celebrate education - brought to you by the amarillo globe-news

Walking toward the future - Students aim higher

Program tries to prepare for college early

By Brenda Bernet

Anthony Deherrera, 11, dreams of growing up to be a firefighter.

Keila Garza, 11, wants to be a lawyer.

Aubrey Anderson, also 11, could see herself working with computers.

"I just love the keyboards and how they sound when you type," Anderson said.

The three San Jacinto Elementary School fifth-graders know reaching those goals requires more than a high school diploma. They committed to do their best in school through a new "No Excuses University" program.

The program links schools across the nation intent on preparing all children, no matter their backgrounds, to further their education beyond a high school diploma.

"I'm going to college," Deherrera said. "I try my best and make good grades."

Each student who signs the "San Jacinto College Plan" with a parent receives a "No Excuses" T-shirt, which is worn on Mondays. A majority of students have received T-shirts.

"They're going to do now what they need to do to go to college," Principal Doug Curry said. "We're not playing."

Inspiration for "No Excuses University" came from a summer conference Curry and a few teachers attended in Scottsdale, Ariz. They met officials from a "No Excuses University" school recognized as a national Blue Ribbon School in 2000-01.

That campus had achieved top results in a community with many low-income families and students who spoke dozens of different languages, Curry said.

"It was like they were talking about San Jacinto," said second-grade teacher Tommie Renteria, who attended the conference. "This is how we felt."

Roughly 98 percent of the 650 students at San Jacinto live in low-income families, and many do not speak English, Curry said. Their parents work hard to provide a better life for their children.

"It's just giving them a dream they didn't have before," Curry said.

Staff members had talked to students about the importance of education to prepare for high school, but the conference made Curry realize they needed to aim higher, he said.

The goal is for students to set their sights on some form of postsecondary education, but at the elementary level, it's more easily understood as "going to college."

"We're not where we need to be yet," he said. "It kind of felt like we were chipping away at an iceberg. We needed something bigger."

Now, nearly every facet of school centers on the same goal.

Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exams serve as indicators of whether students are on track to go to college, Curry said. When students go to the office, administrators ask why they chose to disrupt a classroom of children going to college.

At the elementary level, students prepare for college by doing well in math, science, social studies, writing and reading, Curry said.

The goal is not just about scores on the TAKS tests, Curry said. Students who can't read in elementary school have a harder time in life.

"This is life or death for children," Curry said.

Second-graders still talk about what they want to be when they grow up in Renteria's classroom, she said. The discussion continues with how to accomplish those dreams.

Students have taken ownership of the "no excuses" theme. Students who don't turn in homework in Renteria's classroom hear from their peers.

"My kids will say, 'We don't have excuses in this room,'" Renteria said.

calendar of events
  • January 11
    Kickoff of 2009 Program
    Find out what Celebrate Education is all about in this special section in your Sunday paper.
  • March 7
    Regional Spelling Bee, West Texas A&M University
    The annual Regional Spelling Bee will feature the top spellers from the Amarillo area. The top five winners will receive scholarship money ranging from $500 to $5,000 and the winner will travel to Washington, D.C., in June to represent the area in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
  • Spring and Fall
    Amarillo Reads community-wide reading projects.
    Dates and details TBA
  • April
    Amarillo Education Matching Grants Program. Exact date TBA
  • April 10
    What's a Kid to Do Special Section
  • April 12
    What's a Kid to Do at the Amarillo Civic Center
    This event will focus on activities and camps for children to participate in during the summer..
  • May 8-29
    Beating the Odds
    A series of stories published daily in the Amarillo Globe-News during the graduation season that profiles people who have inspiring stories to tell about the degree they are about to receive.
  • May 12
    Ready for the Real World program at Amarillo Civic Center
    AISD juniors get training on what's going to face them in a little more than a year.
  • May 16
    Best and Brightest Special Section
  • May 16
    Best and Brightest Event at West Texas A&M University
  • Fall
    Discover College Day
    Fifth graders from area schools visit college campuses.
  • October 1
    Great Jobs Special Section
    Focusing on well paying jobs available in the area that people may not know about.
  • November 2
    Career Education Special Section
    Focusing on businesses and others in the community helping young people gain a career vision.
  • November
    Yes You Can Event
    Designed to help people gain information about the next level of education from GED to PhD. Date TBA.
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