On September 4th, The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative) began the Texas Back-to-School Tour in south and west Texas. After 9 stops in 7 cities over 3 days, the Initiative connected with students, parents, educators, administrators and community leaders, heard inspiring stories and saw first-hand the great work being done at the local level. The town hall sessions, roundtable discussions and site visits held in Corpus Christi, Brownsville, McAllen, Edinburg, Laredo, Eagle Pass, and El Paso, highlighted the value of and need for continued investments in quality education for Hispanics.
Corpus Christi: The Tour began bright and early in Corpus Christi where the Initiative joined the United Way of the Coastal Bend at the Wesley Community Center to learn about early education efforts by the Center and the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) program. “It is important to start working with kids from birth to get them ready to enter school,” said one organizer. The community is helping parents make early education possible for their children.
Brownsville: The Brownsville Independent School District (ISD) welcomed the Initiative for a roundtable discussion at Daniel Breeden Elementary School. At Brownsville ISD, helping their students succeed begins with helping them believe in themselves. “Teach a child to succeed and I guarantee you, they will succeed. They will succeed no matter what,” noted one administrator. One creative way of engaging and helping students excel is through the game of chess. Through chess, students acquire skills that are applicable to their daily lives: they learn to think strategically and proactively, to feel confident and to believe they are capable of success.
McAllen: In McAllen, the Initiative held a site visit and parent roundtable at the IDEA Public Schools McAllen campus which focuses on innovation and high expectations for students. “College for all children. No excuses.” is the IDEA Public Schools motto. With this in mind, they are working with K-12 students to close the achievement gap and prepare them for college and bright futures.
Edinburg: Day one in Edinburg concluded with a town hall session at University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA). UTPA’s student involvement and dedication to education was evidenced by the Student Government Association rescheduling their State of the Student Body Address to ensure that all students had the opportunity to hear about the administration’s education priorities and share concerns, ideas or questions. Initiative Executive Director Alejandra Ceja and UTPA President Dr. Robert S. Nelsen engaged the community in a discussion, moderated by Initiative Deputy Director Marco Davis, on Hispanic college access and completion.
Laredo: Day two began in Laredo with a roundtable discussion with university leaders at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU), followed by a site visit and student roundtable at Laredo Early College High School, located on the TAMIU campus. U.S. Congressmember Henry Cuellar and TAMIU President Dr. Ray M. Keck joined the discussion on the importance of recruiting and advancing more Hispanics in the teaching profession and on making college affordable.
Eagle Pass: The power of community engagement was palpable throughout the two stops in Eagle Pass. U.S. Congressmember Pete Gallego joined the Initiative for a site visit and parent roundtable at Pete Gallego Elementary School, and then at a town hall session at Eagle Pass High School. The town hall focused on college access, affordability and completion. Executive Director Ceja shared information about the financial resources available for accessing college while emphasizing the need to enroll and complete college in order to continue driving the nation’s economy. The Eagle Pass community is an example of great parental engagement because, despite the fact that many students come from households where both parents work, the parents are present at school events and in daily student activities. It is also highly likely the parents themselves attended the same schools and so they trust and value the teachers.
El Paso: The Texas Back-to-School Tour’s grand finale was held at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) where Initiative Executive Director Alejandra Ceja was joined by UTEP President Dr. Diana Natalicio, El Paso Community College President Dr. William Serrata, and Socorro ISD Superintendent Dr. Jose Espinoza, for a discussion on Hispanics and STEM education. The El Paso community is driving STEM education through a curriculum ranging from elementary school through the post-secondary level.
As the Initiative continues to amplify the investments being made by the administration, ensure federal resources and grand opportunities are communicated to communities throughout the nation, while highlighting evident-based programs, Bright Spots, it is especially great to know – and see – all the tremendous and inspiring work our community is doing on behalf of their students. Our thanks to all the committed leaders we met throughout the Texas Back-to-School Tour and we look forward to our continued partnership.