The La Joya Independent School District has been named a recipient of the Texas 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant, funding for which has begun for the 2018-2019 school year.
LJISD is the only district in the Rio Grande Valley to receive this grant for four years. Five other districts in the Valley received the grant, but only for a two-year period.
“We all feel fortunate that our students are being given this opportunity,” said Maria Leal, LJISD Grant Development Coordinator. “We already provide them with a lot of academic support, but this is going to take it to the next level for those ten campuses.”
The grant, offered by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), will provide the district with $1.5 million annually, contingent on availability of funds and the campuses meeting the established performance requirements each year. The money will go toward the creation of Afterschool Centers of Education (ACE) programs.
The ACE programs “will provide after-school programs for more than 2,000 students, which will be a mix of extracurricular and academic clubs such as mariachi, theater, and robotics, amongst others. They will also make tutoring available in core subjects including reading, mathematics, science and social studies,” according to a press release sent out by the district.
The TEA grant was secured by Maria Leal and the Educational Research Institute, the district’s external grant writing and management firm. According to Maria Leal, the writing process of the grant “included collaboration of campus administrators and the staff at participating campuses.”
As per TEA guidelines, the ACE activities began this Tuesday, Sept. 4. Janeth Leal, ACE Director for LJISD, will be working together with 10 ACE campus coordinators (one at each campus) to ensure the performance requirements are met.
“It was a success,” Maria Leal said. “The performance requirements TEA mentions to continue funding are basically making sure that we meet what we said we were going to do with the grant.”
The ACE centers are also required to be running 169 days per year, including summers. The ten campuses in LJISD who are receiving funds from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant are Juarez-Lincoln High School, Ann Richards Middle School, Dr. Javier Saenz Middle School, J.D. Salinas Middle School, Domingo Treviño Middle School, Benavides Elementary, Sam Fordyce Elementary, Seguin Elementary, Tabasco Elementary and Zapata Elementary, all of which now have ACE programs.
In the official press release from LJISD, the goal of the grant program is to “support the implementation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for students, particularly those who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools.”
“We analyzed the data to see which campuses needed the most assistance academically, and focused with the end in mind,” Maria Leal said. “The students are eventually going to end up in high school, and we want to make sure they’re successful in high school.”
Based on internal data gathered by LJISD, they selected the high school they found had the most need, then from there picked four middle schools that feed into that high school. After that, they selected five elementary schools that feed into those middle schools to receive grant funding.
“We’re hoping to make an impact at the high school level, eventually, as these kids move up,” Maria Leal said. “We have students who need academic assistance, and they receive tutoring, but this program is going to give enrichment opportunities in addition to the tutoring. We’re going to be able to offer academic assistance like homework assistance, but also activities that are fun that are also types of curriculum that will help them become successful in school.