Lisa Taylor lives close to Quintanilla Middle School but didn’t really know it existed until just before she began teaching there a few years ago. She’s now an English as a second language, or ESL, teacher, and has made it her mission to create a holistic education for her students. Taylor has poured herself into Quintanilla’s after school program, founding multiple clubs and spaces for students to put their education to use whether it’s gardening, poetry, or even piano lessons. Taylor believes it’s a great school, and she’s frustrated that more of her neighbors don’t see it as a good choice.
Lisa Taylor: This is my fifth year.
Keri Mitchell:And you taught here for five years?
Lisa Taylor: Yep.
Keri Mitchell: Were you a teacher before that?
Lisa Taylor: No, I changed my career. I gave up doing PR for nonprofit arts organization and artists, almost five, well, five years ago now. The reason being I had worked for everybody I wanted to work for number one. And number two, I thought I’d have more fun working with the egos of youth instead of the egos of adults.
Keri Mitchell: I could see that.
Lisa Taylor: I had had enough. Yeah, so I almost gave up. I was at my third job fair, and I overheard somebody say, “There’s a school at Westmoreland and 30.” And I went, “That’s close to me” So and then I looked back and there was a table Quintanilla Middle School. Never heard of it even though I’ve been living over here for 30 years. Never heard of it, which is what prompted this whole project I’ve been doing now. I got hired luckily, because the lady at the table was a journalist. I was a journalist. She just hired me on the spot. Ever since, I’ve been trying to get Quintanilla known in this community more because the Anglos in this community have no clue about anything except Greiner and Rosemont. Those are the two names they know. There are a lot of other schools in this neighborhood, and they all need help in terms of volunteer work. Now, the second part was to offer these students more opportunities in the community than what they had before. So I initiated basically four different clubs, one being Culture Club, which started the bat and made sense I already had cultural context. So people like Bruce with dance project have been kind enough to donate, so we go every year to their project, to their performances. We go every year to the Dallas Children’s Theatre. We go every year to the Nasher. We go every year to the Dallas Museum of Art, Latino Cultural Center. We have 20 field trips this year.
Keri Mitchell: Wow. And I saw the list of things under your name, are you involved in all of those?
Lisa Taylor: Yes, so it’s fun. So Culture Club, and then there’s Poetry Club, which I’m delighted Big Thought came in on year two and has been giving us funding to be able to take students to Diverse Lounge.
Keri Mitchell: Yes I have heard of it just recently.
Lisa Taylor: Okay six times a year, they convert Deep Ellum live into a basically there’s a performance space, an art gallery area, a coffee house, a DJ space. So middle schoolers and high schoolers come together to perform spoken word. They’re accompanied by live professional adult musicians and live professional visual artists who are painting on stage. So these kids will get up there and speak their opinion, right, speak their voice and tell their stories. And then the musicians will pick up on the rhythm and play behind them. And then the painter will be painting something like a word or a picture of the poet to go with it. It’s all simultaneous. And then there’s an audience of about 80 of us. So I have a club that meets every Wednesday, and they write – that’s all they want to do. They walk in. They don’t want the teacher to talk to them. They get out their journals, and they write.
Keri Mitchell: Just anything? What kind of writing?
Lisa Taylor: Well, it began as pure poetry, but now we have kids doing comic strips. We have kids doing graphic novels, we have kids doing stories, books, whatever they want to write.
Keri Mitchell: So, it’s just a place for them to do that.
Lisa Taylor: Yeah.
Keri Mitchell: And then you give them feedback on their work.
Lisa Taylor: Yes, if they want. It’s a sacred space, as we call it, and they’re allowed to share if they want to, and we’re allowed to give feedback only if they asked for it. I mean, we’re not allowed to tell anybody what we wrote about because the teachers are in their writing too if they want to.
Keri Mitchell: How many teachers are involved?
Lisa Taylor: There’s three of us total.
Keri Mitchell: Great
Lisa Taylor: Yeah, those were my two first ones, and then I found out my school doesn’t have UIL or didn’t have you UIL, which is, you know, what it is? University Interscholastic League. Yeah, it’s mostly sports is how people know, but there’s the whole academic side.
Keri Mitchell: Exactly.
Lisa Taylor: It took me like a year to find out how to get our school involved, so I did. So we’ve been doing academics for three years now. So I have a chess club that’s part of that, and within that chess club, usually we can convince, gently convince the children to compete in science and math and social studies and language arts. We compete now against other schools which is a big deal, and we also have debate now. The great news is it’s not just a club now it’s also a class.
