• November 29, 2020

Bowie teacher making impact - Odessa American: ECISD

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Bowie teacher making impact

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Posted: Monday, October 26, 2020 2:52 pm

Having earned a degree in government and politics from University of Texas at Dallas, Sheena Salcido thought she would go into something in government, politics, being part of a political action committee, or possibly working for a lobbying group.

Through the Texas Teach Plus Fellowship, Salcido, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Bowie Middle School, will have a chance to channel her inner wonk. Her students are all virtual this year.

Teach Plus is a national nonprofit that empowers teachers to lead improvements in policy and practice, launched two new Fellowships for the 2020-21 school year, a news release said.

The 29 Texas Policy Fellows teach across the state and hail from cities across Texas, including Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, and Austin, while the 21 DFW Policy Fellows teach in schools across the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The Fellows will focus on a range of issues of importance to Texas’ teachers, students, and parents, including education finance and teacher preparation, and focus on the COVID-19 response and the teaching and learning during the pandemic, the release said.

Salcido said you have to you have to be a classroom teacher.

Although she had a policy making/government/advocacy bent, Salcido said she felt a pull toward education.

“I felt like I got a great education here in Odessa, but I realized that we could do better and I felt prepared for school, but I spoke to lots of my classmates who didn’t feel that same preparedness,” Salcido said.

She wondered what the common denominator was because they all went to the same school.

“Then I realized that we really focus on our top percentage of students and those are the kids that get the most attention. The kids that I want to serve are the ones who don’t. I really want to reach the kids that fall into that gap underneath. I think that’s really important and policy is what directly affects those kids; those kids without strong support systems at home; the kids that need the extra finances in their local schools. Those are the kids who are really impacted by policy making decisions, so (that’s) something that drew me back to the classroom,” Salcido said.

The selection process for the Texas Teach Plus Fellowship involves a written application with five essay questions and a group interview where teachers are given a scenario that they have to work out with the group. Based on their performance in the group, they are selected for an individual interview. The applicants are pared down from hundreds to, she believes, about 50 this year.

“They teach us to advocate for education policies. We write op-eds that are published statewide, but some have even been published nationwide. We have spoken and been a part of meetings with (U.S.) Sen. (John) Cornyn’s office. We’ll be in meetings in the state House. We’ve actually been called to testify for education policy. We advocate for pro-education policies, so it’s just giving teachers the opportunity to really have a seat at the table and be a part of the policy making process,” Salcido said.

Salcido said she was encouraged to apply by a close friend who is a teacher in the DFW area. She said her friend told her there had never been a fellow from Ector County ISD, or this area before.

“She thought that the oilfield and the community we have here in Odessa would lend a really important voice that was often being overlooked,” Salcido said. “Education policies tend to focus on big urban areas and we tend to be left out of those conversations because we’re not big, but we’re not small. We kind of fall through the cracks a lot of times, so she thought my perspective on this community would be a really important voice to have in the fellowship.”

Being accepted, Salcido said, was an honor. The fellowship lasts for the school year.

“I have always felt that I really advocated for my students and for this community. I deeply believe in public schools. I think that it’s so important to make sure our school system is strong, so I’ve always been doing that in my entire career and now I have the ability to be around other like-minded teachers who have their foot in the door,” Salcido said.

“We can advocate to the school board all we want, but this is effecting real change in the House and further up the line, so what a great opportunity to really make impactful changes for my colleagues, and specifically, for our students ...,” she added.

A native Odessan, Salcido graduated from Odessa High School in 2003 and went to what is now Ector College Prep Success Academy for middle school.

She has tried to encourage colleagues to try new things.

“I really want to build a better community for our students here in Odessa. I think they deserve it. I think we don’t give them enough credit for what they’re capable of doing,” Salcido said. “We have some amazing students that are here. They just need to be nurtured. It’s interesting to be in that same community, but it’s exciting to be able to do kind of spark some fire and kind of encourage that older mindset of teacher to try to be new and innovative and try to light some fires for people; just being passionate about changing things; making things work for each student.”

She said the program is currently focusing on teacher prep programs.

“I’m an alternative certification teacher, so I didn’t graduate with a teaching degree. I went back and finished that on an emergency basis, so I understand the prep program. We know what it does and doesn’t do to prepare you for the classroom, so knowing those things we can affect those changes and really speak on a personal level about how these decisions really directly affect kids,” Salcido said.

“I wanted to say that I felt prepared to be in the classroom, but I didn’t and here’s a great opportunity to really change that in the future (and) maybe not lose so many teachers ...,” she added.

Many teachers leave in the one to five year range. Salcido is in her sixth year of teaching.

“I’m in the bubble for sure. I have friends that started with me on this campus that are no longer teachers ... I haven’t been in the classroom that long and so how do you tell someone you can do it when people around you are getting burned out? And it’s completely understandable to be burned out, but how do we prepare them better? How do we as a state create better policy so that doesn’t happen in the future? How do we build strong teachers who want to stay in the communities that they’re from or the communities that need them the most” and keep them from getting poached by larger or wealthier districts?

Keeping teachers in Odessa is a unique problem, she said, “specifically how do we keep not just warm bodies here, but warm bodies who want to learn and to grow and to support our kids.”

“That’s what I’m really passionate about with this fellowship and it opens to the doors to do that,” Salcido added.

Salcido and her husband, Joe Acosta, have four children ranging in age from 3 to 9. She noted that she has gotten a lot of support from her husband and her children.

Bowie Principal Paul Fulce said Salcido will be a great advocate for Bowie and all Texas students.

“Any opportunity that helps educators get involved outside of the classroom to help drive change inside the classroom is wonderful. We are so lucky to have teachers (who) want to both continue to build their expertise in the classroom, as well as the public forum. Education policy is key to student success, so having actual educators advocate is a powerful way to help keep us moving forward for students,” Fulce said in a text message.

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