Marcos Flores | Occupation: Teacher and IB Coordinator at South Texas Business, Education & Technology Academy | Location: Edinburg
How do you fit into STISD?
STISD looks not just to educate on an intellectual level, but they look to teach to their mind and their spirit as well. That is one of the jobs of a teacher - not just to prepare students for the world at an intellectual level, but to prepare them for the world from an emotional and personal level. That is something that I take great pride in. There is much emphasis on not just teaching students content, but teaching them how to learn, and that has been a recurring message throughout this district and our sister schools. That is my idea of how I fit into this equation at STISD. It’s not just teaching kids content, but teaching them how to learn, what questions to ask, and that there will always be more and to be lifelong learners after high school, college and well into their careers.
Why is that so important that they learn how to learn?
Learning how to learn is something we take for granted. We often think we have a degree, and we know everything we need to to be successful, but a truly successful individual realizes that there is much more to what it is they thought they already knew. They know what questions to ask, and as long as these students are asking questions, and as long as we are cultivating that within this district, it’s going to spread, and that’s one of the ways you start to foster open-mindedness and real positive change in the world, and I believe STISD does a great job in doing that.
Talk about the culture here at STISD and the environment.
I think the culture is very much like an extended family. We are a small district and we have small schools, but we have great schools and students, and I think that our size works to our advantage because we get to know the kids on a one-to-one level. We don’t have any students that get lost in a sea of students. Every single student is an extension of our own families at home, and their families by extension are extensions of that as well. I think that when you’ve created that atmosphere and that bond, it’s very difficult to fail at that point because you have not just a strong support system at home, but you have a strong support system in the school system as well.
Why do you want your daughters to be a part of STISD?
When I thought about a junior high for my daughter, I sat down and reflected on what I valued as a parent. All the things I value as a parent, my colleagues value within their profession. I knew that when I brought my daughter to school, I knew she would be in good hands, and knew that when she walked into a teacher’s room they weren’t going to see just a student walking in; they would stop and ask themselves, “How do I want my kid treated at this moment?” and that’s the attitude and the perception we all have here at STISD.
When a student walks into our room, I would like to say we are trained to do it, but we’re not, it’s just the culture. It’s something that we have just empathetically as far as looking at a student and figuring out how exactly would I want my son or daughter treated right now, and that’s what we do moving forward, and that is what fuels not just our instruction, but our interaction with the students in the hallways, in the cafeteria, before school and after school. It really does help to build that sense of family within this district.
Alexander Alquiza | Occupation: Student at STISD | Campus: South Texas High School for Health Professions (Med High) | Location: Mercedes | Hometown: Mission
What would you say is your favorite part of attending school at South Texas ISD?
STISD provides an opportunity for everyone no matter where you live. Students come from different places - no matter what your financial background is, what your race is, or what you think you are. If you have the willingness to put yourself out there and dedicate your time. I think that is one of the most important things this district has taught me since the 7th-grade. If you are willing to put in the time that you work on, you will be very successful. Not only do the teachers but the students push you to be the best person you can be. I can personally say that without my friends and competitors - even though some that are higher ranked than me - I appreciate them for all that they do because without them and the teachers, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today.
You previously mentioned the greatest difference within our district is the people. Can you expand on that?
In elementary I went to a different district and my experience there was not really having to apply myself. There was no self-application, no extra work. Everyone kept saying you are really smart. You can go anywhere you want. You can do whatever you want. And I started to feel that way, and got this ‘I’m so good’ attitude. Coming to STISD brought me back down to earth. I didn’t want to be too high on myself because I realized that at the other district I was just considered better because I put just a little more effort. They didn’t see that. They just thought it was all natural. When I came to STISD in middle school, I started with a good attitude thinking I was going to sweep it and do really well without any challenges, and then I started meeting so many smart people, that were also really cool with so many different experiences to share. I was in awe of them and wondered how I would ever compare to them. We all had similar backgrounds it seemed like. And now, in my sixth year at STISD, [I know] that the students make the difference. The students here motivate each other and are very driven. It creates a very competitive environment, which isn’t always good, but in this case, it makes everyone stronger, better and even more successful.
Share your experiences in participating in student organizations and how those experiences have affected you.