Keri Mitchell: So you can do it during the day at school and also do it after school.
Lisa Taylor: The debate coach has to pick you, because we started with regular kids last year and found that you know, it’s very important that they were well behaved and that they can focus you know. They have to be articulate.
Keri Mitchell: Those things are important when it comes to debate.
Lisa Taylor: Oh, we’re going to do a literary journal this year. I spent my summer being a judge for the state of Texas so that I could find out what’s out there already. As you might suspect, it’s mostly private schools. So we don’t have much of a public school competition, but it is middle school and high school combined. So that scares me a little bit, but anyway, given that I have a writing club and the poets, we can put that together and we have a great art teacher. So we’ll combine it at the end of the year, so that’s a new thing.
Keri Mitchell: That’s really cool.
Lisa Taylor: Oh, I know what else: gardening club. It’s been tough to do this, so that’s my newest and hardest…haven’t had a lot of time to do that.
Keri Mitchell: I can imagine why. It sounds like you know how to work it. So that’s, that’s good. Five years, that’s a lot of accomplishment in five years.
Lisa Taylor: Yeah, I think so. I’m having fun.
Keri Mitchell: Good!
Lisa Taylor: Yeah, I mean that’s why I’m here. I’ve had lots of opportunities, and you know, they don’t know that they can pick up the phone and go to the Dallas Museum of Art for free. The other great news is two years ago, this will be our second year, there’s a nonprofit called Communities in School have you heard of it?
Keri Mitchell: Yep.
Lisa Taylor: Because I never had, and they are here at our school now. So they help, they have a van which seats about 13. All these other years I’ve been taking kids in my car and relying on other faculty to give us insurance and take their own, you know, at their own risk kind of thing with parent signatures. So, CIS as we call them is now providing transportation for Culture Club.
Keri Mitchell: That’s wonderful.
Lisa Taylor: Yeah it helps a lot, and they used to provide snacks, but because of the hurricanes all around…shortage. Yeah, that’s the hard part. But the good news something else I set up is they do the cafeteria, the DISD Food Department or whatever they call themselves, you can apply for an after-school snack program, which I did. And we started on Thursdays last year, and we’re trying to expand it.
Keri Mitchell: Is food and hunger a big issue in this area?
Lisa Taylor: Yeah, we’re all, you know, we’re federally helped intentionally. I forget the terms. We like are lower income, economically disadvantaged.
Keri Mitchell: I know, I’m always trying to come up with different word.
Lisa Taylor: Yeah, economically disadvantaged, but I mean…
Keri Mitchell: How many kids are in this school? Do you know?
Lisa Taylor: I think the latest was 1100, approximately.
Keri Mitchell: And they’re mainly coming from? What are the demographics like?
Lisa Taylor: Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras.
Keri Mitchell: Okay. And they live in just the area around here?
Lisa Taylor: Surrounding area. Some ride buses. Probably a quarter of them maybe ride a bus?
Keri Mitchell: Okay. Yeah. Not a lot of kids from your particular neighborhood that come here?
Lisa Taylor: No, Oak Cliff is…North Oak Cliff, I should say, they’re pretty convinced that they have to go to private schools.
Keri Mitchell: Why do you think that is?
Lisa Taylor: Fear, fear of the other. They have no idea what other cultures could really offer. I mean, I chose this culture because I prefer it. I think it’s great fun, you know, very friendly, very eager to learn, very hardworking, very kind. It’s wonderful. We used to be Mexico.
Keri Mitchell: Right, there’s that.
Lisa Taylor: So the idea of ignoring the culture that existed here is odd to me. I don’t get it.
Keri Mitchell: I’ve been studying this a lot, trying to look into it a lot. There’s similar issues throughout Dallas, and then there are differences in different parts of Dallas. And it’s, it’s very interesting, but it is kind of this idea of difference. A lot of parents don’t want their kid, whoever they are, to stick out like a sore thumb wherever they are.
Lisa Taylor: It is tough. But on the other hand, that gives them a completely different experience and it’s a good one. The reason I also think that way is because I was forced – my father forced me – to move across the sea to start to be in school, too. So I’ve had the same crossing a border experience and being stuck somewhere where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know anybody and being scared and crying and all the stuff that happens. I’m now an ESL teacher used to be language arts, which is general public, but now I’m with the kids that just got here, which, like I said, I had to learn German. And so I’m with them on that.
Keri Mitchell: Yeah, you can identify.
