UTSA, SAISD partner to launch San Antonio’s first community laboratory schools
(Feb. 26, 2016) -- Fourth grade Crockett Elementary School student Jeremiah Garcia sits at a small table, flipping white and yellow pegs up and down on a flat wooden board no larger than a keyboard. He counts out loud with each flip. Each peg on the board, called a Nepohualtzitzin, represents a numerical unit.
Around Garcia, nearly a dozen elementary school students of varying grade levels do the same under the watchful eye of a half-dozen education graduate students from The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). During the spring semester, the students will brush up on their mathematics concepts, such as multiplication, division and square roots, using a tool that dates back to ancient Mayan culture.
The Nepohualtzitzin Ethnomathematics Project is one of three informal after-school learning clubs (ILC) that UTSA has brought to Crockett Elementary and Douglass Elementary as part of a new academic partnership with the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD). The ILCs – which include the Robotics Club, an engineering focused club, and La Clase Mágica, which is helping Hispanic children develop bilingual literacy skills – are a component of a larger programming effort by UTSA and SAISD meant to boost the educational attainment of SAISD students.
Last fall, the UTSA College of Education and Human Development (COEHD), through its Academy for Teacher Excellence (ATE), formalized a two-year partnership with SAISD to create the UTSA-SAISD Community Laboratory Schools Program. The program is designed to nurture the strong ties that UTSA and SAISD have forged over the years while also serving as a training ground for the next generation of teachers prepared by UTSA.
More than two dozen UTSA faculty members, dozens of staff members and undergraduate and graduate students from every COEHD department and several COEHD centers are dedicating their time, energy and expertise to ensuring the success of the UTSA-SAISD Community Laboratory Schools Initiative.
The UTSA-SAISD Community Lab Schools Partnership is supported by a $1.8 million contract to UTSA, funded through a Texas Title I Priority Schools Grant to SAISD for the two schools.
“This partnership will turn Crockett Elementary and Douglass Elementary into research and education training grounds for future teachers studying at UTSA while giving young children access to greater individualized attention and the opportunity to succeed, “ said UTSA President Ricardo Romo. “The UTSA-SAISD Community Laboratory Schools Program is a model that can be replicated by other schools across the nation, and we are so pleased to be a part of this groundbreaking collaboration.”
Over the next two years, UTSA is providing Crockett and Douglass Elementary with an unprecedented number of resources, such as specially tailored curricula and professional development opportunities for teachers as well as in-and-out-of-classroom expertise and support from UTSA faculty, staff and student teacher candidates during and after classroom hours. Additionally, UTSA counseling and educational psychology professors and students are providing the schools with enhanced support for special education teachers and counseling services for students and families to help remove social barriers to student success.
In addition to serving as training sites for current and future elementary school teachers, Douglass and Crockett are serving as laboratories for UTSA and SAISD faculty to collaborate on action research projects that will ultimately serve the instruction of pre-school through fifth grade students. Ultimately, the UTSA-SAISD partnership aims to develop a program with a sustainable model.
In a remote room of the Crockett Elementary School Library, a group of eight PK-5 students under the instruction of instructional technology coach Ovidio Reyna watch expectantly as a small vehicular robot made of LEGO bricks and circuitry traverses a long rectangular table. The students are waiting to see what the robot does when it reaches a small green turtle, also built out of LEGO bricks. Would the calculations they input on a nearby computer make the robot move the way they wanted it to?
“These kids are learning a lot in this club, not just about engineering but also how to think logically and strategically,” Reyna said. “The skills these kids are learning can easily translate into success in the classroom, in STEM fields, like robotics, and beyond.”
The robot rolls down the table and suddenly pivots next to the turtle; it raises its arms, a square net attached to them, and captures the turtle in the net.
The children cheer.
Learn more about San Antonio Independent School District at www.saisd.net.