I participate in several organizations, but the one I am most active in is Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), which is focused on medicine. The difference between my experiences I have here at [STISD] tied back to the teachers. When I first came into a high school at STISD I joined HOSA but didn’t really talk to anyone. It wasn’t until my second year, when I was approached by an upper classman, and I feel like because of him I can attribute a lot of my success to him, not only in the HOSA organization but in general. He was like a mentor to me, and that second year of high school he took me into his team, which was known for placing first at nationals the year before. His whole team graduated, but that didn’t stop him from pursuing another year of HOSA competition. He scouted two other underclassmen and taught us all a lot. As a junior we placed first at the international competition. As a senior now, I came into this year thinking that we can carry on the victories, but didn’t turn out that way. Two of the members are not returning for senior competitions. I felt like quitting, but then I realized that it wouldn’t be fair to the new freshmen on the team. I had become their mentor, just like the person that took me as his mentee, who taught me that I couldn’t just leave my responsibilities. So, this year we are coming back. It’s going to be a difficult transition, but my mentor taught me that it isn’t just about me. Its more about trying to create a brighter future for those that are going to be the future of this school. One of the most important things he taught me was that I don’t want to leave STISD not having made a difference. I’ve been here for six years, and I don’t want to be the person that says, “Oh, I went to STISD,” and that’s it. I want to make a difference. I want to make a change to this district for the better. Throughout my experiences, I believe I can offer valuable insight. How I tried to approach that was through participating in the HOSA organization. The school and the district have been very supportive of me, so not only am I going to try and lead my team back to nationals and defend the crown again, but I was also able to become a HOSA area officer. This district from the very beginning has been very supportive. They’ve given me opportunities to practice public speaking, my competitive events and also to help me spread my message to other people within this district.
I know you’ve enjoyed the health, science and technology courses offered here. Can you share what your favorite piece of that has been?
I came into the district not knowing where I would end up after middle school, but shortly [after] realized I wanted to be in the health care profession. It was between Med High or Medical Academy. I went with Med High, since it was closer to my hometown. I came into Med High thinking I would know exactly what I wanted to do after graduation. That time has now come and I realize that Med High has changed my perspective on that. I still want to do the health care profession, but Med High broadened my perspective on medicine as a whole. It’s not just one dimensional thing. It has many layers. I feel like the district has given me the ability to see all of those layers. One of the experiences that solidified my decision to pursue the health care profession was during my junior year when I was taking my patient care technician class. The most influential part of this course was learning how to give CPR. It gave me the ability to apply my knowledge for the first time and possibly one day save someone’s life.
What piece of advice would you give to someone that is on the fence about attending STISD?
For anyone who is on the fence, I would say take the initiative. The opportunities are there. The difference between someone who will come to this district and be successful is the people that come here and take the initiative to take the future in their own hands and try to get the best education and experiences they can get [will be successful]. Even though it might be difficult, it is definitely worth it.
Muhammad Noorani | Occupation: Student at STISD | Campus: South Texas Preparatory Academy (STPA) | Location: Edinburg | Hometown: McAllen
Tell us about how you fit into STISD
I fit in because of the challenge. I love challenges, and this school really makes you excel past excellence, and it shows the brightness that everyone has.
Do you feel like you all help out bringing out the best in each other?
Yes, the best in us would be seeing us help everyone out. The best in everyone is their acts of kindness. That is going to help you and the other person because then you will have friends and the other person may excel at the thing they were having trouble at, so maybe later on in the future they will get a really good job and give you credit for it.
Is helping others something pretty common here?
Yes, whenever I need help I am ready to ask anyone that is good on that topic because I know they will help. Everyone here is really kind, and so are the teachers, so you can really go to them and they will support you if you need help.
What is it about STISD that you feel will help you prepare you for your future?
Whatever path you choose, there will be challenges. STISD really prepares you for that because it in itself is a challenge. You’re basically skipping a grade, and that isn’t very easy for some people to do.
What is your vision for your future?
I want to become a neurosurgeon. I think that getting all of these extra credits as a student here will give me extra time to prepare in college because I’ll be ahead.
What is your favorite thing about STISD?
I’m really competitive, so overall I think I love the challenges that this school presents, like the high school credit. It’s really challenging, but if you really put your mind to it and you don’t procrastinate, you can do it!
Priya Trakru | Occupation: Student at STISD | Campus: South Texas Academy for Medical Professions (Medical Academy) | Location: Olmito | Hometown: Brownsville
Why did you choose to come to South Texas ISD?
