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Video+Gallery+Story: Fannin Sweet Potato Harvest Produces Fruits of Student Labor

Fannin Elementary students enjoyed the fruits of their labor Tuesday, burying their hands elbow deep in the soil to harvest the sweet potatoes they planted six months ago.

The school’s garden club planted sweet potato slips last May in preparation for the holiday months. Paraprofessional Robert Gable, who leads the club, talked to the students about the first Thanksgiving.

“The first Americans had to learn to grow and harvest their own food if they wanted to eat, Gable said. “We really want students to appreciate what they have and that the food they get at the supermarket comes from somewhere.”

Although sweet potatoes were not likely among the first vegetables the pilgrims ate, students were excited to dig up the ripe roots and weigh them on a scale borrowed from the science teacher.

Fifth-grader Allie Bazan smiled as she stacked a large sweet potato into an almost-full milk crate. Her favorite way to eat sweet potatoes is in fry form.

“I love sweet potatoes fries. It feels good to see the sweet potatoes we planted grow so big,” Allie said. “I like staying after school with the garden club and making the school a better place.”

Fifth-grader Jude Simmons helps at home with the herb garden, but has never grown anything bigger than mint.

“I enjoyed digging up the sweet potatoes and getting my hands messy,” Jude said. “I think it’s important to learn to grow food because if something goes wrong with the farms, you can grow your own food.”

By the end of the harvest, students had filled three milk crates with sweet potatoes, some weighing as much as six pounds.

Each student took one home in a plastic baggie to cook out at home. The rest will either be donated with the school’s canned food drive or used for the school’s Thanksgiving lunch.

“Once we have pulled up all sweet potatoes they have to be kept in the dark for about eight days,” Gable said. “That gives them time to get even sweeter.”

First-grader Joelle Muse likes his sweet potatoes boiled.

“This has been really fun to get my hands dirty,” he said. “My favorite part of Thanksgiving is eating turkey and spending time with my family. Now I get to eat my sweet potato, too.”

Story by Alicia Chumley / Photos by Leonel Monroy

Six El Paso ISD Schools earn Perfect Score in TEA Ratings Distinctions

Two high schools and four elementary schools in the El Paso Independent School Districts joined more than 400 other campuses in the state that earned all possible distinctions in the 2016 state accountability ratings.

Silva Health Magnet and Transmountain Early College high schools, along with Hughey, Collins, Cielo Vista and Polk elementary schools received all of the distinctions for which they qualified.

“We continue to focus on future readiness and next-generation learning here in EPISD,” Superintendent Juan Cabrera said. “It’s obvious that our efforts to concentrate more on quality teaching and learning, and less on standardized testing, is paying off with good overall results for our students.”

Distinction designations are awarded to campuses based on achievement in performance indicators relative to a group of 40 campuses of similar type, size and student demographics.

The seven distinction designations are:

• Academic Achievement in English Language Arts/Reading

• Academic Achievement in Mathematics

• Academic Achievement in Science

• Academic Achievement in Social Studies

• Top 25 Percent: Student Progress

• Top 25 Percent: Closing Performance Gaps

• Post Secondary Readiness

In addition to the six campuses that earned all possible distinctions, another 8 schools in the District earned all but one of the distinctions available to them. A total of 54 EPISD schools earned at least one distinction.

“Earning one or more campus distinctions is noteworthy and should be a source of pride in a community,” said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. “Earning all possible distinctions is a significant accomplishment and should signal to parents that there is extraordinary work taking place on that campus.

El Paso ISD Introduces New Program that Connects School and Home

EPISD launched a new on-line resource with tools for parents to help their child with their homework and stay connected to their school.

InSync Education, available at, supports student academic achievement and engages parents in their child’s learning process.

“This program guides parents on how to help students at home and support teachers,” said EPISD Family Engagement coordinator Angie Ramirez. “It’s a great resource, and is available in both English and Spanish.”

For Patricia Munoz InSync provides step-by-step instructions to help her grandson complete the homework he receives at Lee Elementary School.

