Orientation sessions help prepare incoming Ector students

To help incoming students acclimate to Ector College Prep Success Academy, the campus is hosting a four-day orientation this week.

Reagan Paquette, one of the assistant principals, said youngsters starting sixth-grade are being put through their paces on different software, rules and perks.

Ector County Independent School District has eight campuses on improvement required status under state accountability standards. Ector Middle School was in its fifth year. If the campus didn’t come off the list it would have faced closure or the Texas Education Commissioner would have appointed a board of managers over the whole district.

Partnering with CEO/Superintendent Robert Bleisch’s Ector Success Academy Network was a way to stay the state sanctions against the middle school for two years. The principal is Charles Quintela.

The partnership between the nonprofit and ECISD could potentially last for 10 years. The campus emphasizes course performance, attendance and behavior, bolstered by interventions, incentives and enrichments.

Paquette said the idea for the orientation was made by a group of school officials and outside consultants that the Ector uses. They decided what they wanted to include in the orientation, because Ector is different from other ECISD campuses.

The first day drew about 100 students, she said. Paquette said she wasn’t sure how many turned out Tuesday.

About 1,400 students attended Ector last year and 1,400 to 1,500 are expected this school year.

“They come in not knowing. We’re trying to get as many students ready as possible, even though some of them are at summer school right now. We had a good turnout,” she said.

Each day of orientation offers something different. Youngsters are fed breakfast and lunch during the sessions.

“They rotate, so they’re with three different teachers and then each day it’s a different activity, so it’s a different portion of the same thing,” Paquette said.

Student ID’s were also being worked up using finger scans to make lunch, the homework centers and game room processes faster.

Parents also were set up on a parent portal so they can keep track of how their students are doing.

“We have a spirit shop so the students are ready for the first day of school. I made a dress code brochure and then we have a campus brochure,” Paquette said.

“The more parents come in, the more informed they are, the better everything will be because they already know what to expect. … The kids knowing what to expect is one thing, but we also want the parents involved, as well,” she added.

Paquette will start a student leadership organization next fall called Link Crew to help younger students adapt and help Paquette plan campus events.

“We did interviews the last two weeks of school. I have about 100 students right now who got accepted. They will help me teach the younger students, which is going to be good because they already know the process so we’re banking on them being advocates for us, as well,” she said.

“We want them to be involved in something that they are proud of and a lot of them are so excited to learn that they can be a leader because some people don’t believe in them, or don’t see that quality in them. But they were completely different in their interviews. They bloomed and so we give them the opportunity to be a leader and also to take responsibility and ownership of what’s happening, with guidance of course,” Paquette said.

For the interviews, there were four adults and one student.

“They were very intimidated, but I wanted it to be like that so it was a learning process to prepare them for future interviews because a lot of them have never been interviewed. We had questions. I asked my own questions. They answered and then they were able to leave. The next week, they got a slip of paper that said congratulations you made it into Link Crew. So it was pretty exciting. They were all waiving their orange papers all around. It was awesome,” she said.

Once last year’s students got used to the routine, it was like muscle memory.

“They knew what to expect. It was a routine, so I think that decreased a lot of behaviors. It decreased a lot of confusion. Everybody was on the same page and it seemed to flow very well. Hopefully, we can come out of the gate like that this year with our new ones. …,” Paquette said.

Sergio Fabela, 10, Jayli Whitten, 11, and Analitzia Munoz, 10, all going into sixth grade, said they appreciated the orientation sessions.

Fabela said he thought the school would require concentrating on the work, learning what you needed to learn and “not just playing around in class.”

The sessions, he said, will help him feel more comfortable when he starts school because he’ll know how to get around. Previously, he attended Downing Elementary School.

“It is very cool and with the game room and stuff like that. It’s a pretty good privilege to have it because then kids will start doing the work and stop being bad just to play,” he said.

Whitten agreed that the orientation will help her when she starts school in the fall. She attended Buddy West Elementary School. 

“I’ve learned that you have to be on time to school and you have to do your work, and if you don’t you come in here, if you don’t do this, you have to go to Saturday school,” Whitten said.

She added that she likes the rules, even though they are rigorous and she thinks they will be good in the long run.

“… For all the kids that like to joke around, they’ll probably get in trouble because it’s really stricter here,” Whitten said.

Munoz, who went to Milam Magnet Elementary School, said she learned from the sessions that when you try, things aren’t that hard.

“It’s actually very good,” she said of the campus. “I always dreamed of coming to Ector … because I’ve seen how my dad was so successful. I wanted to be just like him. I want to be successful in life,” Munoz said.