Despite rampant poverty, Reagan Elementary is thriving

Staff at John H. Reagan Elementary are gearing up for their REAL School garden slated for a Nov. 3 groundbreaking. About a third of the teachers at the school are graduates from DISD, and also those who have grown up in Oak Cliff, reinforcing the homegrown theme. (Photo by Rasy Ran)
Staff at John H. Reagan Elementary are gearing up for their REAL School garden slated for a Nov. 3 groundbreaking. About a third of the teachers at the school are graduates from DISD, and also those who have grown up in Oak Cliff, reinforcing the homegrown theme. (Photo by Rasy Ran)

Won’t back down

More than a third of the teachers and staff members at Reagan Elementary School graduated from Dallas ISD schools.

Many of those attended Reagan themselves (DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa attended Reagan as well).

Don’t try to tell them DISD schools aren’t great.

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“I didn’t have private tutors or help at home,” says Reagan principal Ruby Ramirez, a first-generation American, who graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in East Dallas. “Our great teachers in this district put me where I wanted to be.”

The majority of Reagan’s students are poor; 94 percent receive free or reduced lunch,
the poverty indicator used by schools. About 98 percent of the school’s 400 students are Hispanic. Many start school knowing little or no English.

Fourth-grade teacher Alma Garcia, who attended Rosemont, Greiner and Sunset, knows what that’s like. She is the oldest of five children, a daughter of immigrants from Mexico. She was the first to go to an American school and the first in her family to learn English.

She says she was the “pioneer” who helped guide her younger siblings through school. By second grade, she knew she wanted to become a teacher.

The biggest challenge, she says, is persuading students that they can go to college.

“All it takes is your education to move forward, so it’s convincing them and making them believers that anything can happen if you try and you do your best,” Garcia says.

Reagan students perform well on the STAAR test, receiving the highest rank, “met standard,” in 2015. And the school scores “exemplary” across all other accountability ratings. Principal Ramirez is especially proud of the school’s “exemplary” rating for parental involvement, a tricky feat considering the school’s demographics. Many Reagan parents are overworked and undereducated, but they are dedicated to children’s education, she says.

Besides that, Reagan receives a ton of community support in the way of donations and volunteers, particularly from those in real estate. This is a school where at least 376 of 400 children are living in poverty while $500,000 townhomes are being built a block away.

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West Dallas-based Hunger Busters brings free lunch to Reagan all through the summer. And every student receives a Christmas gift from local churches.

Amid the constant battle against poverty, Reagan students are achievers.

The school has a blossoming robotics program that went to state for Destination Imagination last year.

This month, Reagan receives a Real School Garden thanks to a $30,000 grant from the grocer Sprouts Farmers Market and AT&T. The school district will remove a portable to make room for the learning garden, which breaks ground Nov. 3. It will have raised vegetable beds, shaded seating areas, a whiteboard, a weather station and a rain harvester, among other features. The garden will serve as an outdoor classroom for lessons in nutrition, earth science and art.

As with everything they’re given, the teachers and students of Reagan will take full advantage of it, Ramirez says.

“We all know that we work with what we’ve got, and it goes back to the upbringing of our staff,” she says. “You’re not born into privilege; you make do with what you’ve got.”

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