Van Horn Schools to “Avidly lead the way”

By Becky Brewster

Wandering the halls of the Van Horn Schools prior to the start of classes, there was an air of excitement as teachers prepared for the first day of school. The energy level comes from the excitement about new programs CCAISD will be implementing: AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), Project Lead the Way, and Room Transformations. Teachers have spent many hours this summer in training to be able to successfully implement these programs.

Sondra McCoy enthusiastically outlined Project Lead The Way (PLTW) that “empowers students to thrive in an evolving world.” CCAISD will be implementing PLTW in grades K-10. PLTW is a project-based learning curriculum for students covering three pathways: Biomedical Science; Computer Science; and Engineering. This curriculum uses an engineering design approach to learning. McCoy stated she is really excited about PLTW as it ties learning to modules in the three pathways to real-world problems and gives the students hands-on projects to build a foundation of learning. The students learn the concepts and then are given an opportunity to actually apply them.

PLTW Launch will be implemented in grades K-5 where they will be taught from modules in all three pathways. PLTW Gateway will also use the three pathways in grades 6-8. The high school will start with the engineering pathway where all students in grades 9-10 will be required to take an Introduction to Engineering Design class while students in grades 11-12 will have the option to take the class. When students graduate from Van Horn High School in future years, they will leave with a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Endorsement. And those students in grades 9-10 will have the opportunity to graduate with an associate’s degree. McCoy reported that the District has been awarded a $15K grant from Verizon for the computer science program in junior high. To supplement PLTW, VHHS will be having classes in robotics and in aircraft technology with drone certification.

Desirae Brewster provided an overview of AVID explaining that AVID is a program that gives students the skills they need to go out into the world and be successful in college or ready for a career. AVID has a site team of 10 teachers, all of whom will have completed the rigid training requirements by October. The goal is to ultimately get all the teachers to complete the training. AVID will be a required elective class in grades 6-12, with plans to implement the program in K-12 next year. AVID uses a variety of strategies such as WICOR (Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization, and Reading). AVID will also provide strategies in effective note taking and organization and will require twice-per-week tutorials.

Brewster stated that she is passionate about AVID because when she went to college, nobody had told her “how” to survive this unfamiliar world or provided any skills she needed to navigate this new world. AVID prepares students to be successful in college and career.

Sondra McCoy, Director of Academic Programs, is enthused that AVID promotes a “growth mindset that you [the student] can do whatever you want, but it is your responsibility…the sky’s the limit. And we [the educators] will do what we can to support you, but you are responsible for your learning.”

Counselor, Allison Corralez discussed the concept of “Room Transformations.” She noted that her passion is paying attention to what other schools are doing and what makes them successful. She has recommended that the educators at Van Horn Schools read The Wild Card by Hope and Wade King. Room Transformations is a means to make the classroom unpredictable and magical to create excitement and engage the students. Corralez stated that “It is important for students to want to come to school…and enjoy being here.” The concept is used sparingly so as not to become predictable and humdrum. Corralez noted that one teacher “transformed” her room twice last year: once as a crime scene and once as a hospital. Another teacher implemented “glow math games.” These transformations complement the rigor of the lessons and create student excitement. “Nobody likes monotony”, opines Corralez, and room transformations is a way to help get students’ attention.

To sum up the discussion, McCoy stated that educators “are selling knowledge, and to be able to empower your students and get them to buy into [the concept that] knowledge is awesome, you have to present it that way. But you have to be authentic to yourself as a teacher. When you are passionate about what you do, that teaches your kids to be passionate too.