Family Specialist plants over 50th garden in NEISDPosted by Ashley Speller on 3/6/2020
Juan Velasquez is the Family Specialist at Stone Oak Elementary School and Canyon Ridge Elementary School.
For the first week of March, Velasquez invited parents, students and teachers to join him for a campus gardening day.
“We are going to start our spring planting today. We are going to do some strawberries and tomatoes, we are going to do jalapenos, squash, bell peppers,” he said.
It’s vital to teach children about vegetables at an early age so they grow up loving them.
“Vegetables are so nutritious to prevent chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart vascular disease,” he explained.
Velasquez is also a Certified Master Gardener with Bexar County and has planted about fifty-six gardens in NEISD since 2016.
“We’ve done studies where we’ve seen kids that have consumed vegetables when they grow them. They have a tendency to want to taste them when they grow them so that’s really what the message is here,” he added.
One student tasted a lemon balm leaf from the garden and enjoyed it.
Velasquez also gave out bags of seeds that the kids could take home.
Nine-year-old Gabriel Gutierrez, a student at Stone Oak and a Boy Scout, was helping out too.
“We’re planting flower, we’re planting cucumbers, and we’re planting tomatoes,” he said.
Gabriel said he enjoyed working with other kids in the garden.
“For one reason, it’s healthy for the earth and two, it gives me time to spend with my favorite friends and my brother and sisters,” he explained.
Seven-year-old Jenna Gossett also wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.
“Because it’s going to make it prettier,” she smiled.
Mr. Velasquez also developed a ten-week curriculum around the new garden and additionally, there will be a weekly gardening class after school from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. that families to join.
“One of our first lessons we are going to be doing is planting worms out here with the kids and teaching them about insects-good insects and bad insects,” he said.
There will also be a farm-to-table experience too.
“Our goal is that once the vegetables are grown, we are going to do a cooking lesson and teach them to make different recipes,” Velasquez added.
He hopes that sharing his passion inspires families to start their own gardens at home and encourage life-long learning along the way.
“This is something that I have a passion for. it’s not something I was asked to do. I feel it’s important for me to do this; for me to have the knowledge and be able to feed that into the kids and be able to teach the parents on how easy it is.”
There is also another new community garden currently being added to NEISD at Canyon Ridge Elementary School.
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‘Coding is shaping our future’ | DATA students teach elementary kids how to codePosted by Ashley Speller on 3/5/2020
Young minds were buzzing in this classroom at Camelot Elementary School.
Thirteen-year-old Luke Williams is one of several students from the Design and Technology Academy (DATA) at Ed White Middle School who travels to different elementary campuses to teach kids how to code.
“Coding is shaping our future, it’s a code of instructions that tells a computer what to do,” the seventh-grader said.
He said in the most recent lesson, they were learning about conditional statements.
“What that is basically a true or false. If the weather is rainy, then I take an umbrella. If I didn’t do my homework, then I better do it or I’m going to get in trouble,” he explained.
Victor Cantu is a fifth-grader at Camelot and stays after school to improve his skills with help from the DATA coder pals and the local non-profit called Youth Code Jam.
“I’ve been coding since I was in fourth grade when the Coding Club came out. They help me like if you have problems,” the eleven-year-old said.
With technology advancing more and more every day, knowing how to code can help lead students toward higher paying careers in the future.
“Having the technological skills under your belt is really good because it gives you lots of job options that you can have,” Luke said.
He said he wants the elementary students to know that they can always rely on their friends at the Design and Technology Academy (DATA).
“Middle school can be a tough time and a tough transition but coming to Coding Club gives kids a chance to make new friends, get a familiar face so that when they transition to middle school, they can have someone there. It makes it so much easier,” he said.
To learn more about the Design and Technology Academy magnet program housed at Ed White Middle School, click here: https://www.neisd.net/Page/27130
To learn more about Youth Code Jam, click here: https://www.youthcodejam.org/
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Passionate teacher shares love of mariachi music with studentsPosted by Ashley Speller on 3/4/2020
With ornate buttons, colorful stitching and custom bows, the traditional dress worn by mariachi musicians represents Mexican culture through song.
Diamantina Luna has been teaching orchestra and mariachi at Wood for seven years.
Luna is a classically-trained violinist and the force behind the mariachi program.
She said her students really feel something special when they wear their traditional outfit.
“All of a sudden like this proud moment of I’m wearing my ‘traje’ and they get the acknowledgement from their teachers and I think that’s really special,” she said.
The program is an important part of the campus and a reflection of San Antonio’s vibrant culture.