“I use the lesson on phonics the most because my grandchild has been having a hard time learning how to read,” Munoz said. “It’s helping him learn the different sounds.”

Munoz likes how the program provides more than one way to solve a problem and how a search yields resources, such as videos and research materials.

“Whenever you are stuck on a subject, whether it be reading, math or science, InSync gives you a way to research it and figure it out,” Munoz said.

To log on, parents must receive a password from their child’s campus. Once they are connected they can look up help on any given topic by typing in the search bar or using the dictation option to simply speak a command.

InSync has more than 2000 standards-aligned resources in language arts, math, science and social studies and tools to improve skills in homework, test preparation and next grade readiness.

In addition, the program provides access to social emotional lessons, such as dealing with bullying. For high-school students there are college and career readiness resources, offering overviews in career and technical education, college preparation, financial aid activities and much more.

“At first parents were unsure about the program, but once we explained what it was and how it could help they became interested,” Lee parent engagement leader Maribel DeLaO said.

DeLaO knows the connection between school and the home is pivotal to a student’s success. To help parents sign up the staff at Lee open up the computer labs during parent/teacher conferences.

“We want them to know they have access to these kinds of resources,” DeLaO said. “Their help goes a long way in improving overall student performance.”

Munoz agrees. She encourages other parents to use InSync to help support learning in the classroom.

“When they go home, if we don’t help them they aren’t going to get very far. We need to help them,” Munoz said. “I tell other parents to give it a shot. It is our responsibility to help our children succeed.”


El Paso ISD’s Teachers Leading Backpack, Supply Drive Saturday

A backpack drive spearheaded by EPISD teachers in the Northeast last year netted 3,000 school supply-filled bags for students in the Andress and Irvin feeder schools.

This year, the teachers hope to do it all over again … except bigger.

The teachers — who bonded together to form the Northeast Youth Stride for Success Foundation after witnessing students carrying worn-out book bags to school — have already begun taking donations to continue their effort at Andress and Irvin schools. This year, however, they will expand their services to the Chapin and Andress feeder patterns as well.

“It is incredible how it gets bigger every year,” said teacher Ricky Ramirez, who along with coach Andrew Macias began the foundation five years ago. “It would not be possible without all the help of the community. It touches my heart to see everyone come together to make sure these kids have the necessary tools to pursue their educational career.”

The backpack drive will take place from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 6 at the Kmart on 9484 Dyer. Online donations can be made at

Tom Lea Elementary teacher Corina Rendon joined the fundraising efforts early on and sees the benefit of being able to provide backpacks for struggling families.

“There are a lot of low income families in our community, and if they have a multiple kids it can become difficult to buy supplies for all of them,” Rendon said. “If we can help them out with one or two students that is a big help.”

Last year, a GoFundMe page was created in unison with the drive to reach more students.

“We were able to obtain a lot of funds online, making it possible to give out more backpacks,” Rendon said. “We are trying to include more schools as the years go on.”

Initially the foundation sought to help students in the Andress and Irvin feeder patterns, but with the support of the community they have expanded the drive this year to benefit students in the Chapin and Austin feeder patterns too.

Athletes and cheerleaders from the high schools will be on hand during the backpack drive on Aug. 6, holding signs and asking for donations.

“Every year we have students out here helping us,” Ramirez said. “They are out in the hot sun trying to get donations. They really enjoy helping out.” The backpacks are given to the school counselors, who are aware of families that may have a need.

As a teacher Rendon knows how important it is for the students to have the necessary supplies they need for school.

“The kids like to go into class with their own stuff,” Rendon said. “This gives them that opportunity to have all they need. It’s really rewarding being able to provide that for them.

For more information, call the EPISD Office of Community Engagement.

New El Paso ISD Area Superintendent Appointments Announced

El Paso Independent School District Superintendent Juan Cabrera today announced the appointment of three long-time educators to the positions of area superintendents.

