Graduations give way to new academic initiatives

Nearly 5,000 El Paso Independent School District seniors received their high-school diplomas last week and I was moved by the positive energy that ruled over each of the 12 ceremonies our administration presided. EPISD graduates showed they are optimistic about their future and ready to tackle the challenges that come after high school.

We can’t sit back and boast about successes, however, without thinking that more work is still left to be done. Certainly, the students who remain with us, as well as those who are yet to enroll in our schools, will have newer and more complex challenges than the ones we’ve sent out into the real world. As educators, we must face those complex challenges and come up with tools to help students succeed.

To that end, EPISD this fall is launching three initiatives that will help us better prepare students for life after high school. These three new programs – EPISD Power Up, New Tech at Irvin and Franklin high schools, and the Mesita Early Childhood Center at Vilas – will help our students become more globally aware; and the strategies that will be used will equip them with the tools to become competitive in workforce that becomes more highly-competitive by the minute.

EPISD Power Up will give our high school students a glimpse into a new way of learning by using digital materials and online strategies — all available via their District-issued laptop. Teachers will now incorporate computer-assisted learning to their lesson plans to guarantee that our students are not just familiar with these new strategies, but that instead they are experts at them.

New Tech is an exciting program we are launching at Irvin and Franklin high schools this fall as schools-within-a-school concepts aimed at giving interested students an opportunity to tackle high school coursework using college level techniques. Students will complete their work using project-based learning, technology, collaboration and critical thinking. In the case of Irvin, the coursework will have a specific focus on science, technology, engineering and math thanks to the schools emphasis on T-STEM.

One of the most innovative collaborations EPISD will launch in the fall is the Mesita Early Childhood Center at Vilas. Thanks to a partnership between the District and the University of Texas at El Paso’s College of Education, the site of the former Vilas Elementary School in Sunset Heights will open as an expansion site of Mesita Elementary School. All pre-kindergarten through first-grade students will be at the Mesita Early Childhood Center, where teachers will have the advantage of being mentored and trained by UTEP professors on the latest early-childhood education pedagogy techniques. This approach should help our students become better learners earlier in their public-school career, which should translate in higher academic performance throughout their lifetime.

As you can see, we will have a busy summer getting ready for new and exciting things coming up in the 2015-16 school year. We know that these and other great initiatives will help make EPISD the District of Choice in El Paso County. I hope we can count on you as partners.