Texas Schools Collaboratively Redesign Education Program

After conducting a survey, administrators at Carroll T. Welch Elementary School in the Clint Independent School District discovered that approximately 25% of their students did not feel like they “fit in” at school.

“Some students feel the need to be different. They think, ‘I can’t be myself because of what (other students) might say about me,'” stated Daisy Garcia, the principal of Horizon City’s school.

Daisy Garcia, the principal of Carroll T. Welch Elementary School, has incorporated social and emotional skills into her students’ education. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Now, through the El Paso School Design Collaborative, Daisy Garcia aims to establish a more inclusive and accepting environment for these students. This collaborative program seeks to reimagine how schools can better serve students and communities.

As part of this 10-month initiative that began in May, schools were required to identify a specific issue within their campus and develop a plan to address it with the assistance of experts from Transcend. Transcend is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing education systems in the United States. Out of the many El Paso schools that applied to be part of the program, only eight were selected.

“Our vision is to help young people learn in ways that enable them to thrive in and transform the world. And the way that we do that is by supporting communities to create and spread extraordinary equitable learning environments,” explained Dottie Smith, Transcend Managing Partner.

The Council on Regional Economic Expansion and Educational Development (CREEED), a non-profit organization committed to enhancing academic performance in El Paso, and the El Paso Community Foundation, a non-profit organization that funds various initiatives in the city including health and education, joined forces to bring this program to life.

“Our overarching goal is to bring about systemic change in how schools approach school design,” stated Stephanie Otero, Vice President of Operations for the Community Foundation. “We hope that every school in our region adopts a student-centered model where student voice is at the core of decision-making.”

A poster in a special education classroom at Carroll T. Welch Elementary School encourages students to assess their emotional state. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

With the guidance of Transcend, each participating school has formed teams consisting of teachers, administrators, and parents. These teams are responsible for identifying ways to improve their campuses. While the teams interact directly with students, experts from Transcend assist administrators in conducting surveys, analyzing data, and providing examples of other schools that have prioritized student well-being within their education system.

“We’re deepening their understanding of the research and science, and understanding what their young people want,” elaborated Smith.

Some schools, like the O’Shea Keleher Whole Child Academy in the Socorro Independent School District, have included two fifth-grade students, counselors, and the school nurse in their redesign team to gather input on campus improvements.

Others opted to directly engage with students for their perspective.

Daisy Garcia and the team at Welch Elementary interviewed 75 pupils out of the school’s 700-plus students. They intentionally included students from various backgrounds, including Spanish speakers and at-risk students, to obtain a diverse range of inputs.

“We wanted to ensure that we interviewed a substantial number of students. We didn’t want it to be limited to high-achieving students who we know already feel loved and possess leadership skills,” emphasized Daisy Garcia.

Students walk with a teacher at Reyes Elementary School on Nov. 29. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Many schools participating in the collaborative program have chosen to focus on social-emotional learning (SEL), which aims to enhance educational outcomes by helping students understand their emotions and develop social skills.

Schools like Silvestre and Carolina Reyes Elementary in the Canutillo Independent School District and O’Shea Keleher primarily emphasize the social aspect of SEL in hopes of improving peer-to-peer connections among students.

“We’ve discovered that our students feel closely connected with the adults in the building but are struggling with peer-to-peer interaction,” shared Laura Garcia, the Principal of O’Shea Keleher. “Therefore, we’re trying to identify the root of this problem and provide them with tools to foster positive peer interactions.”

Educators note that even before the pandemic, students already faced challenges connecting with one another. The lockdown measures further exacerbated this issue, particularly among younger students.

“We lost a lot of skills regarding interpersonal interactions among our kids. It was problematic at all levels, but our pre-K through first-grade students never fully developed these skills due to the pandemic,” explained Jessica Melendez-Carrillo, Principal of Reyes Elementary.

Following extensive research and understanding student needs, the teams will move on to the “envisioning” stage, during which they will develop plans to address the identified issues.

Melendez-Carrillo’s team at the Upper Valley school is looking into implementing “morning circles.” These circles will provide students with the opportunity to discuss, resolve conflicts, and connect at the beginning of each day. The team is currently brainstorming and learning from other schools that have successfully implemented these circles.

Jessica Carrillo, Principal of Congressman Silvestre & Carolina Reyes Elementary School, shares her team’s plans to focus on developing and implementing social and emotional intelligence programs for their students. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

“We’re collaborating, thinking, and reevaluating our existing protocols to identify areas for improvement,” stated Melendez-Carrillo.

At Welch Elementary, the team has explored the idea of implementing “talk circles,” which will allow teachers and students to engage in conversations on an equal level. The goal is to foster a sense of belonging and give students a voice.

“During these morning circles, teachers will participate alongside students, establishing an atmosphere of equality. Everyone will have an equal say, promoting that feeling of belongingness,” explained Daisy Garcia.

Laura Garcia and her team at O’Shea Keleher are currently collecting data and collaborating with Transcend to create a parent survey before determining their next steps.

Once the teams finalize their plans, Transcend will assist in implementing these plans, evaluating their success, and restarting the process.

“We assist schools in creating models that align with their vision,” said Smith.

Ultimately, the school leaders participating in this collaborative program hope to enhance their students’ lives and equip them for the future.

“I want to ensure that every student we send to middle school has a strong sense of self and confidence, knowing they can be whoever they want without fear of judgment,” asserted Laura Garcia.

Nadia Tellez, Choose to Excel Director at CREEED, expressed that the program aims to help students succeed beyond their academic journey.

“We’re excited to support an initial group of eight schools in exploring new models of student success. Our goal is not just to

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