Looking at our Coastal Bend area schools and the innovative programs set in motion to inspire, educate and enrich the lives of our children, it’s apparent South Texas educators are altering the learning landscape, and not just incrementally; they are going big. Dedicated administrators and educators are setting in motion — with intention — programs and projects designed to capture kids’ hearts and minds, and it starts from day one.
An Experiential Adventure
See, touch and experience — that is what The Early Childhood Center (ECC) in Gregory Portland ISD is all about. This innovative educational opportunity for pre-K and kindergarteners, set to open fall of 2024, is designed to give the youngest of students hands-on experiences and prepare them experientially, educationally and emotionally for their futures. “We are so excited to bring this opportunity for the littlest of learners in our community,” explained Robin Rice, director of the Early Childhood Center. “Kids will have the opportunity to learn by doing and experiencing, and that’s how little children learn best.”
With 18 theme-based rooms in the school, all designed with intention to reflect the real world, children will have a chance to go fishing in the Gulf Coast, travel to outer space, experience snow or drive an excavator.
Music to Their Ears
CCSO on the Go, a partnership between the Corpus Christi Symphony Orchestra (CCSO) and area schools sponsored by the Port of Corpus Christi, is about sharing musical moments with Coastal Bend students. Last year, the program reached approximately 1,300 students in 12 schools in Corpus Christi, Ingleside, Taft, Rockport and Aransas Pass school districts.
“We send out CCSO ensembles — brass, woodwind and string — to fifth graders in area schools to engage them in an educational musical experience. They are shown the instruments, are able to touch and feel them, listen to the sounds they make and are introduced to Mozart, Bach and of course, Disney symphonic music,” explained Dennis Richardson, CCSO educational director.
The hope is that some of these young students will decide, as they move up to middle school, to choose an instrument and be a part of the musical experience.
“Music and the arts,” said James Garcia, CCISD fine arts specialist, “belong to the next generation. By bringing kids into this musical experience with CCSO on the Go, we are lighting a light with these kids so they might continue a love and appreciation for music for themselves and for their communities.”
The School Week Re-Imagined
A 4.5-day school week in South Texas … who would have thought? Cissy Reynolds-Perez, Ed.D, superintendent of schools for Kingsville ISD, did; and it’s happening this fall in Kingsville ISD schools.
Students will go to school the same number of days a year, but the schedule will look a bit different. School started two weeks earlier (Jul. 31), giving the district 17-18 additional days off to sprinkle throughout the year. Monday through Thursday, school days will be about 35 to 40 minutes longer; students will have the opportunity to go to school Friday mornings for enrichment opportunities ranging from chess and art to taekwondo and yoga.
Two big pluses are that students can leave school for sports events without worrying about missing class, and no substitutes will be needed for teachers and coaches traveling with their teams. Plus, students will have days available for college visits.
As far as working parent challenges go, the Kingsville community has stepped up in a big way with activities, student scholarships and program support. “Our community,” said Reynolds-Perez, “has made a huge commitment to this new schedule. The outpouring of support has been amazing; it has come from every corner, from the city of Kingsville to the King Ranch to Celanese and The Boys and Girls Club, and the list goes on and on. We don’t know exactly how all of this is going to work, but we have a plan for the first nine weeks, and,” she smiled, “we will adjust as needed.”
Hearts and Minds
A relationship-based, national program, Capturing Kids’ Hearts — initiated in 1990 by psychotherapist Flip Flippen — is designed to create a culture of integrity and mutual respect as students and teachers develop skills to be intentional, relational and high-performing. The program is becoming an integral part of the culture in CCISD.
“With Capturing Kids’ Hearts,” explained Kimberly James, Ed.D., deputy superintendent for CCISD, “students from pre-K through high school enter into a social contract or agreement in which students and teachers agree on how they should treat one another and their peers. As part of that contract, each month schools support a specific theme with students learning and engaging daily in topics such as empathy, respect, responsibility, integrity, courage, teamwork and kindness.”
In the 2021-2022 school year, eight CCISD schools were identified as National Showcase schools within the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program, meaning measurable improvement was reflected in increased attendance and academic performance, fewer discipline referrals and positive changes in school culture — and this year that number increased to 24 schools. James believes that with Capturing Kids’ Hearts in place districtwide, those numbers and those life-changing experiences for students and educators will only continue to grow.