Mobile literacy outreach program helps foster love of reading

Bess the Book Bus, a national mobile literacy outreach program, stopped in Houston recently to promote literacy and share a little story time with HISD students.

A student at Barrick ES shows off her selection. Photos courtesy Anthony Amirante.

A student at Barrick ES shows off her selection. Photos courtesy Anthony Amirante.

The bus, which makes its way across the U.S. every year, visited Barrick and Grissom Elementary schools on April 22. Jennifer Frances, the bus’ founder, read aloud to students at Grissom, and afterwards the children got to explore the bus and pick out a book to keep. More than 430 Pre-K and kindergarten students received a free book that day to start their at-home libraries.

“Many of our students come from low-income homes where books—particularly children’s books—are considered a luxury,” said HISD Literacy Director Cindy Puryear. “So it’s really exciting when children get to have a book of their very own to keep, especially when it’s one that they picked out themselves. We are very grateful to organizations like Bess the Book Bus for giving our students this experience.”

Bess the Book Bus is dedicated to sharing the joy of reading with underprivileged children. It was founded in Tampa, Fla., in 2002, and named in honor of Frances’ grandmother, Bess. The bus has traveled to all 48 contiguous states in the U.S. and is funded solely by generous donors, including CITGO Petroleum, which offsets the cost of gasoline.

In 2015, Bess the Book Bus served more than 25,000 kids in 25 states.

Magnet Spotlight: Marshall Middle School offers top-notch art instruction

Campus is the fifth to be featured in a series of articles on magnet schools that still have space available

Members of Marshall Middle School Academy of Fine Arts Band perform during The Rusk School ribbon cutting ceremony, April 7, 2014. (Houston ISD/Dave Einsel)

Members of Marshall Middle School Academy of Fine Arts Band perform during The Rusk School ribbon cutting ceremony, April 7, 2014. (Houston ISD/Dave Einsel)

HISD has six magnet campuses with a fine arts focus serving grades 6–8, and Marshall Middle School is one of them.

There, students can take classes in band, choir, dance, guitar, mariachi, orchestra, piano, theater arts, or visual art to develop their creative expression, and young artists work together to produce high-quality performances, exhibitions, and publications.

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Magnet Spotlight: Austin HS navigating maritime and teaching profession pathways

Campus is fourth in a series of articles on magnet schools with space still available

AustinHS_Tug_440x230Students who attend Austin High School have two enticing study pathways available to them. They can embark on a path to becoming educators themselves through the school’s well-established teaching professions program, or they can explore careers in the thriving maritime industry.

When the school’s teaching program was created in 1982, it was the first high-school teacher preparation program of its kind in the nation. Today, the program benefits from a partnership with the University of Houston that prepares students both for life on a college campus after graduation, and life in the classroom as professional educators afterwards.

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Author, homelessness activist Noah Rattler visits Mitchell ES

Meeting the author of a book can sometimes create a personal connection to a story for readers.

And that is just what third- through fifth-graders at Mitchell Elementary School got to experience on April 17, when Houstonian and author Noah Rattler visited their campus. Rattler spoke with students regarding his book, “Noah’s Walk,” which is about his 1,800-mile journey to raise awareness about homelessness. Continue reading

Magnet Spotlight: M.C. Williams Middle School – ‘STEM’-ulating innovation

M.C. Williams Middle School is preparing students for the most in-demand jobs of the 21st century.

The school’s engineering academy, which serves students in grades 6–8, offers students three pathways related to engineering: science, mathematics, and technology. Key components of the program include offshore technologies, green energy, geosciences, underwater robotics, and environmental engineering.  Continue reading

32 HISD high schools rated as best in nation in 2015 Washington Post rankings

Five HISD high schools land in top 100 of America’s Most Challenging High Schools.

A Houston Independent School District high school has been named as one of the top 10 high schools in the country, and four more have been listed among the top 100, according to the Washington Post.

The five schools are among 32 HISD high schools that made it onto the Washington Post’s 2015 list of America’s Most Challenging High Schools. Nearly three-quarters of the district’s high schools received the prestigious distinction, which was granted to just 11 percent of schools across the country this year.

Carnegie Vanguard High School took home top honors for HISD, ranking 9th out of the more than 2,300 high schools from across the country that made the list. Eastwood Academy ranked 63rd, Challenge Early College High School came in 79th, Energized for STEM placed 84th, and the High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice ranked 87th.

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Westbury HS students create fancy footwear for Vans Custom Culture contest

Clockwise from upper L are the Westbury HS entries for local flavor, art, music, and action sports.

Clockwise from upper L are the Westbury HS entries for local flavor, art, music, and action sports.

Seven creative students from Westbury High School are putting their best foot forward for the chance to win thousands of dollars for their campus’ art program—and to see their designs on other people’s feet.

The Westbury group—which is comprised of Joel Arredondo, Miguel Arredondo, Johnlee Chukwu, Cristian Garcia, Jailen Mendez, Silvester Laguna, and Klo Lay Pla—was selected from among 200 teams of applicants to participate in the Vans Custom Culture contest.

The competition is designed to foster high-school students’ creativity while simultaneously building awareness of shrinking arts education budgets across the country. Participants are challenged to customize four pairs of plain white Vans shoes using the following themes: art, music, action sports, and local flavor. Details from Westbury’s submissions include an astronaut against a backdrop of the Houston skyline (local flavor) and a skateboarding ramp complete with hand rail (action sports).

Judges will determine the top 10 semifinalists for each of five regions, and those will be presented to the public for voting starting Friday, April 24. Voting will last through Monday, May 11, with the top five finalists being announced on May 12.

All 25 regional finalists will be flown to New York City for the announcement of the grand prize winner in June. The grand prize winner will receive $50,000 for its high school art program and a chance for its designs to be sold in Vans retail stores. Runners-up will receive $4,000 towards their schools.

The Westbury team works under the direction of art teacher Amanda Fuchs.

‘Astronomical’ discovery leads to ExMASS contest triumph for Bellaire HS

L-R are: Bellaire HS students Sue Anne Davis, Kevin Nguyen, Jennifer Wang, Afton Widdershins, and Steven Zhou-Wright

L-R are: Bellaire HS students Sue Anne Davis, Kevin Nguyen, Jennifer Wang, Afton Widdershins, and Steven Zhou-Wright

Students win free trip to Calif. to present their work at NASA planetary science conference

A team of three seniors and two juniors from Bellaire High School will be presenting its findings to professional scientists this summer, after winning the annual Exploration of the Moon and Asteroids by Secondary Students (ExMASS) contest.

The ExMASS contest, which is managed by the Center for Lunar Science and Exploration and administered at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston, challenges students to research an idea in either lunar science or asteroid science.

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Magnet Spotlight: Gregory Lincoln students learn about fine arts, fine cuisine

Campus is second in a series of schools with space available to be profiled in advance of School Choice Fair


Kellie Karavias (holding rake) poses with some of her students

Students at HISD’s Gregory Lincoln Education Center can not only hone their skills in the visual and performing arts, but also in the culinary arts. This fine arts magnet school, which serves students in grades Pre-K through 8, offers focused instruction in the areas of music, choir, theatre arts, dance, visual arts, and multimedia.

The campus also has a culinary arts program led by Kellie Karavias, who was named a “Food Revolution Hero” in 2013 by celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver. Under her supervision, students learn how food is grown by working in the school garden, how food is prepared by cooking or assembling dishes in the kitchen, and even how restaurants and other commercial food production facilities are inspected by taking tours of district facilities.

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