UTEP Faculty Help Future Educators at High School Competition

Last Updated on November 07, 2016 at 12:00 AM

Originally published November 07, 2016

By Daniel Perez

UTEP Communications

About 32 UTEP faculty and educational advising staff members flashed back to their elementary school days as they were “taught” by 185 Socorro Independent School District high school students who were part of the annual Educators Rising contest Nov. 4, 2016, at The University of Texas at El Paso.

The juniors and seniors from Americas, Eastlake, El Dorado, Montwood, Pebble Hills and Socorro high schools made their presentations to the UTEP representatives, most from the College of Education, who represented young students but served as judges who critiqued the competitors’ content and delivery. The winners will move on to the state competition Feb. 17-19, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. The national contest is June 23-26, 2017, in Phoenix, Arizona.

The Socorro students participated in 21 categories that ranged from children’s literature to early childhood education to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The judges rated them according to the Texas state education standards and curriculum.

The school district, which organizes this event with Education Service Center – Region 19 under the direction of the Texas Association of Future Educators (TAFE), has participated in the competition for more than 10 years, but this was the first year it reached out to UTEP for help.

Bill Robertson, Ph.D., the UTEP liaison for the competition, said he felt the enthusiasm among the participants and called the collaboration a great opportunity to introduce future educators to the college. He mentioned how the event benefitted UTEP judges.

“They felt inspired by the efforts of these students,” said Robertson, professor of science and technology education and director of the Department of Teacher Education – STEM Division. “This has been extremely motivational.”

The involvement of higher education in such events has positive ripple effects among contestants, said Donita J. Garza, TAFE state program director who was at the El Paso competition for the first time since 2013.

“Having this event at a university provides a connection for the students,” said Garza, who is based in Austin, Texas. “It allows them to see themselves at college and as educators. That’s a great way to grow your own teachers.”

Garza shared her views while helping prepare the winners’ medals along with Dahlia Acosta, a district career and technical education facilitator and event organizer.

Acosta, who earned her bachelor’s in management from UTEP in 1991, said the students were ecstatic to be at UTEP with college faculty as judges because it added to the excitement level. The competition had been conducted at the district headquarters on Rojas Drive.

The facilitator said the collaboration with UTEP builds familiarity with the campus and its faculty, and will ease some of the trepidation of those who plan to enroll at UTEP, especially as interdisciplinary studies (education) majors.

Eastlake High School senior Edward Cuellar said he plans to start at UTEP next fall as a music education major and eventually hopes to be a high school band director. He competed in the children’s literature category and, with a teammate, presented an original illustrated story, “Forever in My Heart,” about a boy who had to deal with the unexpected death of his beloved dog.

“I was nervous,” Cuellar admitted a few minutes after his presentation. “I know my hand was shaking, but I think it went well overall. I hope (the judges) will remember me in a positive way. I was feeling more comfortable at the end.”

Song An, Ph.D., assistant professor of math education, was impressed with the poise that many of the students demonstrated through their presentations. He said they conducted themselves with professionalism that they will need if they plan to lead a classroom.

“Overall I think they were fantastic, but there’s always room for improvement,” said An, who suggested ways to enhance their content and delivery. “Many of the students were content to stick with the language arts. I encouraged them to make their stories more interdisciplinary and introduce social studies such as history and geography because I want them to reach their potential.”

Cutline: Ron Wagler, Ph.D., associate professor of science education, left, and Claudia Vanessa Garcia, assistant director of UTEP’s Entering Student Program, evaluated participants in the Educators Rising competition Nov. 4, 2016, at UTEP.