By Ruth Campbell
When Cheraldin Celis, Rosemary Valadez and Angelica Gutierrez arrived at George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa, it was an adjustment, but in a good way.
They found the school’s concept of project-based learning where students learn through projects and hands-on experience beneficial to their learners and themselves.
Celis, who is from Venezuela, teaches English language arts and foreign language. With her husband’s job in the oil industry, she has lived all over the world teaching at the high school level and private language institutes. She also has volunteered to be a translator.
She has worked in France, Mexico, Colombia and Canada.
New Tech, Celis said, is wonderful, but challenging. She knew a little bit about project-based learning, but hadn’t worked with the curriculum previously.
However, she received support from her coworkers and the administration who made sure she knew what she was doing and had the resources she needed.
“With traditional teaching, you have a textbook. You go over your method. You have different activities. This is from the beginning, you have to think of the whole process — what are they going to have at the end, that final product. How are you going to get your kids to create something?” Celis said.
Celis said she thinks you work harder as a teacher with project-based learning, but it’s rewarding when you see the final product and you can tell that t
he students know what they’re doing.
“I love it here. I love working with the team and working with the kids,” Celis said.
Valadez, who teaches science, was at Odessa High School for two years before arriving at New Tech.
“With every unit, you have this big project that’s associated with that unit, so for me it’s been easier to make it relevant and to make those projects something that they’re really interested in, that chemistry is fun instead of just another class that they heard is hard. It’s actually exciting for them,” Valadez said.
She added that the classes are smaller at NTO, too. At OHS, she had classes in the mid-30s and her smallest was in the high 20s. At New Tech, her smallest class has about 14 students and her largest is 22 to 25.
“I knew at the end of last year I was going to be coming here, so I started incorporating some of the concepts with delivering the content. It really helped. I wish I had been doing that the whole year,” Valadez said.
With science, Valadez said it’s easier to show students how it relates to the real world.
Celis said she sometimes got asked why they were reading a certain book. She told them it would make them more well rounded and introduce them to other cultures.
“… The collaboration part I think is something that is going to be helpful for them, to learn to collaborate. It’s not, ‘I’m going to rely on one person because he’s the one that’s going to do all the work,’” Celis said.
With most jobs, Celis said, students will be part of a team and they need to know how to rely on others to complete a job and trust them, as well.
Valadez said the teachers also participate in the project-based learning process.
“I think it’s really helpful for them to see us for them to truly buy into it. They see us collaborating with other teachers. Every Wednesday, we come early and we have our adult learning which is the PBL part of the … process. I think it’s really important for them to see that see us going through the same thing,” Valadez said.
Gutierrez, who teaches English language arts, was at the Alternative Education Center for two years before coming to New Tech.
She observed that there are many differences between the two campuses. She added that it feels like she’s a first-year teacher again.
“It’s different to take more of a facilitator approach and get away from the instruction where I’m doing most of the lecturing. Now the kids are more in control of things …, Gutierrez said.
Her students are now looking for answers themselves instead of having her supply them.
She added that she has seen the students progress.
“They’ve all been challenged to be leaders of their groups, so it’s neat to see them grow in that capacity, as well,” Gutierrez said.
She added that some of her colleagues at the Alternative Center wanted to use project-based learning and they would do projects, but they didn’t have a consistent student body.
At NTO, she has worked with the same kids all year long.
“I can see all the growth when it comes to their writing, but also when it comes to their communication skills …,” Gutierrez said.
She added that it’s been amazing to hear the students talk about their experience at New Tech and how they didn’t know what to expect at first, but the school has provided them with many opportunities.
Principal Gerardo Ramirez said coming to a new school is difficult for any new teachers, but even more for those coming to NTO.
“It’s a lot more intense (in terms of) planning. The professional development is more (frequent), more intense and kind of just adjusting to the culture in general because it is a smaller school environment. I think definitely it is an adjustment,” Ramirez said.