I had a sister that came here before I did, and we knew from experience that STISD was one of the best districts in Texas. Besides the fact that it has schools that offer so much, like the engineering programs at Science Academy and the medical programs at Medical Academy.
How do you fit into South Texas ISD and what makes it a good fit for you?
I feel like what makes STISD a good fit is not that it’s so focused on a one-type personality thing, and I fit that personality, it’s the fact that it’s a diverse group and so because of the diversity there’s a definite chance that you are going to fit within that spectrum.
What’s the culture like at STISD?
Teachers are so different. There is no teacher that is exactly the same, and because we have AP pre-AP and HST classes, the actual way teachers teach is different. Here you get a different way of learning things and you get to learn which way you like and which style fits you best. The different teaching styles and cultures that they come from have shaped the way we learn.
Explain how you are able to balance your studies and hobbies.
Prioritization and making a schedule is a really big thing. We’ve also had a lot of help from teachers. A lot of teachers understand that we have a lot of difficult classes, so they won’t assign 10 hours of homework a day. They understand that we are human and have other activities that we participate in. The homework assigned is always at a manageable level, and either way we receive help from the tutoring hours from the AM periods that we have where we can do a lot of our homework. It’s always manageable.
Why is it important to balance your school work with the things that you love?
Besides keeping a level of sanity, it’s very important to have on college applications from what I’ve learned. You need to be a diverse student. You need to have certain likes and dislikes and it’s important for your future too. When you go to college it’s not only going to be school, and when we get to the real part of life it’s not only going to be that. We have to have different things that we want to do in life, and I think learning how to balance that at an early age is important.
Is being a student here doable?
Yes, of course! I think it’s doable for anybody. The environment here itself is not cut throat. Every student is friends with each other. Because the environment is so happy and friendly, it’s really easy to do the things that you need to do. There is no pressure to be at the top or absolutely cut throat.
What was it about this campus that you wanted to pursue as a student?
Specifically, Medical Academy because I am interested in medicine, and Medical Academy is closer to home than Med High, and the programs are so interesting, and you definitely want to look into them. I know for a fact that I want to do medicine, so this was a better choice for me, but let’s say I was into engineering like my sister, then I would’ve gone to Sci-Tech. If I would’ve wanted to do business, then BETA would have been it for me. It depends on where you are on the spectrum for education.
Would you say there is something for everyone here at STISD?
Definitely! And even if there isn’t—because of the variety of courses that we offer—you can get an education that is more than enough in any subject. Even if you are not interested in business, medicine, science or engineering, you are still perfectly fine. We offer classes like government, economics, etc. So honestly, it’s the perfect fit for anybody regardless of if you are interested in one of these specific professions. There is something for everyone at STISD.
Lauren Powell | Occupation: Student at STISD | Campus: Rising Scholars Academy of South Texas (Rising Scholars) | Location: San Benito | Hometown: Harlingen
What do you like best about attending STISD?
What I like best about attending this school district is all of the people here and how welcoming they are, and the environment is so welcoming.
Talk to us about the new [Sit With Us] initiative you started at your campus.
Yesterday was our first [Sit With Us] lunch with the students, and we had our own tables with snacks and posters. We had a pretty good turnout with some students and were able to learn about them, and now in the hallways it's nice because when you see them you say hello and talk to them and usually they don’t have anyone to talk to, and being that person is really cool, knowing that they feel comfortable coming to you.
Do you think that is typical of the environment at Rising Scholars?
This is definitely typical at this school because everyone is so friendly with everyone and it’s an extra step we take to incorporate everyone with each other.
Tell us about how you balance sports and academics?
At Rising Scholars, we value our academics a lot, but sports and after school activities also play a really big part, and the meetings are after school, but that is also when tutoring is; however, coaches will work with you and allow you to take care of your academics.
What would you tell someone that is interested in attending one of our schools yet concerned about having to give up some of their passions and things they enjoy doing?
You can still definitely have those after school activities because your teachers will work with you to ensure you get your work done and also participate in the things you enjoy.
Is there a good variety of clubs and organizations at Rising Scholars?
Yes, there definitely is a good variety, and you can make your own clubs, too, if you have a proposition for one to be considered. There’s an Art Club, Music Club, Robotics, TSA [Technology Student Association], sports, PE Club, photography, Rising Scholars Productions and a variety of others.
