There is a shiny glimmer of hope in urban education and I saw it with my own eyes at Trinidad Garza Early College High School. Long title…but very innovative program. It’s a joint venture of Dallas Independent School District and Mountain View College. Students go to classes year-round and have the opportunity to earn college credits — as much as a two-year Associate’s degree –along with a high school diploma.
Continuing on to a four-year degree is less daunting. Students already have a taste of the academic rigor that will be required. And they don’t need to fund the cost of a full baccalaureate program — just a couple of years. This is a winning proposition and upward path for families in low socioeconomic circumstances. The school motto: College Ready, Career Ready, Life Ready.
Students at Garza are 85 percent Hispanic and 13 percent African American, 86 percent of them are eligible for free/reduced lunch and 27 percent are limited English proficient.
Did I mention award-winning?
- 2012 winner of Excellence in Urban Education Award from National Center for Urban School Transformation
- Silver Level – U.S. News & World Report, Best High Schools
- Ranked #6 in Top High Schools of North Texas by Children at Risk Association
- A Texas Honors Circle Campus – Texas Comptroller citation for fiscal accountability + academic performance
- Garnering $2.7 million in scholarships and grants
I met principal Dr. Janice D. Lombardi at the kick-off of the Big Read Dallas program featuring the school’s step team, then ran into her again at a Communities Foundation event where Garza student Jonathan Gonzales was an articulate and impressive panel member.
Lombardi is a dynamo with a big heart — a performance-driven, metric-savvy administrator who is passionate about her purpose and the students, families and faculty she serves. She is a turnaround maestro with young people who were previously underperforming.
The teaching approach at Garza considers the whole student: behavior, academics, strengths and weaknesses. “We have a culture of learning and college readiness here,” she notes. “Our instructional emphasis is effort-based; working hard does matter.”
Lombardi invited me to speak on campus as keynoter for Senior Leadership Week. What an experience! Parents, grandparents and other family members came for a special breakfast and morning of presentations. Translation services and headsets were offered. It was a celebration of milestones and hope for the future. The class of 2013 has a 100% graduation rate — with 46 out of 90 also earning a full Associate’s degree.
My favorite part? The alumni who returned to share advice and encouragement. Nine amazing examples of the Garza product – juniors and seniors in four-year colleges, including UT/Dallas, SMU, University of North Texas. 19-20 years old. Poised and polished.
Their messages were meaningful — not only for the new graduates, but for any of us who engage in lifelong learning and pursuit of dreams. Some very good reminders!
- You can accomplish what you set out to do. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
- Aim high! Why not? You will progress in steps. Some forward, some backward. But keep going.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. You are unique to yourself. Do your best on the path that is right for you.
- Learn time management. Accomplishing everything you need to do is not easy, especially if you are working while you are completing your studies. It takes organization, self-knowledge and discipline.
- Take care of your health. Beware of burnout. Eat properly. Get enough sleep. Recalibrate when you need to.
- Network! Knowing others is the key to growth and identification of new opportunities. Add to your circle of friends, mentors and advisors.
- Get out of your comfort zone. If you only know people like yourself, you are limiting your options. Learn how people behave and how things work in different environments.
- Watch for opportunity and be ready! By actively engaging in new relationships and new situations, you will learn about jobs, school projects, scholarships or internships.
- Surround yourself with those who share your values and vision. Do NOT get drawn into the wrong crowd.
- Make good decisions for yourself and your dreams.
- Risky and reckless behavior can have a derailing and irreversible effect. YOLO-You Only Live Once is a dangerous outlook.
- Love your family.
Lombardi and her team are changing lives. Isn’t this what public education is all about?
copyright 2013 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved
June 11, 2013