The three administrators are charged with providing leadership and support to the schools assigned to their respective areas. They work closely with principals to meet goals, and serve as a point of contact between the campuses and central office.

“The area superintendents are an integral part of our plan for success,” Cabrera said. “Our goal as administration is to support our students, teachers and principals. The area superintendents have a special bond with the campuses, and I expect for that relationship to continue.”

Blanca Garcia, the former principal at Transmountain Early College, is the new Area 1 Superintendent. She will oversee the El Paso High, Bowie and Jefferson/Silva feeder patterns, as well as Transmountain, and the College, Career and Technology Academy.

Garcia had served as interim area superintendent since the spring.

Carla Gonzales, the former principal at Chapin High School, is the new Area 2 Superintendent. She will oversee the Chapin, Franklin and Austin feeder patterns, as well as the Center for Career and Technology Education. Gonzales had served as interim area superintendent since June.

Dino Coronado, the former School Supports Officer at the Houston Independent School District, is the new Area 3 Superintendent. He will oversee the Andress, Irvin, and Burges feeder patterns, as well as the Delta Academy, the Raymond Telles Academy and LaFarelle Middle School.

“We are excited to have these well respected, top-notch educational leaders join our ranks in this new capacity,” said Vincent Sheffield, EPISD’s Deputy Superintendent for Administration.

“We are confident that their leadership will be critical in our efforts to support the education of our students.” Taryn Bailey, the District’s Chief Schools Officer, said the addition of Garcia, Gonzales and Coronado as area superintendents will be instrumental in reaching the academic and administrative milestones the Board of Trustees have outlined for EPISD.

“These three educational leaders have a long history of service to children and will do a wonderful job of helping us meet the goals outlined in our strategic plan,” she said. Bailey will continue to oversee the Coronado feeder pattern.

Area Superintendent Marielo Morales announced her retirement effective Aug. 31.

El Paso ISD’s Cabrera Honored as a Leader in Digital Learning

EPISD Superintendent Juan Cabrera is one of 20 recipients of the Speak Up Shout Out Award for Outstanding Superintendents, an award given out to school leaders who have made significant contributions to digital learning.

Project Tomorrow — a California-based nonprofit whose mission is to change the lives of students through science, math and technology education — handed out the awards to school leaders who had exceptional participation in the Speak Up Research Project for Digital Learning.

“More than 2,600 districts participated in Speak Up 2015, but these 20 (superintendents) stood out to us for their commitment to raising the voices of their stakeholders — notably students, parents, community members and educators at all levels,” said Project Tomorrow CEO Julie Evans.

The Speak Up Research Project for Digital Learning provides school districts throughout the country with new insights into how students want to leverage digital tools for learning based upon the authentic, unfiltered ideas of students themselves. More than 430,000 students participated in the project.

Digital learning has been a key driving force for Cabrera during his tenure as superintendent in EPISD.

“We need to give students the tools they’ll need to succeed in college and the workforce, and at this time that means active learning with a special focus on technology,” Cabrera said. “Our goal is to provide this opportunities for learning to all of our students, regardless of the neighborhood in which they live.”

Just last year, the District launched PowerUp, an initiative to create more active-learning opportunities for students in goals of preparing them for the global economy and life after high school. PowerUp included the distribution of 18,000 laptops to all high-school students.

Chapin High Team earns National Title at CTE Conference

A team of Chapin High School students won the national championship in a literary storytelling competition during the Technology Student Association National Conference earlier this month in Nashville, Tenn.

The team of Celeste Casarez, Lertchaal Hale and Sarah Willis earned first place out of 134 teams in the Children’s Stories category — a competition that asks students to spend months drafting, writing, illustrating and publishing a literary work aimed at promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education to young students.

Chapin’s team used their knowledge of STEM — as well as their research in educational philosophy, child development and writing — to create “Macy McNeer: The Little Engineer.”

The story is an original literary work detailing the lessons and successes of an aspiring engineer.