“I think it’s really special here at Wood because a lot of our students are Spanish-speakers or second-language learners and I think this really helps bring in their culture,” she said.
Twelve-year old Maritza Torres described mariachi music as ‘energetic.’
She and the other musical students enjoy performing on and off campus.
“We’ve done a lot of performances this year. We’ve performed for the janitors, just like little things like that,” the seventh-grader said.
Ms. Luna said her mariachi students learn performance, coordination, math and reading.
They also are learning a skillset that will help them earn some extra cash.
“I tell them ‘if you are a good ‘guitarron’ player, you’re going to have money because they are going to ask for you to come play.
She said a lot of professionals in the adult world still do mariachi performances on their days off.
Even if it’s not your profession, like it’s not what you choose to do as your career, music is something you can do and definitely make a living out of it,” Luna explained.
Thirteen-year-old Carlos Echavarria hopes to be an engineer one day but also has a passion for mariachi music.
“I wanted to learn how to play ‘la vihuela’ and I wanted to sing,” the thirteen-year-old said.
Echavarria said he is thankful to Ms. Luna who has been instrumental in helping build upon his talent and confidence.
“Ms. Luna is very nice, she has helped us to learn how to play because I didn’t know how to play and she teaches really good,” he added.
“You just keep going; you never stop. That’s something I try to teach my kids and just seeing how much joy music brings to me on the daily, it’s helps me get through some of the hardest things to my life,” Luna said while wiping away tears.
Ms. Luna still performs mariachi music on the weekends and hopes her students always remember that they too, can always rely on the music.
“Always take the music. On days that you don’t feel good, grab your instrument and play whether you pursue it or not like I did, just do it.”
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One of the only schools in the U.S. with an olive orchard right here in NEISDPosted by Ashley Speller on 3/3/2020
Mark McIntyre is one of several students tending to a special area at Tejeda Middle School.
“Today, we are trimming the olive trees,” he said.
Casey Canion is a sixth-grade social studies teacher at Tejeda who was also pruning the olive branches.
“We are on History Hill right now; it is an area located back behind the school,” she said.
History Hill is an outdoor learning area filled with pavilions, historical relics, and more than eighty olive trees.
“I’ve done research and I can’t find any other school in the United States with an olive orchard,” Canion said.
She is also one of the sponsors for The Young Historians Club comprised of sixth, seventh, and eighth-graders who take care of ‘the hill.’
“Young historians is a club where we revisit history through different activities, reenactments, and even living history where we can engage and they will engage back,” Mark said.
“Picking olives with the kids, you start having conversations that you can’t really have in the classroom because in the classroom you are busy doing other things. I start asking them questions and they start asking me questions and we really get to know each other,” Canion explained.
Mark said he enjoys taking care of the olive orchard and hopes to become a meteorologist one day.
He uses his knowledge of weather patterns to garden.
“When you can find the perfect days to go outside and weed or water or even harvest then you can get the most benefit out of it,” he added.
“Our olive trees are from different countries like Tunisia in North Africa, Italy, Greece, Spain- in the Mediterranean region. Our climate is pretty close, so the soil and rockiness is pretty close so they have just done very well up here,” Canion said.
The Young Historians hope for a plentiful harvest this September where they will pick and send the olives south to the Sandy Oaks Orchard to be pressed into olive oil.
“We get paid per pound for the olives and then the money that we make goes back into History Hill. We buy more olive trees. There are multiple things up on History Hill that the Young Historians have paid for,” Canion explained.
Two years ago, they harvested about 750 pounds and the most they’ve ever done is 1000 pounds.
With an innovative greenspace for outdoor education, Tejeda Middle School is a place students are excited to be.
“Olive picking is a lot of fun; we have an annual History Faire which is what the whole club is centered around so it’s always fun to help out,” Mark added.
Canion said it brings her joy to see the kids harvesting.
“I love being a part of that every year.”
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‘Bilingual Buddies’ discover Dr. Seuss in collaborative classroomPosted by Ashley Speller on 3/2/2020
Dr. Seuss is a beloved author familiar to children all over the world and in one classroom at East Terrell Hills Elementary, the story about ‘The Cat in the Hat’ was being told in two languages.
Valeria Garcia is one of third-grade bilingual teachers on campus.
“They know how important it is to learn two languages. They tell me ‘teacher, I have more friends, I can help my mom when we go to the store,’” Garcia said.
Her students joined pre-K bilingual teacher Yirarda Lopez for Bilingual Buddies Day.
“Bilingual Buddies is where we bring both classes together and do an activity between the two groups that way the kids get to know each other and since the third-graders are a little bit older, they can help my pre-k children do the activities,” Lopez explained.