You came here for the challenge. Was that initiated by you or your parents?
I didn’t really want to leave my old school, but my parents wanted me to come here for the academics and because they had past students from my old school that had come here and liked the academics and the extra push that would prepare you for high school and college. So, my parents wanted me to come here for the education. I didn’t want to at first, but then I came here and I ended up really liking it. There are a lot of challenging courses, but it is worth it. It’s not just academics - there’s everything.
Tell us about your classes here at RSA.
Coming into the school year, I didn’t know what I wanted to pursue as far as career goes, and last year we did an interview online and took tests that showed us what we would be meant for. This year we can take engineering or a medical class. I’m taking medical. I wasn’t too interested in it, just took it because I didn’t want to take the engineering course since I’m not good at those subjects, but I really enjoy the medical class now. The teacher is awesome and makes it fun. The material and terminology is hard to understand, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really enjoyable. We do a lot of labs that incorporate into the subject.
Nelly Houston | Occupation: Engineering & Project Lead the Way teacher at The Science Academy of South Texas (Science Academy) | Location: Mercedes
Tell us a little about what brought you back to STISD. What made you want to come back?
As I was working in the field, I really loved problem solving and engineering. I was specifically always mesmerized by electronics, not just any kind of engineering. When I got to work with making a circuit work, you can’t see electricity the same way you see a spring or a sprocket move. So, I really like it; however, I was at a point of my career where I was doing what I loved but I was traveling all over the world, which was great and seeing things people hadn’t; however, I was by myself. One of things that I was able to do was travel to China many times and work at the companies that would sell us equipment, and I got to see the quality of life that some of these kids – ‘cause they weren’t young people, like young men or adults, they were kids - and they were working at these factories. As a quality engineer, I asked them what they did for incentives to make sure there weren’t a lot of people leaving the factories. For a lot of these children working, toiletries were their incentives. These children were working and staying at the dorm houses and sending money home to their families, and I was going home to drive my fancy SUV and getting paid a lot of money, and it really put a lot of things into perspective for me. It just so happened that I was in California and a relative of mine that works for STISD happened to be at an education convention with one of the superintendents of the district that used to be my principal when I was a student at The Science Academy, and we were able to meet and discuss what I was doing. When I got back into Boston, where I lived at the time, my relative called to tell me that the district was looking for a new electronics teacher. At that moment, everything came together. Being a teacher was something I used to want to do and now I wouldn’t be just any teacher. I would be an electronics teacher and I would get to teach at the Science Academy, which is the only type of education that I was familiar with. I talked to my husband about the opportunity, and we decided to take the plunge, and here we are. I wouldn’t take it back. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
How does it feel knowing that you walked through the hallways as a student and now as a teacher?
At first it was really weird. Walking around the hallways and eating lunch with my teachers and having to call them by their first name… it doesn’t happen. Like I still call Mr. Coalson “Mr. Coalson.” I sometimes joke, but I still just can’t use their first name. The teachers that were my teachers, I just can’t call them by their first names. Another thing is I can relate to the students. For example, right now you asked me to bring my box of stuff from high school, and so I brought my high school and college diploma, and when I opened up my high school diploma, pictures fell. They were pictures of my senior portraits. I’m sitting there with my cap and gown and it has my name and I’m literally walking down the hall and seniors are taking their pictures right now, and it’s kind of cool. When students are struggling… I remember my first week of school I went home crying because I was overwhelmed with one of my teachers that had assigned a project that I felt I was not prepared for. My parents made a deal with me and said try it for a week or two, and if you can’t handle it you can go back to your home high school. I tried it for a week, but I realized I was able to do that project and I was successful at it. I realized that, yes, it is very challenging, yet with the support and the proper motivation, Science Academy is very doable. It’s not just doable, it surpasses your expectations of preparedness. I can share that with my students when they feel like giving up, and thinking they don’t belong at this campus, I understand them. I was in their same shoes at one point and I was able to do it, and turned out OK.
Do you think that the methodologies or the teaching practices that your teachers used with you have had an influence on the way you teach your classes and students?