The story features hand-illustrated and computer-enhanced artwork by students and editing by Chapin High School English teachers. The EPISD Print Shop published the book.

“The story of Macy is amazing, because she invents many things that unfortunately don’t always work,” said Chapin engineering teacher Pamela Cook who co-sponsors the Husky TSA. “But along the way Macy learns many valuable lessons of perseverance, encouragement and achieving goals.”

Cook said the book also helps promote engineering and science among young girls.

Other Chapin teams also fared well at the Nashville conference.

The team of Casarez, Hale, Ray Hernandez, martin Lopez and Gabriel Marquez earned a third-place in the Digital Video Production category for their work on a thoroughly-researchedand well-produced story on social media bullying.

Also, Tim Kalavatis came in sixth in extemporaneous presentation, while Hale earned an eighth place in desktop publishing and ninth in promotional graphics.

EPISD 5th-Graders use Teddy Bears to Learn About Healthcare Professions

Clendenin fifth-grader Bella Herrera-Salas already knew she wanted to be a doctor, but Friday’s Teddy Bear Clinic at the Jefferson/Silva gym cemented her decision.

The hands-on event, which drew fifth graders from 17 EPISD elementary schools, gave students a glimpse of careers in dentistry, nursing, pharmacy and medicine by handing them a teddy bear and using it as a patient in different stations led by healthcare professionals.

“I’m excited and happy to learn more,” Herrera-Salas said. “Now I want to be a doctor even more.”

unnamedBefore treating their stuffed-animal patient, students heard a quick presentation about healthcare careers. Then they moved on to booths that allowed them to experience activities like taking vital signs, measuring blood pressure and taking temperatures. They also learned how to floss and brush their teeth properly and even how to stop a nose bleed.

Silva Health Magnet students worked the booths and guided students from station to station.

“This gives Silva kids an opportunity to showcase what they’ve learned,” said Manuel Castruita, director of Guidance Services. His team was responsible for organizing the event with Silva and Texas Tech.

The students received bags filled with health-related information and goodies including a stethoscope and the official teddy bear used for the mock check ups. Some students hung their stethoscopes around their neck like doctors when they are doing their rounds.

“These students are about to enter middle school,” Castruita said. “When they’re in middle school, they start to explore career options so that when they leave middle school they are ready to pick their endorsement. This at least exposes them to potential opportunities even though healthcare may not be their career choice.”

Silva junior Walter Bolt escorted fifth graders from station to station excited about the chance to interact with the younger students.

Students from throughout EPISD came to Silva to hear from Texas Tech doctors about health professions
Students from throughout EPISD came to Silva to hear from Texas Tech doctors about health professions

“We’re expanding their knowledge of other healthcare occupations,” he said. “We’re encouraging them to do something great and beneficial.”

Joshua Villanueva, a Douglass Elementary fifth grader, enjoyed the field trip to Jefferson/Silva.

“They’ve been showing us what doctors do and how to check patients,” said Villanueva, who despite the visit still wants to be an architect. “It’s been interesting.”

Diana Moreno, a Silva junior, was teaching students about how to take their pulse.

“It’s important to engage the next generation,” she said. “At a young age, they may say they want to be a doctor but they don’t know what a doctor does. Here, they get to meet professors, medical students and nurses to learn more about the careers.”

Transmountain Early College HS Students Help turn Plastic Bags into Park Benches

While most people don’t think twice about tossing plastic grocery bags, students at Transmountain Early College are keenly aware of the positive impact the plastic bags can have on something as common as a park.

That is why the Ecology Club has teamed up with the City of El Paso Environmental Services Department to turn the plastic bags from landfill fodder to beautiful park benches.

Students at the school collected thousands of bags as part of the Bags to Benches program operated by Trex Recycling. The program uses recycled grocery bags to create park benches throughout the United States and Canada.

This is the second year TMECHS students participate in the program. Each time they have have collected more than 4,000 bags.

Senior Paris Velasquez has been part of the Ecology Club for three years and is happy to be making a difference.