Both of the teachers have been teaching at school for only two months and were personally recruited from the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley by the school principal who said he believes they represent the future of the District and the Dual Language program.
Lopez said she has always wanted to be a teacher so children had someone they could turn to because when she was growing up, she faced more difficulties in the classroom.
“Spanish was my first language and unfortunately when I was growing up, I didn’t have the support that was available to the students today. A lot of the teachers didn’t know Spanish so I always struggled. I really think it’s really great that we have this Dual-Language program so we get the children to learn, read, and write in English and Spanish,” Lopez said.
Ms. Garcia and Ms. Lopez have only been teaching at East Terrell Hills Elementary for just a few months but said the school and the community have welcomed them with open arms.
“I come from the valley; Brownsville is very small city. Coming to San Antonio has been a culture shock, but there is a lot of diversity which I love,” Garcia said.
The teachers said they love North East ISD and their school.
“There is a lot of support,” Garcia added.
Eight-year-old Kimberly Puente loves when it’s Bilingual Buddies Day so she can help students like five-year old Valentina Castruita.
She said she thinks it’s important because she is older and can help the little ones with their work if they don’t know how to do it.
Both Valentina and Kimberly said they want to be doctors when they grow up.
Ms. Lopez said they will already have an advantage in the career field.
“It opens many more doors for the students. They are going to be ahead. They are going to learn not only English but they are going to know Spanish. They are also not only just going to know it, but they are going to be proficient at it which is what we are working on doing here at the school,” Lopez explained.
NEISD offers the Dual Language program model at sixteen elementary schools, five middle schools, and one high school.
Both teachers said being a part of such an important program is something they are proud of.
“The truth is, being a bilingual teacher has been incredible. I don’t have family in San Antonio, I don’t have kids so basically, they are like my family. Sometimes as a teacher you wonder if you are doing enough but when you start seeing that growth, sometimes in just a few days, it’s just an incomparable feeling,” Garcia said.
To learn more about the Dual Language program in NEISD, click here: https://www.neisd.net/duallanguage
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Teacher forms ‘Birdie’s Closet’ to help students in needPosted by Ashley Speller on 2/28/2020
*Editors note: The article has been updated to reflect the partnership efforts between Family Specialist Ramon Ramirez and teacher Vanessa Kerr who both made Birdie's Closet possible.
Second-grade teacher Vanessa Kerr spent part of her morning organizing a closet that she holds close to her heart.
The room is home to Birdie’s Closet at Royal Ridge Elementary School.
The walls are decorated with charming lights and words of encouragement.
The shelves are filled with clothes, shoes, undergarments and snacks that are all free for kids who need it most.
“There’s personal items like deodorants and toothbrushes, shoes and a few winter items that were actually knitted by one of our volunteers that comes here,” she explained.
This is Kerr’s first year at Royal Ridge and was previously at Hardy Oak Elementary.
“I think as an educator, I realized quickly that the heaviest load that kids are carrying is not in their backpacks. It’s not having a snack; it’s not having shoes that fit. They carry all of that with them and it’s hard to learn,” she said.
Kerr said the idea to form a space like this came about after a conversation with her grandparents Daniel and Mary Cretaro who are 87 and 90 years old.
Mrs. Cretaro, who lives only a few streets away from the school, was surprised to hear about the position of a Family Specialist and why there is a necessity to have them there for the kids.
“I think she was shocked to hear that there are students right in her backyard that are in need so just spawned into this idea of ‘how can we help and what can we do,’” Kerr explained.
Mr. and Mrs. Cretaro gave Kerr a donation and Birdie’s Closet,’ a space filled with new and like-new items for students was born.
“My grandmother has gone by the name Birdie since she was 9 months old. She would flap her arms when she wanted to walk and that’s why I wanted to call it Birdie’s Closet in her honor,” Kerr added.
Kerr partnered with Family Specialist Ramon Ramirez to make it all happen.
This is also Ramon's first year and has played an active role in the closet.
Ramon will be servicing the students and maintaining Birdie's Closet, which is in his classroom, daily.
"This is his first year in the role and he's done a great job taking the initative to help families in the community," NEISD's Family Engagement Liasion Araceli Dominguez said.
Eight-year-old Amelia Oeffinger is one of Kerr’s students.
She said her teacher, who was just nominated as campus teacher of the year, is an inspiration.
“I think it’s really cool because people who don’t have anything can just walk around in there and get something for themselves,” she said.
Amelia is happy to see so much love shared at her school.
