Botello Elementary School preps kids for college at a very young age

A group of 5th graders listen to their teacher Eva Trevino during a book review discussion at Felix G. Botello Elementary. (Photo by Rasy Ran)
A group of 5th graders listen to their teacher Eva Trevino during a book review discussion at Felix G. Botello Elementary. (Photo by Rasy Ran)

At Botello Elementary School, students take control of their education

When students queue up for lunch at Felix G. Botello Elementary School, they organize themselves beneath college flags.

Teachers then call their turns to get in line: Howard, Duke, Stanford and so on.

It’s one of the myriad ways the school drills it into them: You are going to college, and you can learn the skills needed for success now.

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College readiness begins in pre-K at Botello through a school-wide program called Advancement Via Individual Determination that’s better known by its acronym AVID.

Kindergarteners learn to organize their papers in a folder, to bring them home and return them to school the next day.

Third-graders know to fold a sheet of paper lengthwise into thirds for taking notes during class.

“It sounds very simplistic, but who taught you to take notes?” asks principal Reyna Sotelo.

The college push is apparent everywhere. Teachers and staff members share their college pride with pennants, posters and T-shirts. Every class, from pre-K through fifth grade, takes an annual field trip to visit a college.

In AVID schools, students learn to
take responsibility for their own achievement.

They reference their own notes to find answers. They learn to be organized, set goals and track their own grades.

During parent-teacher conferences, second- through fifth-graders  run the meetings, presenting their grades, and explaining where they’re achieving goals and areas that need work.

“We are preparing our students for real life,” Sotelo says. “They’re 5 and 6 and 7 years old, and we explain to them what they can take control of now.”

The Texas Trees Foundation donated dozens of trees to Botello as well as all the tools and materials needed to plant them. (Photo by Rasy Ran)
The Texas Trees Foundation donated dozens of trees to Botello as well as all the tools and materials needed to plant them. (Photo by Rasy Ran)

Sotelo introduced AVID during her first year at Botelo in 2013. The school’s state ratings have improved every year of Sotelo’s tenure; last year, they received five distinctions, missing the sixth distinction by only two points.

Now educators from all over Texas and the United States visit Botello because it is a study of a successful AVID school.

At the AVID National Conference in Dallas this month, two Botello fifth-graders will give speeches before an audience of about 2,000 educators and then answer questions from a panel. Public speaking and addressing adults with eye contact and clear language is part of the AVID education.

Fifth-grader Mariana Duran attended Botello before it was an AVID school, and she remembers feeling disorganized as a second-grader.

“Sometimes I would forget to do my homework,” she says.

Now she has a daily “agenda” or schedule of homework and projects that she references all throughout the day.

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Duran wants to attend Baylor University or the University of Oklahoma with plans of becoming a surgeon. The AVID panel that chose her for the national conference asked how she would improve her education. She suggested that tests should be shorter and more frequent.

Eric Ponce, also a fifth-grader, arrives to our interview wearing a blue dress shirt and tie. He wants to go to college and become a police officer.

“We talk in front of parents and give speeches to the PTA,” he says. “It’s normal for us now.”

Outdoor learning

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The Texas Trees Foundation awarded a $10,000 grant to the school to pay for dozens of trees and all of the materials to plant them throughout their campus on Marsalis at Jefferson.

As with everything at Botello, students took the lead. They designed the layout for the trees and decided on a butterfly garden, labyrinth and amphitheater.

At the beginning of this school year, students, teachers, parents and volunteers planted all of the trees themselves.

School choice

Botello applied to become an academy school last year, and Dallas ISD asked them to apply again. If approved this year, the school could become a STEAM or leadership academy, Sotelo says.

“The fun part is saying, ‘OK, we achieved that goal, now how can we take this up a notch?’ ” Sotelo says. “We’re constantly researching what we’re already doing and seeing how we can raise the bar.”

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