Category: Blog

McAllen ISD grad gets head start on medical career thanks to dual enrollment

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Like many 19 year olds, Jazmin Miranda is a college student. Unlike most people her age though, she is already a college senior. “I graduated both from South Texas College and from high school,” Miranda said.


She earned both her high school diploma and her Associate’s Degree at the same time by going through McAllen ISD’s Achieve Early College High School. It’s a vehicle that focuses high school students on picking up college credit and even using college resources through a partnership with South Texas College.


Students in McAllen ISD’s high schools have multiple avenues to pick up college credit. These include dual enrollment, Advanced Placement testing, the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, specialized academies in medicine, computers and engineering plus concurrent enrollment. In fact, the class of 2014 collectively earned 15,800 college credit hours, Associate’s Degrees, professional licenses and certifications. The college credit translates into a savings for families of about $4.7 million in tuition costs (based on UT Austin data). At McAllen ISD’s Achieve ECHS, graduates earned 80 Associate’s Degrees – all college expenses paid for.


Jazmin herself graduated with 73 college credit hours – more than enough for her Associate’s Degree in biology. Now studying at the University of Texas Pan American, Jazmin is the first in her family to attend college. She wants to help others, something she has wanted since she was a child. “I just knew I always wanted to do something in the medical field, either to be a physician, an assistant, a nurse or something” Miranda said. “It was mainly to help people. My mom always taught me to help others.”


Jazmin recalls her A-plus moment in eighth grade at McAllen’s Morris Middle School when her counselor told her some good news. “It would have to be when I was accepted at Achieve Early College High School,” she said. “I knew since the very beginning I wanted to go to college and I always thought I was going to take four years to get a bachelor’s degree. But when this school opened up and offered free college, which I greatly appreciate now that I’m at the university, it really helped make my dreams come true. I’ve learned so much and grown as a human being as well.”


McAllen ISD’s program also took care of her books and tuition. Some textbooks can run above $200. “To get two free years at McAllen ISD paid for and everything is just a really great opportunity for young kids,” she said. Now, she is on the cusp of graduating college and moving into a career in medicine.


“I’m currently a senior at Texas-Pan American,” she said. “I need about one more year until I get my bachelor’s in biology towards the pre-medical field. I plan to apply at the medical school that is opening up at Texas-Pan American in fall 2016. I’m also planning to apply for their physician assistant program which is really good.”


A student saw her dream crystallize at a young age and is now making it into a reality. “Go for what you want,” she advises. “If you are dedicated and you put your mind to it, you will always get there.”


To learn more about McAllen ISD’s programs and opportunities, contact the Office of Advanced Academics at 956-618-6059.

Harlingen Opens Internet Cafes at high schools

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Internet Cafés and their accompanying digital lounge areas are designed to provide high school students with an outlet to access technology-rich resources

What prompted your district to create this program?


Our district acknowledges and understands that technology is incorporated into education to enhance rather than over shadow highly effective teaching. Our Internet Cafés were developed with the focus to offer students a technology rich (computers, iPads, and Nooks) and a productive work environment with additional printing resources during, before and after school hours. The environment was designed to be similar to the ones offered at colleges and universities to provide students with similar experience. Another reasoning behind the launch was to encourage our students to enter our campus libraries or Information Literacy Centers, ILCs. Along with our students, this initiative would allow our teachers to have an environment to try our new digital devices in efforts to increase usage in the classroom.


How did this program provide solutions?


Our Internet Cafés and their accompanying digital lounge areas were designed to provide high school students with an outlet to access technology-rich resources and serve as a drawing card to attract new users (both teachers and students) to the ILC environment and its services. To accommodate our students’ availability, the Cafes’ hours were extended to before and after school to address the needs of our students. The Cafés were opened last spring in two of our comprehensive high schools, and with the opening of our new Dr. Abraham P. Cano Freshman Academy, the third Internet Café was opened this fall. This partnership took advantage of two departments and their unique strengths. The district’s Child Nutrition Department manages the food and drink portion to ensure that the Cafés offerings are in compliance with nutrition guidelines.  The Library Services Department manages the print and digital resources the Cafés offer. Overall, the solutions were offered by utilizing the district’s growing digital initiatives and our existing departments and offerings.