I think so. I think that the way my teachers taught me was more than just academics. One of the big things that I take from them is trying to make a connection with my students. Some of the things that I do that they used to do with me is what we call ‘hands in the pocket talks.’ And so if I know there is something more than just academics, like issues that have to do with having moral character and making right decisions and things like that… Science Academy is just like any high school in that sense. When I know there is an issue going on at school or personally with anything that happened and the student body is talking about it, I kind of take a few minutes from my class and literally put my hands in my pockets and talk to them as if they were a loved one and somebody I want to be better… I think hearing it from your teachers is another angle to try and make them listen and make right decisions. It’s about everything. Once in a while I’ll talk to my students and tell them why I decided to leave the Valley and why I pursued engineering. I think that is something my teachers did with me. The teachers at Science Academy showed me that there is a culture that you care about the students more than just academically, and I try to do that with my students. I try to show them the truth which is that I care and that I want them to be better people.
What does it mean to be a Project Lead the Way Master Teacher?
PLTW is a national organization that is geared towards making sure we have engineers in the United States. STEM is math and science. Those two alone are great and very necessary, but without the technology it is just theoretical. Once you have technology then you have engineering which is basically using technology to apply those math and science concepts. In education trying to apply those STEM principals at PLTW, it’s not just ”Oh, let’s teach what we have to teach.” You have to know how to teach it and use the technology to do and teach engineering. Every teacher that teaches PLTW curriculum has to go through training, and I was lucky enough to be selected as a trainer for the teachers that are going to be teaching engineering. One of the things I do as a Master Teacher is go to the University of Texas at Tyler every summer and teach other digital electronics teachers how to be good at teaching, as well as PLTW does have a group of master teachers that meet once a year at a summit, and I am the leader of the Master Teachers for digital electronics in the US.
What is your favorite thing about teaching?
My favorite thing is being able to interact and to have conversations with teenagers. I don’t think I would be a good elementary or junior high teacher. The reason that I really love teaching at the Science Academy is that the students at that age are really searching, looking, growing, and that is the perfect time to get into their brains and into their hearts and inject a little bit of what I know.
What makes the education most effective for the students you are teaching?
At Science Academy, specifically, one of things that I know is that there are levels of administration. We have the most basic level, which is students trying to learn, and we have teachers supporting that learning, then administration supporting teachers, then central office administration supporting our administration. I work for the students. The principal works for me and the superintendent and their staff work for their principals. That’s how I look at it. If there is a situation there is going to be the administrators which know what happens within the school, but there is no better knower of what happens than the students and the teachers that are in the trenches. So I think our administration is very well aware that they are not the boss, but they are the support system. Anytime they make a decision as little as what should be the schedule for our Thanksgiving luncheon…they don’t just make the decision, they ask for input from the staff and when I make a little decision, I go to the students for their feedback. It’s always a funnel where we ask the students, the teachers are asked by the administration. The administration always makes sure that they ask for the teacher’s input before they make a decision. And that goes for everything, not just the planning of a Thanksgiving luncheon. For example one of the major things that Science Academy and our district is facing is that when a lot of our students are trying to graduate earlier….. a lot of students are taking classes at junior high levels and so now we are dealing with and having kids that are graduating within three years instead of four, and administration is sitting teachers and students down in committees to see what is best for our school and our district.
What does it mean when you say that students who choose to attend one of our schools is an expansion of their network?
A lot of people choose to think that if a student wants to come to our STISD schools that they are going to be leaving their home high school friends and relationships, but nowadays with technology, everybody has a communication device that is instantaneous. I choose to believe that you are not losing friends coming to a school that is Valley-wide, you aren’t losing friends, but now you are coming to a school that is from all over the Valley. They are now gaining access to people all over the Valley, and they wouldn’t be able to do that at their home high school.
There is still time for students to experience high school despite the rigorous course work. Expand on that.
One of the challenges in high school education is that a lot of students are choosing to go to college preparatory programs where students get to skip part of high school and go directly to college; however, I think that one of the things that needs to happen is that students need time to grow up and mature and so one of the things that we offer at STISD is the rigor, dual enrollment and other college-ready programs, yet at a high school setting where students can spend three to four years and get time to stew and to try to learn to be young adults without skipping out on that maturing stage of their life. One of the teachers at our school calls it ‘time and flavor.’ High school is about ‘time and flavor.’ You get to try and take different subjects and learn what you like and what you don’t like. You learn to grow up. Science Academy offers the opportunity to be prepared for college, but it doesn’t rob you of the ‘time and flavor’ of high school.