“I would say ‘hey, you might not have shoes that fit, you should go down to Birdie’s Closet, because they do,” Amelia said.
The community has rallied Kerr’s project.
One couple at Costco even gave her $40 after hearing about it.
“I have a friend that works at Hardy Oak, Ashley. Her daughter Harper went through her closet and pulled out a lot of clothes she had never worn also some that was like-new as part of a service project. She spent hours organizing the clothes and sent them to me,” Kerr said.
She said she’s thankful to be surrounded by people who care.
“Royal Ridge is an amazing school and just from being here half of a year-this is my first year here- everyone has been so welcoming. Not just the staff and the administration but also the community and the students,” Kerr added.
Just like the North East Clothes Closet that’s open to all NEISD families in need, this is just one more way NEISD is stepping in to make a difference.
“She’s helping us learn different things to help change the world and she is helping her family change the world too,” Amelia said.For information on how to donate to Birdie’s Closet, please contact Royal Ridge Elementary at 210-407-7000.
To learn more about the NEISD Clothes Closet, click here: https://www.neisd.net/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&DomainID=4&ModuleInstanceID=21391&ViewID=6446EE88-D30C-497E-9316-3F8874B3E108&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=137573&PageID=1
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‘It’s all of our history’ | NEISD celebrates Black History MonthPosted by Ashley Speller on 2/27/2020
The sweet sound of music echoed in the library at Camelot Elementary School.
The storytelling room on campus was converted into a pop-up museum.
Students come in to hear the music, answer trivia questions, and pick up a book.
“I think the music is what draws them in here,” school librarian Yolanda Benavides said.
The walls were filled with trivia and posters celebrating the extraordinary people of our time.
Wilma Payne has been the principal of Camelot Elementary for ten years. She was previously a teacher on campus as well for eleven years.
She said the books in the museum help students recognize the great contributions made by African Americans in our country.
“Black history is important because it’s all of our history,” she said.
As an African American woman herself, she is a shining example of a role model for the students around her.
“Black history represents a great majority of our kids that are here at Camelot Elementary School. I’ve had the privilege of working at Camelot over 21 years and being an African American principal, I feel that I can be a role model to a lot of our students that are here,” she said.
Benavides said she enjoyed playing a variety of music for the kids.
“We have Ella Fitzgerald over here; we have Louie Armstrong; we have Marion Sanderson, the first African American woman that sang at the Met Opera,” she explained.
She said she likes when the students gravitate towards the biography novels.
“I’m a big advocate on students reading biographies because a lot of times they can connect and say ‘well they didn’t have that perfect life but look at where they are at.’ How they reacted to the adversities in their lives and rose above them,” she said.
Third-graders Elijah and Sha’Myah grabbed books about LeBron James and Barack Obama and then answered questions about some of the more historical figures.
“I will not give up my seat, what Civil Rights’ activist am I? You are Rosa Parks,” 10-year-old Elijah said.
“Since I wasn’t born when they had the Civil Rights, it’s really important to know about people’s history and we can learn about people who did nice things for our country,” Sha’Myah added.
“I’ve learned about Martin Luther King; I learned about Frederick Douglass; I learned about Harriet Tubman,” Elijah explained.
It’s a reflection, old and new, to educate our next generation of leaders.
“It’s a way for them to think about their own lives and where they are going. What great role models in these notable people that have made a difference,” Benavides said.
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High school students give up their evenings to tutor middle schoolersPosted by Ashley Speller on 2/26/2020
Seventeen-year-old Maria Rivera Garcia volunteered her time tutoring students in the Harris Middle School library.
She’s one of several students from Madison high school who offers to help struggling students during a campus event called the ‘Supper Club,’ held once every grading period.
Students RSVP to the event which is held in the evening from 3:30-7:30 p.m.
“I think it’s important because we are helping the students be more encouraged and have help outside of their classroom. So, if they are not feeling well in their class, they can always rely on us to help them through it,” Garcia said.
The afterschool tutoring session was crafted by Harris Middle School’s Academic Dean of Curriculum and Instruction, Jamie Duderstadt.
Duderstadt has been at Harris for six years and in education for sixteen years.
They have pencils, they’ve got computers, but more importantly we’re paired up with Madison who send their kids to come and help. We even have college tutors here that have graduated from Madison and they keep coming back,” she explained.
One of the students from Madison High School also volunteered his time for two hours before a soccer game that same night.
Retired teachers like Mr. Norm Goldberg also made sure to attend the event and help out.
Eleven-year-old Ava Villarreal was catching up on her Social Studies and Science during the Supper Club.
She said she appreciated the tutors who volunteered their evening to be here.
