Inspire Awards Highlight SAISD Excellence

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From left: SAISD teachers and innovation honorees Maggie Rath, Rebekah Ozuna, Maria Elena Arellano and Jennifer Lankes with SAISD Superintendent Sylvester Perez. Courtesy photo.

From left: SAISD teachers and innovation honorees Maggie Rath, Rebekah Ozuna, Maria Elena Arellano and Jennifer Lankes with SAISD Superintendent Sylvester Perez. Courtesy photo.

The fourth annual Inspire Awards ceremony Tuesday night was just that — inspiring. The San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) celebration was held at the Pearl Stable to honor community leaders and teachers who have demonstrated a passion for education.

The evening was a celebration of excellence in public school education.

Guests were guided from the parking lot to the ceremony ballroom by students from Health Professions Magnet at Fox Tech High School, New Tech High at Sam Houston High School, Travis Early College High School, Hawthorne Academy and the Young Women’s Leadership Academy. The opening reception featured steel drummers from Sam Houston High School and a mariachi band from Fox Tech High School.

The event, organized by the SAISD Foundation, is one of the largest fundraisers for the school district. The night’s fundraising totaled $23,000 over the course of a few hours. Proceeds from the event will be used to fund small grants that will pay for classroom projects and strategic initiatives aimed at engaging students.

With 93% of SAISD children classified as economically disadvantaged, these projects can go a long way to promote student growth in and out of the classroom.

Service honoree and Friend of SAISD Award recipient Tom Frost Jr., senior chairman of the board of Frost Bank, emphasized the importance of recognizing this economic disadvantage.

“I want to beg any of you in the business community to be aware that there is a group suffering more than the rest of us in this quest for a better life,” Frost said, who served as a catalyst to the creation of the SAISD Foundation.

He hoped his generosity would inspire other business owners to donate, saying, “My gift today will be for innovative programs for young students at the poverty level.” 

Leadership honoree Dr. Bernard A. Harris also recognized the importance of creating innovative programs for students. The Harris Foundation was founded to bring science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education to K-12 students, and now operates the largest summer science camp in the country.

Leadership honoree Dr. Bernard A. Harris was the first African American to walk in space. His Foundation, the Harris Foundation brings STEM education to K-12 public school children. Courtesy photo.

Leadership honoree Dr. Bernard A. Harris was the first African-American to walk in space. The Harris Foundation brings STEM education to K-12 public school children. Courtesy photo.

A former astronaut and the first African-American to walk in space, Harris attributes his love of space to his early childhood education. “I am an SAISD graduate. It was Sam Houston High School where I was inspired to set my sights on going into space.”

While STEM education has become increasingly incorporated into public schools, the importance of art in education was also stressed at the award ceremony.

The Excellence Award recipient of the night was Fox Tech High School graduate and artist Jesse Treviño whose heartfelt speech brought the audience to their feet.

“My teachers bought me my first drawing pencils and paints,” he said. “Each of those teachers took the time to encourage me. (They) would seek out art projects that I could get involved in. (These projects) were so important to me and encouraged me to go to school every day.”

These projects were not only an inspiration to Treviño, but also allowed him to be an inspiration for future artists.

After losing his right arm in Vietnam, Treviño learned to draw and paint with his left hand and in time gained fame  for his large murals reflecting San Antonio’s Mexican-American culture. He was the first Latino artist from San Antonio to be featured in the San Antonio Museum of Art.

Excellence honoree Jesse Treviño speaks about the inspiration his teachers gave him to pursue an art career at the 2014 Inspire Awards. Courtesy photo.

Excellence honoree Jesse Treviño speaks about the inspiration his teachers gave him to pursue an art career at the 2014 Inspire Awards. Courtesy photo.

CEO of Bromley Communications and Jefferson High School graduate Ernest W. Bromley also was honored for his service and commitment to creating a vibrant community for San Antonio youth.

He felt inspired to give back to a community that helped make him successful. “I was the oldest boy of a single mom. I would not be standing here if it wasn’t for public education,” Bromley said.

The final awards of the night were given to outstanding SAISD teachers (see top photo). Rebekah Ozuna and Maggie Rath from Knox ECEC, Maria Elena Arellano from Briscoe Elementary, and Jennifer Lankes from Fox Tech High School for Health and Law Professions, were named Innovation honorees for their exceptional work in the classroom.

Lankes, for example, incorporated yoga balls into her classroom lessons. “My kids sit on yoga balls. It increases their information retention,” she said during her speech.

Rath, who works with pre-K students, values the importance of early education. “We’re laying those early foundations. I don’t think you’ll ever hear a teacher say she doesn’t want more materials and resources and technology. We’ve been very fortunate to have the (SAISD) Foundation to apply for grants,” she said.

Grants funded and distributed by the SAISD Foundation exceed no more than $5,000 and have been put towards programs such as Scrabble, reading and robotics clubs, educational tools and software, fitness equipment, Apple TVs and eReaders.

In 2013, the foundation’s total donations surpassed $1 million. The 2013 dropout rate for traditional high schools in SAISD was 10%, an all time low since 2007.

For a city where almost a third of children live below the poverty level, these investments could play a major role in changing children’s lives and the future of San Antonio.

(Full disclosure: Rivard Report director Robert Rivard is a member of the SAISD Foundation board.)

*Featured/top image: From left: SAISD teachers and innovation honorees Maggie Rath, Rebekah Ozuna, Maria Elena Arellano and Jennifer Lankes with SAISD Superintendent Sylvester Perez. Courtesy photo.

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