Lisa Taylor: I’ve been blown away by their eagerness to do what’s right. You know, they’re just, they’re happy to be here. They want to learn.
Keri Mitchell: It’s great.
Lisa Taylor: So I’m really delighted with our population.
Keri Mitchell: Do you think the tide would turn it all? Do you think people would? What would it take?
Lisa Taylor: Since I’m 56, I don’t really hang out with the people who are right now having children. Whoops. So, you know, I don’t know what they’re thinking is. I just know I live across from Kessler Park, the private school, and I mean, that’s a wonderful place too and it’s pretty culturally diverse. So I’m not slamming that. It’s wonderful, but it costs a lot of money.
Keri Mitchell: Mm hmm.
Lisa Taylor: And this is free.
Keri Mitchell: Right.
Lisa Taylor: The kids don’t have problems. It’s the parents that have problems, and we have pre-AP here. And we probably have more after school clubs than most schools so I don’t know. Everywhere you look, you have to find a good teacher. It’s not necessarily about the school. That’s what everybody needs to remember. Interview the teachers. Yeah, you know, if he has a Hispanic classmate, or an African American classmate, or African classmate, or, whatever, from all over the world they are, right? So, all the better.
Keri Mitchell: Yeah, for sure.
Lisa Taylor: I used to be reggae DJ, so I’m very…go around the world.
Keri Mitchell: So you went you went overseas to go to school in Germany? And then moved into reggae DJing, as well as PR for art groups?
Lisa Taylor: I came here to college, and I never left.
Keri Mitchell: Got it.
Lisa Taylor: So yeah, I got to do that. My boss let me leave to be a DJ during the day. It was a nice gig.
Keri Mitchell: That was a nice gig.
Lisa Taylor: I’ve been to Jamaica several times covered it. Anyway, so yeah, all that happened, and yeah, now I’m a teacher. And I feel like all that stuff is helping me, because I know how to produce multiple things. I know how to raise money. I know how to organize things. Yeah, and I know how to speak multiple languages.
Keri Mitchell: So what languages do you speak?
Lisa Taylor: French and German from living in Europe, and Spanish is getting there. But I speak it with a French accent. The kids think it’s hysterical, and I throw German at them. So, it makes them…I hope it makes them feel like “Oh, Miss Taylor is learning too. Oh, it’s cool to know other languages. Oh, it’s great. We can learn this. We can learn that.”
Keri Mitchell: Did it take any time to warm up to you since they’re ESL kids? They’re from different cultures. Do you have kind of these kind of moments where they kind of get you and you get them? And how does that work?
Lisa Taylor: Well, for example, I just got three new kids last week.
Keri Mitchell: Oh, really?
Lisa Taylor: Yeah. Straight. I mean, right off the border so to speak. They’re fearful at first, because their educational culture is different number one.
Keri Mitchell: Do you know how it’s different?
Lisa Taylor: For example, in Mexico, I’ve been told that they are not supposed to look their teachers in the eye.
Keri Mitchell: Okay.
Lisa Taylor: You know the teacher relationship is supposed to be very respectful and pretty distant. So America, we’re more casual.
Keri Mitchell: Mm hmm.
Lisa Taylor: So that’s a hard thing at the beginning, and then just the whole, “Oh, my god, she’s speaking English. How am I going to understand this?”
Keri Mitchell: Sure.
Lisa Taylor: It frightens them. One of my kids who’s now doing much better. When he first came this year, he got a zero on his first quiz. He cried, because in his old school, he was doing well when he was taking it in Spanish you know. He’s a really smart boy, and now he’s, of course, getting 90s because he figured out he needs to study English words. So you see that frustration? Same that I had.
Keri Mitchell: Sure.
Lisa Taylor: “I don’t understand, and I can’t talk back to you.”
Keri Mitchell: Right, right.
Lisa Taylor: I mean, heck.
Keri Mitchell: Yeah, but you get them through it?
Lisa Taylor: I’m trying. We’ll see. This is my first year to teach ESL. They promoted me this summer like a week before school started.
Keri Mitchell: What else do people not know about this school that they should?
Lisa Taylor: Well, that it’s beautiful. I feel like I’m in the hill country, right. I mean, you’re right up on a limestone ledge. And we have a little forest in front of our school. I mean, I never knew it. That’s what my biggest sadnesses is that Stephen Parks Estate, Stephen parks regular all around here as far as I know they’re not involved. They don’t know that right across Fort Worth Avenue is a whole community of people that can be helped.
