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Language Barriers, Poverty Not Excuses At Successful Dallas School

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Robbie Owens Robbie Owens
Robbie grew up in northeast Texas, in a tiny town where her fami...
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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – In Monica Rivera’s third grade Science class, students are busy mixing and measuring, calculating and learning– striving to meet their teacher’s high expectations.  It is what school leaders call “the norm” at Dallas’ Sam Houston Elementary.

“They’re very interested in what they’re learning, ” says Rivera, “and they always give 100%.”  And it shows.

Earlier this week, Children at Risk, a non-profit child advocacy group, recognized Sam Houston as being one of the best in North Texas– presenting the school with a special Blue Ribbon award that acknowledged its tremendous success in circumstances that can best be described as ‘challenged.’

According to the school’s website, nearly 3 of 4 Sam Houston students have limited English proficiency and as many as 97 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.  But, here poverty does not excuse — it’s the reason many of the staff are so motivated.

“We don’t expect any less of these children,” says Rivera, “our expectations are always high regardless of where they come from or who they are.”

Principal Oscar Nandayapa doesn’t like to take credit for turning the once low-performing school around.  But he says the students’ success has been a combination of high expectations, accountability and consistently setting goals.

“At the beginning of the year, we set goals,” says Nandayapa, “we set hefty goals, we shoot for the moon.”

TAKS test scores for 2011 show 90 percent of Sam Houston students met state standards in reading and 91 percent passed the math portion of the exam.  And Nandayapa says what has worked at Sam Houston could work anywhere.  “Our students and any students in any school in any area can achieve, given the right tools.”

And Nanadayapa believes that the ‘right tools’ are good teachers, passionate teachers, who he says will put their students first. And while admits that the parent involvement at Sam Houston is not as high as what he’d like– he credits parents for making sure their children are present:  the school has a 97 percent attendance rate.

Nandayapa also says a teacher, a counselor or even he will go knock on parent’s door when children miss school.  “They cannot learn at home, they gotta be here.  Whatever it takes: a door, a window, I got to talk to somebody!”

Sam Houston is now considered a ‘Recognized’ campus by the state.  But school leaders say they will continue to encourage their students to do more than succeed on standardized exams — they want them to go to college and succeed in life.

“We know they are able to do the things that the rest of the children can do,” says Rivera.

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