It was good news that a new public elementary school was opening close to her home in Dallas, but she was even more excited that it would be an all-girls school with a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The potential for a student body that looked more like Dallas as a whole was something that stood out to us.
The school, Solar Prep for Girls, opened in 2016 as a transformation school to reverse decades of white flight from the school system. The school district is 71 percent Hispanic, 21 percent Black and 5 percent white, and 86 percent of its students are eligible for federal subsidized lunches.
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The city of Dallas has an even split between Hispanic, white and black.
There are no attendance boundaries for Solar Prep in Dallas. Some seats are available to families who live outside of the school district. Half of the students admitted must live in one of the Dallas census blocks that are economically disadvantaged. Students in the district are provided transportation.
13 of the district's schools are like that. The district plans to open 11 more schools over the next three years, two of which will open in August.
In Dallas, our hypothesis was that we were going to get some diversity because we were lucky with Solar.
At Solar Prep for Girls, 20 percent of the population are white, 17 percent are black and 52 percent are Hispanic.
The district wants to eliminate pockets of poverty and slow down the decline of students in its schools.
Nancy Bernardino, a co-founder of Solar Prep for Girls, said that using the 50/50 model can help achieve racially diverse schools. This approach has given us the chance to admit.
It was the district's first 50/50 school. In order to get that diverse mix, the district uses the most recent census tract data available to create a socioeconomic map, and then places each of the city's 825 census blocks in one of five buckets. The wealthiest neighborhoods are represented by the first bucket, while the poor are represented by the fifth bucket.
The school district uses a number of factors to determine economic status, including median income, parental level of education, and home ownership. When kids from low-income and high-income families are in the same classroom, they do better. Dallas school leaders are finding that these schools are popular with both parents.
Martha Castro said the school culture has made a difference in her daughter.
Castro said that her daughter speaks out when she doesn't like something. She wanted one of her daughters to attend the school, but her children were already in high school.
The teachers at the school encourage the girls to believe that they can do whatever they want. Castro and her daughters live in Mesquite.
Castro said he'd never seen her more confident. That is because of the school.
National attention has been given to the district's attempts to achieve a measure of integration.
Richard Kahlenberg is the director of K-12 equity and a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. A lot of outsiders think that integration is unimportant with the demographic of the district. Dallas proved them wrong by looking at the metropolitan area instead of just the existing school population.
The district sees the program as a way to keep students in the system. Since the beginning of the year, DISD's student population has declined by more than 10,000. The experiment to reverse decades of segregation and student population loss enrolls just under 6,000 students in the Dallas Independent School District.
Integration efforts that explicitly take race into account are shies away from by the district. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against districts in Seattle and Jefferson County, Kentucky, which used a "racial tiebreaker" to achieve racial balance. The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment was violated by such a policy.
The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
The court decision did not forbid race from being a part of school integration efforts, but it did say that such efforts must be narrowly tailored. The guidance from the federal Department of Education, which does not carry the weight of law but is often relied upon by school districts, has changed since that decision.
The document released by the Obama administration outlines ways in which race can be taken into account in school policies. The department said that the guidance went too far. The department has not issued new guidelines despite President Joe Biden's promise to remove the Trump-era guidance.
There are other districts that use a "diversity by design" approach. One of the districts whose integration policy was struck down by the Supreme Court placed schools in geographic clusters of diverse neighborhoods based on census block characteristics. Cambridge, Massachusetts has been using a controlled choice model for school assignments.
The district was pushed to innovate by historic and ongoing residential segregation, poverty and competition from charter schools. One of the most segregating large cities in the country is residential. Most black Dallas residents live in south Dallas. East and west Dallas are both Hispanic.
Sean Reardon is a professor at the graduate school of education. Reardon uses data from every school district in the country to track educational outcomes. Gaps in learning rates are widening as schools become more segregating. Black and Hispanic children are more likely to attend high-poverty schools than white children in certain districts.
According to the Century Foundation, there is no magic about the whiteness of classmates in integrated schools. The levels of poverty are troubling.
The Office of Transformation and Innovation was opened by the DISD in order to address the issues of segregation and decline. Parents were asked what kind of schools they wanted. College prep, Montessori and international baccalaureate programs were among the most popular. The district added single-gender andSTEM schools to the list to make them more appealing.
Bernardino is the co- founder of Solar Prep for Girls. Five years ago, Bernardino opened the school. She realized that it wasn't enough to put a diverse group of children together in a classroom.
The practices were still very traditional when we visited the schools. Adults still targeted certain children to come up and speak as students were self segregating. They thought that doing the lottery would suffice.
