Spring Break Academy

Jesus Perez works on an English assignment Wednesday at Indian Spring Middle School during Transformation Waco’s Spring Break Academy. The program, in its first year, is aimed at helping students improve state standardized test scores.

Hundreds of students in Transformation Waco schools chose to spend their spring breaks at school to sharpen their literacy and math skills in preparation for state exams.

Waco Independent School District’s in-district charter school system planned the Spring Break Academy to help students who had the most potential to improve their test scores, said Desiree Hardeman, an assistant principal at Indian Spring Middle School. All five Transformation Waco schools participated in the program.

Administrators selected about 90 students from each school to attend the academy, bringing total participation to about 450 students in third- through eighth-grades. The district’s cost for the program came to about $200,000, with most going toward pay for teachers, principals and other staff, district spokesman Kyle DeBeer said.

Hardeman said competition for the teacher positions was high. She interviewed 32 applicants for the 10 teacher spots she had at her school.

Spring Break Academy

Teacher Krystal Collier works with Gabby Ibarra on a math assignment Wednesday at Indian Spring Middle School.

Students were chosen for the academy based on their state standardized test scores, with preference given to those likely to benefit the most from additional instruction, because the academy was limited to 90 students per campus, Hardeman said. Most students in the program passed the most recent State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness but could improve their scores. Others barely passed the exams or did not pass at all.

“Our focus is growth,” Hardeman said, adding that studies show 30 hours of intensive study leads to demonstrable gains for students.

The 450 students took a test Monday to gauge areas that need improvement, and they will test again Friday and after spring break to see where they have improved.

Educators examined the subject areas most likely to be tested on the STAAR and developed lesson plans around those, Hardeman said. Each teacher focuses on one subject and closely works with 10 to 12 students in a classroom. Every class has its own team name and flag, including the “Freedom Fighters” and “÷ and Conquer,” a math team.

Spring Break Academy

John Pineda (left) and Chris Gutierrez work on a math assignment Wednesday during Transformation Waco's Spring Break Academy, which is aimed at helping students improve state standardized test scores.

To encourage and engage students, teachers hand out awards to the students who participate the most and inspire others to participate, Hardeman said. One student from each class is selected as “student of the day.” They do not have to be the best in class but have a good attitude and work ethic. By Friday, every student will have won an award.

On Friday, students will attend an achievement celebration, and each will receive some type of trophy. They also will attend a panel on racism and bullying and have the opportunity to sign commitment cards. Parents are invited to attend Friday.

“These are things we are going to be able to incorporate into class after spring break,” Hardeman said.

Spring Break Academy

Anthony Navarrete exits his “Tenacious Tejanos”-themed classroom Wednesday at Indian Spring Middle School. Tenacious Tejanos is the class’ team name for the Transformation Waco Spring Break Academy.

Seventh-grader Catherine Gutierrez said her favorite part of the academy so far has been the scavenger hunts. Both she and classmate Sa’mya Gant wanted to attend the spring break session because they did not have anything else to do, although Sa’mya said she also wanted to improve her multiplication.

The students took a field trip to the Main Event Entertainment family fun center in Fort Worth on Wednesday afternoon after a morning of lessons. Hardeman said teachers would incorporate educational components into games like laser tag and bowling.

The other schools participating in the academy are G.W. Carver Middle School, Alta Vista Elementary School, Brook Avenue Elementary School and J.H. Hines Elementary School.

Brooke Crum joined the Tribune-Herald as the education reporter in January 2019. She has worked for the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri, Abilene Reporter-News, Beaumont Enterprise and the Port Arthur News. Crum graduated from TCU in Fort Worth.

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