What was your Board’s leadership role in this program?


Our Board of Trustees was instrumental in the development of the Internet Cafés as they supported the initiative and were frequently consulted for their ideas and input. They reviewed presentations and the logistics of the Café, which included its layout, hours of operation and the services provided. After the Cafés opening, the Board remained dedicated to their support and has frequently referenced the Cafés when discussing the pieces of our district’s transformation. Their support continues as they have used two of our Cafés as meeting sites for discussing district initiatives.


Please describe the results of your program.


The launch was met with great support from our students and staff. Our Library Media Specialists saw an immediate growth of our student population during and after school hours, and increased usage of ILC resources. Teachers also utilized the space to conduct lessons and offer their students an innovative way to engage work. Our community was very supportive and local media offered positive coverage on multiple occasions.

Q & A with Region ONE’s Dr. Cornelio Gonzalez

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Dr. Cornelio Gonzalez is the Executive Director of Region One Education Service Center and serves under the leadership of the Board of Directors made up by seven board members representing school districts in the seven counties served by Region One ESC, and one board member representing the charter schools in the same Region of Texas. Region One provides educational support services to thirty seven school districts and ten charter school systems in the southernmost part of Texas from Point Isabel to Laredo, Texas. “My goal as the Executive Director of the Region One ESC is to unite all public schools in a search for educational excellence and to tailor the services provided by our ESC to meet the needs of all students and all public schools in deep South Texas through innovation and a process of continuous improvement,” said Dr. Gonzalez.


What inspired you to pursue a career in education?

I was inspired by my parents and by my teachers.   My parents wanted me to follow a career that would be beneficial to me and others, and my teachers inspired me as role models and persons that I admired and wanted to imitate.


What inspires you?

I am inspired by student needs.  I want to impact as many lives as possible, and I see in education the opportunity to make a difference.  I have been an educator for many years, and I have come to understand many of the needs our students have.  I am inspired to help them dream great dreams and make those dreams a reality.


How do the Regional Service Centers work and how does Region One fit into the bigger picture?

Education Service Centers in Texas were created to provide support to school districts.  Originally, their only function was to warehouse and distribute multimedia tools needed by schools, but very soon the state of Texas realized that ESC’s could provide outstanding assistance to school districts in every aspect of school administration.  The role of ESC’s was expanded to focus on three priorities: to assist school districts in improving student performance; to enable school districts to operate more efficiently and economically, and to implement initiatives assigned by the state legislature or the commissioner of Education.  Region One ESC is proud to provide service to 37 school districts and 10 charter school systems in an area that encompasses seven counties including: Cameron, Willacy, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb, Jim Hogg and Zapata.  Directly or indirectly Region One ESC serves 422,000 students in one of the fastest growing areas of the state, and we are very proud to be of service to our schools.


What are some new and innovative initiatives happening at Region One?

I am very proud of our Region One staff.  They are very committed to continuously improving the organization by continuously improving their own capacity and professional skill.  Our staff is always researching for better ways to serve our schools.  They look for innovative strategies that are being implemented around the state and around the nation and they travel to find out what they are, and to learn about these new strategies so they can bring them back to our Region.  Our staff goes to get trained in other parts of the country every year or they bring back researchers, college professors, and educational specialists to provide training to them here.  This process of continuously searching for new and better ways to educate students enables our staff to be highly qualified to provide the best possible professional development to educators across Region One.


What does the future of Region One look like?

The future looks very promising.  The goal of Region One ESC is to serve our schools; every time the needs of our school districts grow and change, Region One has an opportunity to help them by providing guidance and support so that they may easily and quickly adapt to the circumstances.  Our role is to always be ready and always be prepared to come to the aid of our schools.  Education is in constant evolution.  Change is an inevitable reality in our schools, and Education Service Centers are the most effective system that can help educators by providing professional development, administrative support and technology support.


What changes have you implemented over the past year?  What has been a highlight of your tenure thus far?