During the planning year, Bernardino and her co-founder visited every Head Start and day care center they could to spread the word about the school. The seats for the buckets were easy to fill. The number of applications from economically disadvantaged families declined when the two co-principals ran a new school. The principals went back into the communities because there weren't enough seats. They helped families fill out applications by knocking on doors and setting up booths.
Bernardino wants mothers to meet him and feel a connection with him. They sacrifice because they don't know if they can get to her if something happens. The biggest challenge was that one.
Half of the students at Solar Prep for Girls are from low income families. The school is creating an equitable culture that values all students, according to Bernardino.
She said that they wanted to set the tone for how inclusion should be seen in the classroom. Race and ethnicity are explicit subjects of conversation in classrooms, thanks to the work of the founders. Girls coming from all sides of Dallas were expected to socialize with people they hadn't socialized with before. We wanted them to know that they can come and go as they please.
The parent community is committed to being included. There wouldn't be any membership dues because the parents formed aPTO. The Solar Prep for Girls and Solar Prep for Boys are supported by a nonprofit foundation that does all the raising for the schools and pays for all the extras.
Half of our families are poor. "That's a huge barrier when you say everybody has to buy a $10 T-shirt." When someone has an idea for a pizza night, we talk to our families about how they can access it. Does this event affect the bus schedule?
Families that have struggled in traditional public schools are attracted to the variety of schools. Monica Sosa gave up her job teaching at a community college so she could take care of her daughter with special needs. She found out about the hybrid prep school on the website. Students go to school from home three days a week and spend two days on campus just south of Highland Park.
Each student gets a Macbook Air, an iPad, an Apple Pencil, and a hot spot so that they can work on simulations on remote days. Students who can work from home are more likely to do well in school.
It is the best fit so far. Emma was in fourth grade at hybrid prep. A kid like mine that is quirky makes sense.
Student achievement and attendance are indicators that the district is on the right track. The popularity of the schools makes them more persuasive. The district got 25,000 applications for seats in the schools. Families whose children weren't already attending a DISD school were a third of those who applied. Children who had been attending a private or charter school were the ones who applied for kindergarteners.
The application data is a big indicator of the success of the district, according to the deputy chief of transformation and innovation. The perception of a large urban district is changing.
Academic achievement is the ultimate goal. Students in grades 3 to 8 at 50/50 schools performed better on reading, writing and science tests than their peers in other schools.
Data shows that students who attend diverse schools perform better than those who attend predominantly white schools. This could benefit low-income students the most. Low-income fourth graders in more affluent schools scored two years ahead of low-income students in high-poverty schools on a math test. Segregation is one of the most powerful contributors to ethnic achievement gaps.
School choice programs, like the one in DISD, can affect segregation depending on how they're implemented. According to a research brief by the National Coalition on School Diversity, choice programs that don't factor in students' socio-economic status can make segregating worse. Well- connected and wealthier parents can use the system to their advantage. School choice programs that take socio-economic factors into account are more likely to achieve integration.
According to a research brief written by a professor at the University of Connecticut's School of Education, class-based differences are related to better student outcomes.
The demographic of the schools is important to the district, but it takes a back seat when kids are in the schools.
The solar prep school for boys is in North Dallas. The majority of the boys are white, black and Hispanic. Solar Prep for Boys is not as disadvantaged as many other schools.
Aschanti Williams, a regional project manager for T-Mobile, had one concern when they went to meet the teacher. I was worried that the rich kids would come over here and the poor kids would come over there. You couldn't tell the difference between high-income and low-income parents when we were there. All of us were hanging out.
Solar Prep for Boys, a single-gender "Transformation School" in North Dallas, stresses values such as curiosity, humility and grit to its students, according to Aschanti Williams. Credit was given to Nitashia Johnson for her work.
Williams has five children and the youngest one isWesley. He and his wife decided to attend Solar Prep for Boys because of the values the school instills. He liked the way the principal talked about how the school held all boys accountable for their actions and never gave up on them.
Williams believes that diversity is more than race. Income is what it is. Culture is it. Everything.
A 30 minute ride from Solar Boys takes Williams to his home in Oak Cliff. He makes his son memorize the school pledge when he drives him to school. Success is determined by effort and perseverance.
Williams noticed that the car in front of him was damaged when he pulled into the school driveway. It waslching smoke due to its door colors not matching. Williams was behind a car. They waited in their car.
He said that the owners of those vehicles would be treated differently. All that goes out the window when those kids walk through it.
This was originally published in The Hechinger Report.