Hybrid Teaching and Learning in TX Region I: Los Fresnos CISD: Rancho Verde Elementary

March 22, 2021
For this week’s Power User Profile, I'm taking a look at the remarkable Rancho Verde Elementary School and how they've been delivering excellence to their students during a challenging year of hybrid teaching and learning. Hybrid classrooms may become the “New Normal,” the thing that lingers long after the pandemic is contained. Did COVID open a Pandora’s Box of troubles for Teachers? Find out how Rancho Verde Elementary School is using TeacherMade to manage the work in their hybrid classrooms.

School: Rancho Verde Elementary School

District
Los Fresnos CISD
State
Texas
Enrollment
700
Number Of Classroom Teachers
40+
Title I School
Yes
Title I Schoolwide Program
Yes
Location
Suburban/Rural
Minority Majority
Yes
Grades Served
PK-5
TeacherMade Power User Profile

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Brownsville, TX Is a Major Entry Point for Asylum Seekers

Nestled in the Rio Grande Valley in the southernmost tip of Texas sits Cameron County, bordered by Mexico and the warm waters of the Gulf. Though you’ve likely never heard of Cameron County, you’re certainly familiar with Brownsville. Brownsville is the biggest city in Cameron County (pop. about 200k) and it’s most associated with the two epic human struggles that take place there daily. Central Americans come to the Brownsville area with the great hope of entering the US and bettering their lives. It is one of the most active crossings along the southern border of the United States. They walk hundreds of miles from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, etc. to cross the Gateway International Bridge and seek asylum in the US. Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are so common in Brownsville that you no longer take note of them.

Brownsville Is Also Home to a SpaceX Rocket Launch Facility

On the far eastern edge of the city, some of the world’s best engineers are engaged in a struggle of a different sort, though no less urgent and aspirational. Space X, a private space exploration company and aeronautical manufacturer, has erected a facility that will one day launch humans aboard spaceships into the stars and headed to a new way of life on Mars.

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TX ESC Region 1 Known for Exceptional Schools and Leadership

These two human dramas draw frequent national attention to the Brownsville area and are usually what come to mind when the city’s name is mentioned nowadays. However, when I hear “Brownsville, TX” I think of the many fiercely determined Teachers and administrators I’ve met on my trips to The Valley who will not let access to quality education become another struggle their part of the world is known for. Because of them and the thousands more I’ve never met, Region 1, as it’s known in education circles, is renowned throughout Texas for its exceptional schools and strong educational leadership.

(I also think of the sublime nachos I ate one night at The Vermillion, a local landmark restaurant, back in 2012. I didn’t know that such mundane fare had a poetic side. It was the educators I was dining with who were determined that I set aside my low expectations of an average dish and try it again. And were they ever right!! I think about those nachos whenever I’m confronted by the usual tortilla chips with some melted cheese and watery salsa. I remember Brownsville and that with some attention and imagination, the humblest of things can become mighty.)

Rancho Verde Elementary - A Distinctive School

The determination of Teachers and their uncompromising expectations for their students is best typified by the staff at Rancho Verde Elementary School in Los Fresnos CISD, located on the northern edge of Brownsville. Out here, you wouldn’t even know you were in a “city” except for the water treatment plant that must be for some population center somewhere. On the Palo Verde plains that saw the beginning of the U.S.-Mexican War is where Rancho Verde was erected, a mere two miles west of the site of the famous battle that led to the construction of Fort Brown and the founding of the city of Brownsville. The school rises from the fields of cordgrass as a reminder that anything is possible… and the possibilities are endless.

Built in 2008, Rancho Verde Elementary has already been named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. It hosts a nationally acclaimed STEM program called Project Lead the Way and has been recognized as a Project Launch Distinguished School alongside only 13 other schools nationally. And eight of them are the other elementary schools in Los Fresnos CISD. Rancho Verde has also received perfect scores in the Texas Education Agency Postsecondary Readiness Distinction awards since the honors began in 2014. 

And consider this: they now have a cutting edge full-day preschool program that launched during COVID.

Rancho Verde Elementary and TeacherMade

So when I discovered that the Teachermaders at Rancho Verde Elementary are in the 1% of TeacherMade users worldwide, I also learned that it was to be expected since exceptionalism is their goal– and they usually achieve it. In response to hybrid teaching challenges during COVID, Rancho Verde Teachers began making TeacherMade activities for their students back in October, just after we went live. And they’ve never stopped!! On average, they’ve made over 200 worksheets per Teacher as of this writing and have received back thousands of submissions from their students– both at home and in the classroom.. 

How TeacherMade is Used at Rancho Verde Elementary, Los Fresnos CISD

Whenever it’s time to practice new math, reading, or science skills, Rancho Verde students open up their TeacherMade assignments and get to work. Like so many TeacherMaders, the faculty has digitized the workbook pages their students once wrote on in the classroom. It’s hard to use physical pages when some of your students are zooming into class. (Many of you remember the early days of the pandemic when you distributed PDFs, the students who could printed them out, worked on them, took pictures, and emailed back photos of their work. Ugh!!) No matter the location, their students use the TeacherMade digital tools to complete their assignments. Of course, a big bonus for the Teachers is that there’s no more lugging around piles of papers to grade. Because they use the autograding features in TeacherMade, much of the grading is done instantaneously. It takes a few seconds longer to set up the activity, but the savings in time and aggravation are worth it. Teachers give their feedback digitally and the time lapse from instruction to feedback and retakes is condensed into minutes instead of hours or days. This efficiency helps to inform teaching decisions and improve instructional supports in real time, precisely when it’s most impactful. It’s formative assessment in action.

TeacherMade Best Practices in Action

Rancho Verde has implemented the use of TeacherMade across entire grade levels. Instead of working in isolated classrooms, their implementation has been comprehensive. This approach makes a huge difference in the successful adoption of any ed tech. In the same way we as Teachers provide scaffolding for our students, when we work together on a technology platform we can provide the support to each other that we need to be effective practitioners. At Rancho Verde, Teachers are working in grade-level teams and sharing their knowledge of the TeacherMade platform across the institution. They now have the organizational knowledge necessary for smoother, more efficient deployment. Their Power User status in TeacherMade is the evidence of this best practice in action.

Rancho Verde Will Continue to Be a Success

Though I’m ambivalent about end-of-year testing for the 2020-2021 school year, I’ll be looking forward to seeing STAAR test results for one big reason: I predict Rancho Verde Elementary students will be at or above grade level. I’d like to think that it’s because their decision to use TeacherMade has reduced the challenges of a hybrid model and virtual confusion. But… maybe… and more so… it’s because the Teachers and administrators at Rancho Verde are so determined to deliver a quality education to every student in their school– that not even a pandemic is going to slow them down. We thank the Teachers and administrators for providing such a powerful example for other TeacherMaders to follow.

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