Global Leadership Academy proves spark for district

Ector County Independent School District's Executive Director for Bilingual/ESL Education Betsabe Salcido and George H. W. Bush New Tech Odessa Principal Gerardo Ramirez stand for a portrait Friday, March 19, 2021, in NTO's lunchroom. (Jacob Ford|Odessa American)

With the population of emergent bilingual students doubling in the last three years, Ector County ISD was trying to find a way to empower, support and close gaps for kids whose first language is not English.

About two years ago, the district began laying the groundwork for the Global Leadership Academy aimed at doing just that.

Executive Director of Bilingual/ESL Education Betsabe Salcido said students in ECISD speak 34 different languages. The top three are English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

There are now 8,900 emergent bilingual students, most of whom are at OHS.

ECISD recently won an award from the Mexican American School Board Association for Outstanding English Language Learner Initiative for the Global Leadership Academy at Odessa High School.

The district also won MASBA’s Outstanding Workforce Development Initiative for the creation of a series of talent development pipelines for teachers and principals.

Salcido said it was very exciting for the emergent bilingual students to be recognized.

“Our emergent bilinguals did quite a bit of work during the summer, working on projects (and) developing their leadership skills. For them to be recognized for their efforts was just very rewarding,” Salcido said.

For the past two years, they have had the Global Leadership Academy Summer Enrichment event.

Annie Arredondo, English as a second language coordinator, said they brought in consultants, presenters, Odessa College and Complex Community Federal Credit Union that worked with students on financial literacy.

The Global Leadership Academy students at OHS meet Thursday afternoons.

“The kids give up their lunch to meet and plan. We have a handful of kids who have class and they are responsible for working with their teacher. The kids are really good about that leadership and ownership,” Arredondo said.

Last year, they had officers. This year they are going to have a board and they are working on bylaws.

“They’re going to present those bylaws to (OHS Principal Anthony Garcia) and his team. They’re working on volunteer opportunities, how to give back to Odessa High and our community. But they are also teenagers, so they’re figuring out what their role is within Odessa High and also what their role is within the group because they come from such very different backgrounds, educationally and linguistically,” Arredondo said.

They are also different culturally. Some students come in ready to do business and for others the meetings are a safe space where they can come and decompress.

In the end, Salcido said, it’s all about developing leadership skills and finding a connection with what’s going on in the classroom.

“We have seen their graduation rates increase. We have seen the dropout rate decrease,” and attendance increase, Salcido said.

“Our students are participating in their classrooms,” she added.

Arredondo said the students also hold each other accountable.

“It’s not the administrators, it’s the students holding each other accountable. We have some kids that are struggling for a lot of reasons outside (of school), but they’re like, I’m not going to drop school. I’m not going to drop out because I want to be part of this. I want to get my high school diploma. I am going to finish and this just gives them that space,” Arredondo said.

Salcido said she has been able to work with teachers and administrators who have both been very supportive.

They examine data points and see how best to support students when it comes to instruction, Salcido said.

From left, Odessa High School’s new principal Anthony Garcia talks with Multi Classroom Leader Elizabeth Hernandez and English as a second language teacher Martha Burrola during a meet and greet Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at the OHS Performing Arts Center. (Odessa American/Eli Hartman)

English as a second language teacher Martha Burrola holds parent meetings once every six weeks or so.

“The parents are coming in and they’re asking questions. If they can’t make the meeting then they ask, hey what did we go over? Can you share that information with me,” Arredondo said.

They review things like compulsory attendance, graduation requirements and they work with the parents to provide needed transcripts from their students’ home countries because those count.

“That’s going to keep our kids on track for graduation,” Arredondo said. “They’re not repeating courses, and again, it goes back to that on-time graduation and post-secondary outcomes when those kids are able to graduate with their cohorts,” Arredondo said. “As a cohort, they investigate OC and UTPB. We’ve taken them to Texas Tech (University), to Sul Ross (State University).”

The kids then realize they can go to those schools and feel that excitement.

Parents ask about the ESL classes the district offers and the career and technical education that ECISD provides.

One parent asked about the GED courses for themselves at Odessa College.

“Across the board we have seen that. We have seen greater parent involvement. We had a parent night at Permian last week and it was very well attended. We had close to 70 parents at that meeting … Also this year, our dual language one-way pre-k through fifth grade is fully implemented. We have seen parents also asking more questions and being more involved in that experience. That has been our goal,” Salcido said Oct. 17.

The ECISD website says the dual language one-way program is “designed to make academic content accessible to emergent bilinguals through the development of literacy and academic skills. The program develops a second language (English) for students while maintaining and respecting the student’s own language (Spanish) and culture.”

Salcido added that they are offering their English Language Development Academy again. It has been going more than 10 years.

“There has been a lot of interest in it. We have about 275 parents registered to attend the ELD Academy; 140 of them have attended the Academy. We have up to four different level(s) open for them, so they get to take the class with peers that are at a similar level,” said Virginia Hunt, a district bilingual coordinator.

They also have Spanish classes for staff members.

Child care is available for children of parents taking the class.

“We have two certified teachers that help with that because we also provide tutorials for the students that are coming in with homework. … The … littles have a certified pre-K teacher serving them and they do some fun literacy activities with them while the parents are learning English,” Hunt said.

She added that Crockett Middle School, a feeder school to OHS, has provided use of their building.

Arredondo said Crockett also is having Global Leadership meetings on Mondays. Their parents have signed up for the English language development class as well.

At Odessa High School, Principal Anthony Garcia said he was excited for the students who received the MASBA award.

“I know they put a lot of hard work into it. Seeing the kids grow has been exceptional,” Garcia said. “When it first started, the kids were very … reserved and shy, but now that the program is growing, they really put themselves out there, being involved and showing a lot more leadership abilities.”

“The kids have really stepped up.”

Before they got involved in the leadership academy, many of the students experienced academic and attendance struggles.

“Now I’ve seen the change. They’ve changed. Their behavior has changed. They’re going to class like they’re supposed to and their grades are getting better. I think just that leadership capability, knowing they can be more than they have been and that they can help lead others has really been a big growing factor for them. I’ve seen a big shift in their behaviors,” he added.

Garcia said OHS has about 1,300 emergent bilingual students. They are from Mexico, Cuba and a few from South America. When he was principal at Crockett Middle School, there were about 350 emergent bilingual students out of about 1,000.

A group of students proposed the Global Leadership club last year.

“I would say last year we only had maybe 15 to 20 kids. Now we’re up close to 40. It’s getting bigger. I can tell we have more and more kids showing up,” Garcia said.

He added that there are people from the district and people from campus that help work with the students.

“What it’s done is it’s really helped the kids. It’s really helped the kids hold each other accountable and provide a lot of school spirit,” Garcia said.