his two younger children to follow suit.
“I’ve got a little bit more skin in this particular game,” he joked. “I started thinking about how I could help the school on a broader scale – do some of the same things that we did with our football program and apply it on a grander scale to try to help out with the school in general. And a just by coincidence, this program was being talked about.”
His cohort of students will focus on sports medicine, therapy services and medical coding.
“It’s three branches of the medical field that haven’t been explored very much,” the 1992 Bowie grad said. “We’re focusing on things that are a little bit more accessible right after high school.”
Freshman global industry student Kayla Olmos had initially transferred to another program in EPISD but was drawn back to Bowie because of the opportunities to embark on a career with the FBI.
“It’s like family here and I feel at home,” she said. “It’s exciting to experience that I’m going to be the first to graduate with a global industries type of certification.”
Jesse Gonzalez, a global industries student, isn’t quite sure what business he wants to launch but he’s certain to be a success after completing the program.
“I know it will help build me up and learn the stuff I don’t know to run a business,” he said. “It feels good to be one of the first to come through this program.”
Bowie is one of eight schools benefiting from the TEA’s Transformation Zone grant. The other campuses are: Andress and Chapin high schools, CCTA; Bassett and Richardson middle schools; and Hughey and Milam elementary schools. Plans for programming at those schools is underway.