“I like how they are still in high school and they are still learning so we can relate to more stuff,” the sixth-grader said.
Tutor Maria is a former Harris Hawk herself and hopes to be a pediatric nurse one day because she’s always had a passion for helping young children.
She said the interpersonal skills she is getting from helping to tutor kids will ultimately help her in the future.
“I’m glad to be back and have the opportunity to help other students out,” the high school senior said.
Because helping one another is what it’s all about, Ms. Duderstadt said.
“When I chose teaching, it was really important to me to make a difference for every single kid. for the kids who are high-performing, for the kids who are in the middle of the road, and the kids especially who are having a really tough time right now. If I can pull them up by their bootstraps, I’m going to do it,” the former Eisenhower student said.
She said the parents are also thankful to be part of a community that cares about each and every student.
During the Supper Club, the PTA board members wait for and set up pizza for the kids.
“It’s truly a labor of love,” Harris High School Principal Jeremi Niehoff said.
“Bringing in the Madison people, PTA brings all the pizza and they pay for it, we have a lot of support. I really like the community feel that it’s become. It started out like let’s make sure none of these kids fall between the cracks and now it has become something much more,” Ms. Duderstadt said.
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Visually-impaired student defies the odds and learns how to play footballPosted by Ashley Speller on 2/25/2020
With the sun beaming down on the blacktop at Bulverde Creek Elementary, fifth-grade students are excited and eager to play some ball.
Ruben Arce is the Special Education teacher on campus and said the afternoon game was a special one.
“This is a football game that’s facilitating the needs of a very specific student with a visual impairment,” he said.
That student is eleven-year-old Mason Flemmons who suffers from a vision impairment.
“Sometimes I feel like things are blurry and I sometimes feel like things are not blurry sometimes,” the fifth-grader explained.
His dream has always been to learn how to play football.
With the help of Mason’s teachers and classmates who have fostered a nurturing and welcoming environment, that dream has come to pass.
“The first move is just keep running and if you accidentally fall down, get back up,” he said.
“Mason has been taught the basics of football, the basics of catching a ball, the mechanics of throwing the ball as well,” Arce said.
Emily Bellamy is Mason’s general education fifth-grade teacher and she’s seen a lot of progress from the first day of school to now.
“Mason came in at the beginning of the year quiet and a little reserved and as the year has gone on and he’s learned things like playing football, it’s boosted his confidence in the classroom so much. He’s made so many friends this year; he has so many friends that back him up on a daily basis,” Bellamy said.
Mason has a few touchdown plays already under his belt and hopes to become a professional football player one day.
“It makes me excited; I feel happy when I make a touchdown too,” he added.
“Mason learning how to play football just shows that anybody can really do anything they set their mind to. Visually-impaired or not, all it takes is a goal or a dream, practice, and people that support you and believe in you. He is the prime example that anybody can literally do anything,” Bellamy said.
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Retired seniors get tech-savvy in NEISD classPosted by Ashley Speller on 2/24/2020
The computer lab was packed at NEISD’s Academy of Learning in Retirement (ALIR) led by instructor Sylvia Braye.
Braye teaches a Beginning Computer class to seniors between the age of 50 and 90 years old.
“I started off with the mouse because sometimes they don’t even know what a mouse is,” she said.
ALIR Students like 89-year-old Gus Hahn and 79-year-old David Stolp learned computer basics like how to use a keyboard, a mouse and how to copy and paste.
“It’s starting at ground zero,” Stolp joked.
Braye said she tries to put the students at ease.
“If they learned how to drive, they can learn the computer. The computer is not going to move like the car,” Braye said.
“It’s easy to do once you learn the steps, but I was trying to apply it to what I need at home,” Hahn said.
Ms. Braye said that new technology can sometimes be intimidating for many of the older adults.
“I just tell them that if you want to keep up with your kids you better do it,” she said.
The seniors choose to move forward with technology instead of being left behind.
72-year-old Juliana Strain-Davis taught math at Roosevelt High School for 31 years.
The former North East educator is still learning every day, thanks to ALIR.
She said a lot has changed since her days in school.
“When I grew up, we didn’t have calculators at all. I went through college and majored in math without a calculator,” Strain-Davis added.
She plans to use what she is learning in practical ways.
“I want to be able to use the computer efficiently and not give away all of my personal information accidentally,” she laughs.
From typewriters to computers to smartphones, these seniors said they’re ready to take on technology.
“Don’t give up; don’t give up,” Braye said.
To learn more about the Academy of Learning in Retirement (ALIR), click here: https://www.neisd.net/Page/875
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