Keri Mitchell: Have you been able to pull in like other friends in the neighborhood that you’ve been able to pull in as volunteers or anything?
Lisa Taylor: Yes actually very first thing I was proud of actually long ago and far away LULAC. So I went to a little LULAC meeting because Wendy was coming. Wendy who ran for governor. So anyway, said, “There’s a breakfast. Come! Meet the Hispanic community. Tell them about our school and meet Wendy while you’re at it.” Great. Great. Great. Great. Well Wendy was late of course. There was [?] Domingo Garcia [?] on stage you can tell killing time. So I went up to him and said, “Can I get up and talk about my school?” And he said, “Sure,” so I got up there and talked about the school. And then [?] Radolfo [?] had brought a hat. So I took the hat and said, “You know would anybody be willing to help?.” So Domingo, the nice man that he was, turned around and put a big dollar bill, I won’t say how much, but he put it in the hat to get it started. And then he said, “I’d be happy to help more.” So we raised 500 bucks that day, right? And then I call him of course, the next day, and then I emailed, email him and emailed him. Every year now he’s been donating tablets. So we get 12 tablets for each grade every semester to go to the kids who have the best grades, the best attendance, the best writing, most improved. That’s what I love about Oak Cliff.
Keri Mitchell: That is definitely Oak Cliff. It is definitely a very connected, very involved, very impassioned neighborhood, which I think is why it surprises me that there are the public schools where that kind of falls off. I’m completely aware that there are a ton of schools in Oak Cliff that just aren’t even on people’s radar. That they’re not even looking at.
Lisa Taylor: And just a suggestion, I mean, I kind of started and I’ll finish with it, which is that if I were a parent, which I’m not, unfortunately. That’s why I’m a teacher partly. Before I made any school decisions, I would find out how many extracurricular programs there are, and how many field trips there are. Yes, there might be a great math teacher, but if you don’t go out and see how it applies, how are you really going to learn it? I mean, to this day, I’m lousy at math, because nobody explained how I really needed it.
Keri Mitchell: Why it matters.
Lisa Taylor: How can you make an inference about a play that you have to read on a test, unless you’ve seen a play for example, or gone to poetry reading or heard music and understand rhythm and rhyme? I could go on forever about the reality of the arts and how they help you. Just being with a bunch of kids, they get to socialize. They’re just going to school. We have like 10 minutes during break. I mean, not even 10. What am I saying? It’s four minutes is the passing period.
Keri Mitchell: Yeah.
Lisa Taylor: So I mean, it’s a way for them to learn to be sociable.
Keri Mitchell: Mm hmm.
Lisa Taylor: It’s a way for them to experience the big world.
Keri Mitchell: Right, engage with the learning is one of the catch phrases you hear. It’s more wholistic less about the road knowledge and more about the “how do you apply this to life?”
Lisa Taylor: Yeah, and I just, you know, back to the exposing the parents, the idea that I mean, you’re doing the same thing with the kids. So the kids don’t have to be whatever their parents are. They don’t have to choose this or that. There’s all these options. And that’s what I’m just here to try to help them see. You can be anything you want to be, absolutely. And how are they going to know that if all they’re doing is going to class?
Keri Mitchell: I loved it. Thank you. No, that’s good. So this is your piano room?
Lisa Taylor: Yeah. See, I used to be right next door, and I don’t have any bookshelves in my classroom anymore. So these are still my bookshelves and all my books that I’m not getting to use because I’m with the different different population, right? We have bilingual and easy books now. And then Scott Griggs every year, donates to my after school clubs, school supplies. So we call this the after school room, so I get to use all the space.
Keri Mitchell: How nice.
Lisa Taylor: Yeah, so I have a jazz piano guy that comes every Tuesday, and we used to have two scholarships. Now we have six, and they actually donate the keyboards too. So the kids that don’t have keyboards get to take them home while they’re taking lessons.
Keri Mitchell: Wow.
Lisa Taylor: Yeah, so this has been really fun too.
Keri Mitchell: I bet it. Where’s your classroom?
Lisa Taylor: It’s upstairs. Do you wanna see it?
Keri Mitchell: Yeah, sure if you don’t mind.
Lisa Taylor: Sure.
Keri Mitchell: Yeah. I don’t even know 1100. Is that big?
Lisa Taylor: So we have three halls per grade if that helps you.
Keri Mitchell: It doesn’t seem all that overwhelming here.
Lisa Taylor: Yeah no well it is two floors so, and they’re all in class. Like if you went to the gym, you would see. Well the good news is we have dance which slimmed down some of the electives, because we used to have like 200 kids in the gym.