“I’ve always been interested in the environment, and what we can do to help. I’m really happy that we did this project,” Velasquez said. “These kinds of programs promote awareness and helps bring people together. Everyone at school wanted to help and brought in bags to help out.”

news_2412_mRomi Ruiz from the Environmental Services Department picked up the bags from the school and was encouraged by the students’ dedication to the cause.

“We need these young people to take an active role in preserving the environment,” Ruiz said. “We wanted to create a program to encourage people to recycle. We are the only ones in this part of the country doing it. This is the fourth season, and it has been highly successful.”

Thanks to the program, benches have been placed at several locations like the El Paso Zoo, Sageland Elementary School and ADP. The bench from this season will be placed at Travis White Park on the East Side.

The Bags to Benches program is not the only way the students at TMECHS are helping though.

The senior English classes were inspired to do something for the environment after reading “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” and finding out albatrosses, which is the main crux of the poem, are endangered.

“That was the genesis of our Earth Day project,” teacher Angela Clark said. “Albatrosses are in danger of becoming extinct because they are ingesting so much plastic. That launched our project to raise awareness about the extent of plastic pollution.”

The students worked in groups to creat different projects aimed at informing people about the impact of plastic pollution and what they can do to help. They created documentaries, online petitions, flyers with informational QR codes and letter campaigns to community stakeholders, such as representatives Jose Rodriguez and Beto O’Rourke.

“When the students saw we could use letter campaigns and QR codes, they realized they could spread their message to a much larger audience,” Clark said.

The message is being heard.

Online petitions the students created have reached people as far as the Dominican Republic, Denmark and even Australia. The students in the Ecology Club know that change starts at home though, and they are invested in being a part of changing people’s minds about how they treat the Earth.

“It’s important to preserve our environment,” student Vanessa Rico said. “It’s where we live, and if we don’t take care of it it’s not going to be here much longer.”

El Paso ISD CCTE Students Headed to National Competition

Five students from CCTE will head to Louisville in June to represent the District at the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference after placing at the state competition.

Melanie Eddy, David Cruz, Luis Segoviano, Adrian Ruybe and Anthony Cordero will face off against 6,000 students from across the nation, who compete in more than 100 different occupational and leadership skill areas.

“I think it’s wonderful they made it to nationals. I have some really good students. They all take the competition really seriously, so I think they are going to do really well at nationals,” teacher Lee Lowers said.

SkillsUSA brings together students, teachers and industries to work together and ensure there is a skilled workforce in America. The organization provides a structured program of citizenship, leadership, employability, technical and professional skills training to improve this workforce.

At nationals students will work against the clock and each other, proving their expertise in their occupations. Each contest is run with the help of industry, trade associations and labor organizations, so students get a real feel of what to expect when they enter the workforce.

Senior Adrian Ruybe was part of a three-person team at state, competing in automated manufacturing technology.

“It was exciting being part of team,” Adrian Ruybe said. “We sang so we could build our confidence.”

Each student on the team was responsible for a different aspect of the contest, which involved creating a blueprint, programming the codes and machining the final product. Adrian and his team created an open-ended wrench, the whole process taking more than an hour to complete.

“I have learned a lot, and I am looking forward to nationals. We are busy practicing our skills,” Adrian said.

Student Melanie Eddy put her skills to the test at the cosmetology contest, earning first place at state and securing her spot at nationals.

“I learned to have confidence in myself, and that I can do anything I set my mind to,” Eddy said. “I think nationals is going to be a very exciting experience. It’s going to help me build myself as a person and a stylist and get recognition for what I love to do.”

She hopes to one day open her own salon, but first she is focusing on studying for her cosmetology license and graduating in June.

“I thank my teacher for pushing me, even when I would complain,” Eddy said. “It was all for the better.”

Cosmetology teacher Melissa Guillen is proud of Eddy and all the other students who competed at the state SkillsUSA competition.

