UTEP’s Bus Tour of YISD Provides Valuable Insights

The University of Texas at El Paso’s Clifton Tanabe, Ph.D., dean of the College of Education, came to UTEP in July 2018 with a mission to enhance the impact of the college and its graduates among the regional school districts and the surrounding community. He took a big step in that effort just last month.

Tanabe and a cohort of 20 college staff and faculty members toured six Ysleta Independent School District (YISD) campuses to observe, listen and learn more about the district, its employees, and the students they serve. Tanabe said it is important for area educators to work together because of the “closed loop” where the University teaches 80 percent of the region’s students, including the majority of the region’s teachers who prepare future UTEP students.

His objective is to start conversations among elementary, secondary and higher education peers that could lead to a greater understanding of the region’s needs, which will lead to directed research, better teacher preparation and superior education outcomes throughout the borderland and beyond.

“We need to experience what happens in the schools and we need to recognize it in our work,” Tanabe said the next day. “We want to understand the real issues they face so we can work with our PreK-12 partners to find real solutions. We want to find the collaborative sweet spot where the districts and college can work together in ways that benefit both as well as the community.”

Tanabe called the bus tour a great first step. He said the discussions with district personnel at the schools, their central offices and aboard the district’s yellow school buses “frank and illuminating.” The topics included curriculum, student learning environments and human resources.

He wants to absorb the general and unique issues each faces and then, with the help of his district colleagues, tailor courses and research to answer those needs and enrich the college’s teacher preparation program. He plans to schedule similar tours with some of the region’s other school districts during the spring 2019 semester.

Tanabe said he would meet with the UTEP tour participants the week of Dec. 10, 2018, to discuss their observations and ideas they might want to integrate into their curriculum. He mentioned being impressed with YISD’s sophisticated use of data to create individual student learning programs. He wants to investigate how to incorporate that concept into today’s teacher preparation curriculum.

The college leader said he plans to invite some YISD administrators to UTEP in February 2019 to talk about possible research partnerships.

These types of collaborations are critical, said Abigail Tarango, YISD director of special projects and strategic initiatives. She said that it is vital for institutions of higher education, especially those that prepare future educators and administrators, to understand the issues that PreK-12 teachers and administrators face every day.

“When research and practice truly influence policy, we all succeed,” Tarango said.

Back to School

The UTEP educators split into two teams for the tours. Tanabe’s group visited Ramona Elementary School, Bel Air High School and the Young Women’s Leadership Academy (YWLA). The other UTEP team stopped at Ysleta Elementary School, Ysleta High School and the Eastwood Knolls International School. Members of both teams said they witnessed students involved in a lot of project-based/group-based work that was hands-on and outcome-focused.

YWLA Principal Malinda Villalobos, who earned her M.Ed. in educational administration from UTEP in the late 1990s, was excited about the potential partnerships between her district and her alma mater. She said such collaborations would bridge and align the needs of school districts with the college.

Villalobos welcomed the University contingent to her Lower Valley school and invited the educators into the school’s library for a brief PowerPoint presentation about the campus, which is part of a public-private national network of all-girl college preparatory schools. The curriculum’s focus is science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, along with leadership and wellness skills. It opened in 2016 and currently enrolls 390 girls from around the county in grades 6 to 9. The school eventually will go up to the 12th grade. After the presentation, she led them on visits to a sixth-grade math class and a seventh-grade language arts class.

“I think this (bus tour) was ingenious,” Villalobos said. “We work in each other’s back yards. Both sides need to tap into each other’s needs.”

Touching Base

Beverly Argus-Calvo, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Special Services, said she participated in the tour to get a broader view of what happens on a district campus. She was especially interested in what the schools expected from their new teachers.

Argus-Calvo, who also is the college’s associate dean of graduate studies, said she was encouraged by the excitement of the teachers and the level of collaboration they demonstrated. She said it was important that today’s students who want to be teachers understand the levels of teamwork involved as professionals.

“(Collaboration) is what we do as teachers,” said UTEP alumna Victoria Chavez, who earned her bachelor’s degree in 2017 in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in mathematics grades 4-8. She teaches 6th grade pre-advanced placement math at YWLA.

Chavez, who greeted one of her former professors with a big hug, said her 18 months as a teacher has given her a few ideas of how UTEP could enhance its teacher preparation programs in the areas of lesson plans, communication with parents of students, and a focus on teamwork. She hoped to share that message with her classroom guests.

Tanabe said he welcomed that feedback, adding that another goal of the tour was to visit UTEP graduates who serve as campus administrators, teachers, counselors and diagnosticians. He mentioned that he met Miner alumni from the 1970s through the 2010s.

“They are part of our extended family and we wanted to touch base with them,” he said.

Author: Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications