For Enedina Saenz and her daughter, the upcoming school year brings new opportunity and appreciation for La Joya Independent School District.
LJISD is making some changes to five elementary schools starting in the 2018-2019 school year.
Five of the 23 elementary schools in the district will now be classified as designated schools of choice. As previously reported by the Progress Times, two schools will be focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), two will be focused on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) and one will be focused on Fine Arts.
According to the LJISD Public Relations Office, these choices for elementary schools will encourage students to explore specific areas of study and “allows for a greater opportunity for children to discover a new interest, or to build on an existing dream.” Each school will revamp their teaching strategies to be linked to their specific designation.
William J. Clinton Elementary and Evangelina Garza Elementary will be the STEM designated schools. They will offer programs like Lego Labs, Maker Space, robotics clubs and the creation of digital products using technology applications.
Garza Elementary principal, Maria Flores-Guerra, believes the change will be a great benefit to students.
“We’re really excited,” Flores-Guerra said. “Because at our campus we have 98 percent economically disadvantaged students, so to have them learn about STEM at an early age gives us the opportunity to start setting the stage for their success as adults.”
The curriculum will come with new projects that will give students more hands-on experience and knowledge at the elementary level.
Saenz’s 7-year-old daughter wants to be a zoologist when she grows up, and the projects will encourage her passion for animals and provide more chances to learn in the STEM field.
“She loves science, she loves animals, and I want her to continue in that,” Saenz said. “This is empowering her to say, ‘Well, I can do this. I can study something like this, I can be this.’”
Saenz’s daughter is an avid reader, and has read most of the animal books in the school’s library.
“She wants more,” Saenz said. “She’s just looking for more information. So all this is helping her.”
Saenz believes these designations will be beneficial to her daughter and the whole community.
“We have a lot of kids [in our community] that won’t get to go to college,” Saenz said. “And this will help them in the long run. They’ll have this background, and even if they don’t get into college, they’ll still have everything in their back pocket.”
Flores-Guerra is excited for the designation, and says the early development and fostering of these interests will lead students on a path to higher education. While the subject matter will be focused, students will still be able to explore their interests in other fields as well, and be able to determine what they enjoy from an earlier age.
“I want our kids to wonder, to have their curiosities peaked,” Flores-Guerra said. “And they can possibly go on their own research track. Maybe you’re not into science yet, but maybe as you learn more, you may find out that you are.”
The principal said that the STEM designation is empowering both students and teachers, and that some of her teachers are already looking into going back to schools themselves to get graduate degrees in science.
“Showing them all the different opportunities out there is very exciting,” Flores-Guerra said. “The staff and I have already been researching and planning different things we want to do.”
According to Flores-Guerra, educating in STEM from an early age is beneficial, especially for girls. Teaching with the focused curriculum will also promote
collaboration and teamwork.
“When we start the STEM education in middle school and high school, they have hormonal issues going on too,” Flores-Guerra said. “When they start working on it at an early age those kinds of issues are non-existent because they’ve been working on it together the entire time.”
Enrique Camarena Elementary and John F. Kennedy Elementary will be the STEAM designated schools. These schools will combine STEM and Fine Arts programs for students.
Mary Guerra, the principal at JFK Elementary, said that the combination of STEM and Fine Arts will produce well-rounded students.
“At JFK Elementary, the setting will definitely expose our students not only to higher levels of academia in all areas of STEAM, but will enhance leadership skills that actively engage in 21st century learning,” Guerra said. “Parents and staff together are embarking on this new journey that truly is exciting for everyone.”
Emiliano Zapata Elementary School will be the Fine Arts designated school. It plans to immerse theatre arts, music and visual arts into daily instruction, and increase in-school and community performances, choir ensembles, art clubs, dance groups, video production clubs, theatre groups and instrument ensembles.
Rosa Elia Gonzalez, Zapata Elementary principal, is excited about what an early introduction of fine arts can do for children at the elementary level.
“It’s thrilling to know that students will unveil new
talents and skills and get the opportunity to interact with other children with common interests and goals in the arts,” said Gonzalez. “Upon exiting Zapata
Elementary, they will be ready to succeed in middle and high school performing groups and equipped to conquer the world of fine arts.”
The LJISD Public Relations Office said that a curriculum with arts integrated provides a relief from the standardized test culture and will result in higher test scores. The school hopes to partner with the McAllen Performing Arts Center, and collaborate with middle and high school performing arts students. LJISD intends to incorporate local symphony orchestras, museums and art foundations.