“I am excited for her, and I am thankful for the support of the faculty and staff here at CCTE,” Guillen said.

SkillsUSA, which serves more than 300,000 students and instructors every year, is a great platform for EPISD students to be part of a skilled workforce when they graduate.

Students are judged not only by the task completion but also by their presentation and work resume.

“This competition gives them more practice in their skills. It helps them with their licensure board and gives them a chance to really work on their resume,” Guillen said. “It prepares them for leadership and teaches them how to be professionals.”

El Paso ISD Teacher of the Year Finalists Announced

On Tuesday, the El Paso Independent School District released the names of the finalists who are being considered for the title of 2016 Teacher of the Year.

The finalists were selected from among a field of about 20 semifinalists and more than 90 campus winners.

The finalists for Secondary Teacher of the Year are:
• Christina J. Marenco, Burges High School
• Michael P. Reese, El Paso High School
• Marta C. Romero, Lincoln Middle School
• Heike M. Brindly, Richardson Middle School
• Holly Thorson, Wiggs Middle School
The finalists for Elementary Teacher of the Year are:
• Veronica Zuñiga, Cielo Vista Elementary School
• Julie Rodriguez, Coldwell Elementary School
• Meridith Gray, Kohlberg Elementary School
• Cecilia Perez, Lee Elementary School
• Jill McGee, Mesita Elementary School

The winners announced on May 6 will represent EPISD in the Region 19 Teacher of the Year contest, which is the qualifying contest for the Texas State Teacher of the Year Award.news_2393_mnews2_2393_m

World Expo Showcases Mesita, Wiggs Programs

The sounds of the Wiggs Middle orchestra greeted the students and parents that attended the first World Expo event at Mesita Elementary School.

The Expo gave Mesita and Wiggs the opportunity to highlight programs like Connecting Worlds, Widening Our World, the Mandarin Enrichment and others that have made the two schools popular among parents in the region.

“We thought this was a great opportunity to showcase what is going on at our school as far as programs, activities within and beyond the curriculum, as well as what will happen when the students attend Wiggs. This is a shared team effort,” Mesita Principal Laila Farris said.

unnamed (17)The Connecting Worlds/Mundos Unidos program emphasizes the importance of a dual language education by providing dual language for all students, not just English Language Learners.

“We believe dual language is important for every child who wished to be bilingual and bi-literate,” Farris said. “This is Mesita’s nineteenth year offering dual language to our community.”

Students also have the opportunity to learn Chinese through the school’s Mandarin Enrichment Program, which is only available at Mesita.

“It is important for the students to learn about different cultures, and in the world lots of people speak Chinese,” Mandarin teacher Sonia Chang said. “In the beginning we learn basic vocabulary and then I teach them sounds. Once they can do the sounds, they learn Chinese quickly.”

Chang doesn’t just teach students about the languages but the culture as well. She taught the students about Qingming Festival, whichunnamed (16) closely resembles the Mexican holiday of the Day of the Dead.

“Every year the Chinese people go to the cemetery to worship their ancestors by bringing fresh flowers and food,” Chang said.

An important part of the Qingming is flying kites, so the students at Mesita will have the opportunity to make their very own Chinese kites and fly them at school next week.

Active Learning Leader Lourdes Sianez also incorporates hands-on activities to better immerse students in different cultures.

“Sometimes the kids aren’t aware of what is out there, and it is our job as teachers to teach them as part of their education to expose them to these different things,” Sianez said. “Yes, they can read a book or article about something but it’s not until they are actually in it trying to do something like art or dance that they really capture the information.”

Besides fine arts and language Mesita and Wiggs emphasized the importance of STEM related programs and clubs, like Destination Imagination, robotics and the chess club.

Fifth-grade student Demetrio Gonzalez competed at state for through the Destination Imagination program after he placed at regionals. Although he didn’t place at state, he feels the experience has helped him grow as a student and person.

“Destination Imagination really helps build the creativity of kids by challenging them,” Demetrio said. “It’s a very fun program.”

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