San Benito inaugurating arts, sciences academies

SAN BENITO —Students with a passion for fine arts and environmental science will soon be able to receive personalized instruction in those fields.

The San Benito school district Board of Trustees held town hall meetings on March 20 and 21 to discuss the vision they have in place for the district’s next set of academies.

Ed Downs Elementary School will transition to a Fine Arts Academy and Sullivan Elementary School will transition to an Environmental Science Academy for the 2019-2020 school year.

Registration for both academies is open.

Students who are currently attending Ed Downs and Sullivan elementary schools will be grandfathered into the academies, but will still be required to submit an application.

“What that does are a couple of things,” said Board of Trustees President Michael Vargas. “It not only allows choice options for parents, which I think is important in a school district and for a community, but at the end of the day it also takes back the reigns of what we’ve experienced as a district relative to charter schools. “

Vargas believes the transformations will be a good first step.

“Charter schools come into our communities,” Vargas said. “I personally think there’s not anything wrong with that because it creates competition, forces us as a school district to remain competitive and to remain at our heels in terms of providing the best education we can.”

Ed Downs Fine Arts Academy

The Fine Arts Academy will provide an emphasis on music, art, theater, dance and video production.

“There are so many studies out there that tell us the arts are where the students are learning at the highest level of rigor,” Principal Manuela Lopez explained. “So, we know this will make a huge impact academically, but not only academically. It will help nurture the artistic and expressive student as well.”

The academy’s academic schedule will remain consistent with other schools, and the school’s afterschool program will have extended days.

Some aspects of the fine arts academy’s instructional plan will include background and study based on art, student emphasis of art and career exploration.

Lopez said the entire staff will be going to training in Austin the first week of June to show teachers how to integrate the arts into regular daily lessons and classwork.

“I think what we’re doing different is we’re going to actually have the implementation of these programs throughout the school day instead of just having them in the afterschool program,” Lopez said. “That’s something that’s usually not seen in the lower Valley right now.”

Lopez said the goal is to have at least 550 students enroll in the Fine Arts Academy.

Hortencia Trejo has a child who is currently attending Ed Downs Elementary School.

She believes the school’s soon-to-be transformation is a “really great idea.”

“I wish they had this when I was a kid,” she said. “I think the arts affects their academic performance in very positive ways so it’s something I’m looking forward to.”

Sullivan Environmental Science Academy

Principal Diana Atkinson plans to “plant the seeds of the future” at the Sullivan Environmental Science Academy.

The vision for the Academy is to foster an interest in environmental issues and explore all aspects of the earth’s physical and biological environments.

“We want to teach the kids to love science, learn about the environment and love the world around them,” Atkinson said.

The Environmental Science Academy will feature activities and amenities such as rainwater harvesting, a butterfly garden, a greenhouse, composting stations, a hatchery, traditional gardening, aquaponics and the initiation of a farmer’s market where fruits and vegetables from the garden can be sold.

Planned units of study for pre-kindergarten through fifth will include forestry and agriculture, petrology, oceanography and marine science, atmospheric and planetary science, zoology and ecology.

Nancy Quesada, a mother of two students attending Sullivan Elementary School, said she really enjoys the environmental science lessons that have been implemented into the classroom so far.

“My kids go home and they tell me they learned about the weather and plants,” Quesada explained. “I think that’s really big and I’m glad because I have a black thumb so maybe they’ll be able to help me.”

Atkinson said Sullivan Elementary personnel hope the school will see an influx in enrollment.

Currently, the school has around 400 students.

“I think what we’re doing is really great. We’re thinking outside the box and doing things outside the box,” Atkinson said. “We’re not going to be a traditional elementary school anymore.”

What you need to know

SCHOOL — Ed Downs Elementary School

APPLICATION DEADLINE — April 12

WHERE — 1302 North Dowling, San Benito

PHONE — (956) 361-6720

SCHOOL — Sullivan Elementary School

WHERE — 900 Elizabeth, San Benito

PHONE — (956) 361-6880