Language Learning Engages Houston Students

I recently had the chance to visit Herrera Elementary School and Mandarin Immersion Magnet School in the Houston Independent School District. What we noticed at both schools was that the staff and students were demonstrating what we consider 12 of the top things to look for in student-centered schools.

Adam Stephens, HISD Officer for Innovative Curriculum, shared that no matter what school you go to in Houston, there is a focus on providing high-quality school options and choice for all students and families. One of those choices is to attend a school that offers dual language. With over 60 dual language programs in the district, there certainly is no lack of language learning options for students and families.

Herrera Elementary School. Herrera is an IB school that offers dual language in half of the classes at each grade-level. The school is also a technology magnet, which I immediately saw as I noticed classrooms were equipped with SMART Boards, SMART tables, iPads and other devices to support student learning. When we entered Herrera, it was also very clear that they were committed to a physical environment that supported school learning and culture. The walls were covered with student work and vibrant with bright colors. There was a blend of individual, partner and group work apparent in every classroom we went into. Students were on-task and clearly enjoying their learning. Students in the language classrooms were eager to greet us in Spanish and share what they were learning. Principal Chris Carnes expressed that Herrera has come a long way. The positive energy and joy amongst students and staff at Herrera was undeniable.

Mandarin Immersion Magnet Elementary. The first 100% dedicated Mandarin language immersion magnet school in Texas, Mandarin Immersion Magnet Elementary in Houston is a must-see. Not only is the new state-of-the-art building impressive and clearly designed with students in mind, but the high-quality instruction and cohesive culture is notable. Principal ChaoLin Chang was extremely proud of the school, and took great care in explaining the instructional model, school principles and routines. Throughout the building, school values and goals were apparent and adhered to regardless of what student you talked to or classroom you walked into. Every classroom we entered was rich with student voice and use of the language. Students were also using personalized technology to enhance their learning.

Both schools, while they had different attributes, were equally dedicated to providing rich language learning experiences for students and great student-centered environments.

For more, see:

These visits were in partnership with the Kauffman Foundation. Almost 300 community members from Kansas City have visited schools around the country thanks to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation as part of the Kansas City Great Schools initiative (check out #KCGreatSchools and also see their blog), which was designed to expose “community members to cities with concentrations of high-performing public schools serving a similar population of students as those in Kansas City’s public schools.” Participants got a chance to see design-built schools and those still on a journey–each with their own unique structure, culture, and curriculum.

School visits can be a powerful part of a professional learning plan and a critical part of a school transformation effort. It expands your sense of what’s possible and informs the path forward. We’re planning fall school visits. Contact [email protected] if you’re interested.

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures, please see our Partner page.

Emily Liebtag

Emily Liebtag, Ed.D., is Education Reimagined's Senior Partner for Systems Transformation. Formerly, Emily served as the Vice President of Advocacy at Getting Smart.

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