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57
ByWilliamTrombley
Senior Editor
El Paso, Texas
A
t the H.D. Hilley Elementary School, close to the
U.S.-Mexico border, more than 70 percent of the students
enter first grade speaking little or no English, and more
than 90 percent are poor enough to qualify for the federal
lunch program.
Many of the children live in “colonias”—groups of shacks
and trailer shells which often have no electricity, running
water, trash pickup or sewer lines. These settlements are illegal
but they exist in ever-increasing numbers, according to school
officials.
Yet test scores at H.D. Hilley have shot up in the last three
years. For instance, in 1996 only 60 percent of Hilley’s fifth
graders passed the reading portion of the state-mandated
Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS), but this year 94
percent passed. In mathematics, the pass rate for fifth graders
jumped from 74 percent to 92 percent.
“I’m in seventh heaven, seeing what the children can do,”
Principal Ivonne Durant said.
Durant gives much of the credit for this improvement
to the El Paso Collaborative for Academic Excellence, a
partnership that includes the University of Texas-El Paso, El
Paso Community College, the three largest school districts in
the area, and local business and civic leaders.
“There is no question in my mind that we have made
some huge gains and that much of it has been due to the
Collaborative,” Durant said.
Because of the partnership, Hilley has a math and
science “mentor,”
Freddie Vasquez,
an experienced
teacher who helps the
school’s 35 classroom
teachers with math
instruction. Vasquez
is one of 39 mentors
who work in the three
school districts—El
Paso, Socorro and
Ysleta—that are part
of the Collaborative.
The money to pay the
mentors comes from a
five-year, $15 million
grant from the National Science Foundation.
Hilley, which is in the Socorro School District, also has a
“literacy leader,” a teacher who has been freed from regular
classroom duties to help other teachers find ways to improve
student reading and writing.
Winter 1999
A Collaborative for Academic Excellence
El Paso’s partnership program boasts impressive gains in student performance
All of Hilley’s classrooms are connected to the Internet,
allowing youngsters who might come from homes
without telephones or electricity to learn about modern
communication. Beginning with first graders, each student
has an e-mail account. Last fall, fourth graders worked on
a joint project with a school in a remote area of western
Australia.
Money for the computers, Internet connections and other
technology comes from a $10 million U.S. Department of
Education grant.
A prominent feature of every classroom at H.D. Hilley, as
in every other Collaborative school, is a huge wall chart titled
“El Paso Standards for Academic Excellence,” spelling out
the skills that each student should have mastered by fourth,
eighth and 12th grade, in seven subject areas. The chart was
developed over a two-year period by teachers, parents, school
administrators and university faculty members.
The school has a “parent center,” offering everything from
Two-thirds of the students at the University of Texas-El Paso are Hispanic. Many of
them will teach in area schools after graduation.
A prominent feature
of every classroom in
every Collaborative
school is a huge
wall chart titled
“El Paso Standards
for Academic
Excellence.”
Photos by Scott Weaver, Black Star, for CrossTalk