As a way to improve its performance, Wilson & Young Middle School, along with Noel and LBJ Elementary are taking part in a School Action Fund Grant through the Texas Education Agency.

According to information from Ector County ISD, Wilson & Young, Noel and LBJ were not rated in 2019-2020 due to the pandemic, but based on campus data, Wilson & Young would be presumed an F based on campus data. Noel would be presumed an F and LBJ, a D.

The grant will provide customized planning and support to improve teaching and learning experiences for students at campuses that expressed interest in change, a board recap said.

A broad spectrum of people were involved in developing plans for all three campuses. The recap said stakeholders expressed their desire for a growth mindset among students and teachers; opportunities for parents to engage with the school; and strong relationships between teachers and parents.

Personalized instruction, with a focus on Blended Learning, is a key component of this work. Blended Learning is defined as a student having some control, in some manner, over his or her own learning. The plans also provide for social-emotional support of the whole child – through mental health supports and after-school enrichment opportunities.

Wilson & Young Principal Anthony Garcia said the school also is working with Transcend, a company that works with TEA and is helping the school conduct a redesign over a three-year period.

Corey Seymour, an executive director of leadership for ECISD, said he thinks the grant will be a great opportunity for Wilson & Young. From the experiences he’s had and the partnerships formed with Transcend, he thinks it will be something a little different. They will look at things like equity and social-emotional learning to make sure students are prepared and ready to be successful.

Seymour said he foresees a cultural change at the campus. “I think you’re going to see an increase when it comes to indicators of success,” he added.

He said they want students to be comfortable and enjoy learning.

Garcia said Wilson & Young is currently focusing on a redesign of the sixth grade and build up through the grades over the years. Sixth grade is that transition year to middle school from elementary.

“We’re trying to build that foundation. We build the foundation in sixth grade. It will transition to seventh and eighth grade for the years coming,” Garcia said.

He added that Wilson & Young is not conducting a reconstitution where teachers have to reapply for their jobs.

“What we’re doing is we’re redesigning the way curriculum is delivered by using Blended Learning. Blended Learning gives students an opportunity to learn under their own individual learning path. … Our focus is for students to grow. They need to have the mindset of individualized instruction to be self-leading learners. … Students have to be able to manage learning and know that they have a goal in place. The idea is for students to come to come in daily and set goals for themselves; short-term academic and social-emotional goals. By doing that, students are able to accomplish those short-term goals with guidance from the teacher,” Garcia said.

Social-emotional support will be embedded into the students’ schedule, along with high-dose tutoring.

Teachers will be offered professional development and coaching this summer to prepare them for the new school year.

Blended Learning in English and math will be offered, along with social studies incorporating current events.

“In science, we’re going to do project-based learning. So through all through all those, we’re going to require a lot of training, a lot of hands-on the ground training …The grant is helping us fund that,” Garcia said.

He added that the campus also will bring in Accelerated Reader, Study Island, which we’ll be using in English. The classrooms will be outfitted for Blended Learning, so they will have flexible seating where students can choose what chair and desk set up they want.

“We have a lot of flexible seating in the classroom … It’s not like a regular desk or regular chair. The desks are shaped in a certain way. We can put desks together in groups” and high-rise desks so students can stand up and do their work, Garcia said.

The campus has about 1,230 students and about 70 teachers. The redesign has been piloted for about the last three weeks.

Garcia added that they already have some of the furniture on campus.

“The kids love it. They love like having that kind of option because you go into a classroom, you’ll see kids standing up doing their work. … They self-manage it,” Garcia said.

At first, the teachers were hesitant, but once they got the flexible seating and saw how the students reacted, they were asking for more.

By piloting some aspects of the redesign, Garcia said the school will be able to see what’s working and what isn’t and tweak it for the coming school year.

The small group of teachers that are trying it found it a little difficult to let go at first, but it was very structured at the same time and the students were following that structure and they were able to manage all the tasks they were asked to do.

Students are in small groups and offer more individual attention to them.

“… We have our low, medium and high students so, throughout the entire week, a teacher gets his see that every student at their level of need so that every student gets an opportunity to grow,” Garcia said.

Traditionally, he said, teaching was stand and deliver so every student got the same lesson whether they were a low, medium or high learner.

“… Our struggling learners were still left behind … did not get pushed to a higher standard because they got the same lesson like everybody else. So what this does (is) it gives students and teachers an opportunity to learn at their level. Our lower students get that one-on-one, or get that individualized instruction, that small group instruction to help them advance. The medium level students can advance with that individualized instruction and our higher level learners also get an opportunity to advance even higher,” Garcia said.

He added that the school works closely with ECISD Blended Learning Coordinator Andrea Messick and they have done some Blended Learning book studies with her and visited Pasadena ISD to see Blended Learning in action at some of the middle and elementary schools.

In their experience, they were rated F campuses and within a year or two they were able to get out.

Garcia conceded that it’s more of a challenge when you have more students.

“… My job is to put it put teams together and get people here that are going to be able to rise up to that challenge because this is where we’re at,” he said.