My first objective on the job was to strengthen the unity of the school districts and charter schools we serve.  Region One has always been characterized by a strong feeling of unity.  This unity has enabled school districts to collaborate and work together in the pursuit of higher and better performance for the benefit of our students.  In order to be effective and efficient, school districts need to identify all the possible ways they can work together to reduce costs, increase effectiveness and increase productivity, and Region One is the link that makes the unity and collaboration possible.  During my short tenure I have prioritized promoting the unity of our Region because, in the long run, collaboration will do a lot more benefit to our school districts than competition.  Region One is the only ESC in the state with an Extension Office that provides support to an area that is distant from its Central location.  Our Extension Office in Laredo has proven over the years to be an outstanding success and a practice worthy to be imitated.  For that reason, one of my first decisions was to open UP anther Extension Office in Brownsville so we may provide a higher level of support throughout the entire Region. With strong and effective unity Region One can lead our school districts in our efforts to improve student academic achievement, eliminate the performance gap between student groups, and increase the opportunities to access higher education for all students.  We are very proud of our collaborative work with institutions of higher education.  We have worked closely with the University of Texas Pan-American, University of Texas at Brownsville, TSTC, South Texas College, Texas Southmost College, Texas A&M International University, and Laredo Community College in the development of College Prep courses that will be utilized throughout Region One, and we have strengthened our partnerships with important community service groups such as Educate Texas, Texas Valley Communities Foundation, RGV Focus and RGV LEAD in projects that promote the creation and of implementation of Early College High Schools, STEM Academies, Dropout Recovery Programs and other initiatives that focus on increasing opportunities for students to access higher education.


What has been one of the most recent and significant changes to education in the RGV and how is Region One managing the change(s)?

The unification of the Texas-Pan American University with the University of Texas at Brownsville may be one of the most exciting events in education  in the history of our Region.  For the first time in our history, our students will have access to a first class university that is connected to our culture and to our people.  This is an opportunity that we cannot let go by.  Region One ESC is working in collaboration with all our school districts to make sure that our students will be ready to take advantage of this great opportunity.  We know that higher education will open doors of opportunity for our students and we want all of them to walk through those doors and enjoy a better life.

McAllen ISD PE Coordinator recognized by state

 Pictured, Reyna (left) receives his award from TAHPERD President Dr. Henry Ross of Texas A&M University-Commerce.

Pictured, Reyna (left) receives his award from TAHPERD President Dr. Henry Ross of Texas A&M University-Commerce.

Mario Reyna, Health & PE Coordinator for McAllen ISD, received a special award from a state organization Dec. 6 in Galveston. The Texas Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (TAHPERD) recognized Reyna as the 2014 K-12 Administrator of the Year. Pictured, Reyna (left) receives his award from TAHPERD President Dr. Henry Ross of Texas A&M University-Commerce.


The award honors “individuals (who) exemplify the highest standards in accomplishment and innovation, and in strong and vigorous leadership,” according to TAHPERD.


Reyna’s relentless support of the Let’s Move! Active Schools initiative and advocacy efforts prompted an invitation to the White House by First Lady Michelle Obama in February 2014. A few weeks later, former First Lady Hillary Clinton applauded McAllen ISD for its efforts in the Let’s Move! Active Schools and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation initiatives.


Under his direction, McAllen ISD has become the only district in the United States with 100 percent of campuses earning the Let’s Move! Active Schools Recognition Award . Reyna’s recruitment of the City of McAllen as a Let’s Move! City has paid off – the city earned four Let’s Move! Gold medals. Reyna organized and hosted the Let’s Move! McAllen Pep Rally that attracted 5,500 participants in September 2014. He is currently serving as the Texas Let’s Move! Active Schools Co-Coordinator.


In 2012, he secured $1.9 million from the Carol M. White Physical Education Program grant. For ten years, he managed the After-School Enrichment Program where he procured more than $4.5 million.


In 2010, Reyna became the first Hispanic  to serve as president of TAHPERD. His awards include: 2006 Texas AHPERD Honor; 2014 AAHPERD Southern District Ethnic Minority; and 2014 Texas AHPERD K-12 Administrator of the Year.


He earned his Master of Education from the University of Texas-Pan American in 1990 and has worked at McAllen ISD for 34 years – fourteen in an administrative role.


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