Keri Mitchell: So they can take dance instead of gym?
Lisa Taylor: Yeah we have lots of electives right? You can do robotics, debate, gym, health.
Keri Mitchell: So, gym isn’t are required anymore? When I was in middle school, it was required.
Lisa Taylor: I don’t know that question.
Keri Mitchell: Okay, no worries.
Lisa Taylor: Maybe once a semester I don’t know how they’ve done it. Yeah that’s a scary reality isn’t it? This is one of our football coaches.
Keri Mitchell: Hello!
Lisa Taylor: And the math teacher. I’ll show you our cafeteria, because it’s been renovated. Oh we have theater too. I forgot. We have choir, and we have band.
Keri Mitchell: Is there anything that you don’t have like you would expect a school to have? Seems like you have everything.
Lisa Taylor: We have Student Council. We have National Junior Honors Society. I mean we didn’t have dance for a while. This is our new cafeteria, so new tables, new chairs, new design right? So it’s much better.
Keri Mitchell: That’s great.
Lisa Taylor: Yeah and then the big gym. You know we’re winning. We play volleyball. Our girls team always wins. They played Greiner last night and won. The lower grade won. The higher grade didn’t. So, this is actually the volleyball team practicing. So depending on the team, they use eighth period for some of the sports kids.
Keri Mitchell: Okay yes that makes sense, and they can have that extra time.
Lisa Taylor: We started a time machine. Do you know what that is?
Keri Mitchell: No, I don’t.
Lisa Taylor: We started it here behind those banners is the thing that you put time stuff in. I forgot the name.
Keri Mitchell: A time capsule? Uh-huh.
Yeah time capsule. So we have a time capsule here. Every year they put in the eighth grade stuff and then every year they have a party right? People come back and read. It’s really cool. You can see we’re now entering my area. Which is the lovely art department is right by me. This is what I’m teaching right? These are my kids’ levels. It’s pretty good, but they had to work to get it. So here’s our little room. This is [?] Miss Cannon [?] my partner in crime.
Keri Mitchell: How many kids do you have?
Lisa Taylor: 30 but yeah, two classes are brand new kids, and then one class is kids who have already been here. So yeah, I got all my computers donated. Teachers need help that way too.
Keri Mitchell: That’s true.
Lisa Taylor: Because the school has X but you really need Y.
Keri Mitchell: You said in the very beginning of our conversation what people could do? What was that again?
Lisa Taylor: A lot of it is just physically come to the school and be a warm body in a classroom like as an assistant teacher. Things like pass some papers out, sharpening pencils, keeping the kids interested engaged. Because you know, small group work is wonderful, and then teachers all have tutoring times. They can help during tutoring. Like I said, they could clean out their office and bring us pencils and paper. And then physically, you know, if they want to be chaperones on the field trips, they want to bring snacks, you know, and then people want to write checks. Checks are always good.
Keri Mitchell: So basically, if you want to give they just call you, and you can tell them how they can help?
Lisa Taylor: Anybody, you know, yeah.
Keri Mitchell: If somebody wants to help you, there’s an easy way to find a place for them.
Lisa Taylor: Oh, yeah.
Keri Mitchell: One of the things that comes up often, it’s kind of all over the place in Dallas, and obviously, all over the country. But there’s this whole idea that the middle school problem. That parents, you know, are fine with elementaries, sometimes they’re fine with high schools, but then when it comes to middle school, people are scared out of their mind. You mentioned fear.
Lisa Taylor: Well, it’s hormones going on, right? But, you know, it’s a particular temperament that teachers have to have too. And everybody has to be able to handle it, it’s a different, I mean, we’re all made for different things. Because elementary, in my mind, is, you know, a lot of Kleenex and getting them to the bathroom.
Keri Mitchell: Yep, right.
Lisa Taylor: And here is they’re over that, and they’re ready to learn and willing to learn and engage. But they have hormones running, you know, they may want to skip class or hang out at McDonald’s.
Keri Mitchell: Yeah, exactly.
Lisa Taylor: It’s comfort level, right? What age is your kid? I mean, there are people who end up being scared no matter what age they are right?
Keri Mitchell: Yeah. Yes, thanks. I’ll keep you up to date about what we’re doing.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the Uninformed Parent. In the next episode, we’ll talk to a mom who has run the gamut of school choice with her four kids. This podcast is a production of Advocate Magazine with music by Hook Sounds.