Eliminating Barriers at Spelligent San Antonio

students raising hands at Spelligent San Antonio

We are proud to share this guest post by Celestina De La Garza to introduce Spelligent San Antonio, a proposed charter school that would eliminate barriers and redesign school to support language learners and the neurodivergent.

My name is Celestina De La Garza, and I am the Executive Director of Spelligent Texas. I am originally from the westside of San Antonio, Texas, and I came to realize early on in college that education was my calling. I was one of 13 Mexican American students at Bryn Mawr College, and I quickly realized that the high quality education I received in elementary, middle, and high school set me on the path to college.  I knew that these high quality schools were not easily accessible for everyone—especially my friends and family who lived on the west side. I was committed to giving back and after college, joining Teach for America and teaching in New York City. In 2009, I was able to realize my dream of starting my own girls school and opened Excellence Girls Charter School, a Blue Ribbon Award winning school in Brooklyn, New York. After being in school leadership for nearly ten years, I began to focus my sights on returning back to my roots here in San Antonio, Texas.  

Making School a Safe Space to Make Mistakes

After moving back to Texas, I began working with school leaders and superintendents across the state of Texas and with some in-district charter schools in SAISD. I noticed a recurring theme: despite the best intentions of school leaders and school staff, some schools were not equipped to support every learner. 

In the schools I worked with, I saw some students not wanting to attempt a problem given by the teacher because of their fear of failure or rejection. And I started to see my own children, now all school aged, afraid of asking questions at school or fearful of doing something incorrectly on their school work. I couldn’t understand why—isn’t school the place to learn? Shouldn’t school feel like the safe space we should go to so that we can both make mistakes and learn and similarly feel successful and know our self-worth?

It was then that I began to make connections to her own life experiences. I considered my own moments as a student where I felt like I could never truly be myself, was ashamed of who I was, or felt ashamed for not knowing or understanding a concept being taught. Then I realized that if I have felt like this, and experienced many children feeling this way, including my own, then the issue can’t solely be the classroom or the school itself, but a systematic issue with the traditional design of school.  

A New Paradigm in Education

Spelligent San Antonio aims to redefine public education. Schools traditionally are built for the “typical” and “average” child. To address any differences in behavior or learning styles, schools will then add band-aid solutions and add-on programs to a traditional environment, e.g., extended school days, extended school hours, more work, more curriculum all in an attempt to meet everyone’s needs or address perceived “gaps.” This often leads to overworked teachers and stressed out students.

Instead, Spelligent San Antonio wants to redesign schools from the inside out. To do so, we are designing our school with the needs of neurodivergent and language learners first. We believe that an inclusive by design model builds an excellent school that benefits every child. Accomplishing this requires our core model to be guided by the student Learner Profile, a tool that outlines student strengths, needs, and leverages our families’ funds of knowledge to build a concrete picture of each student. This Learner Profile will inform the school environmental design, instructional decision-making, and individualized supports given to students. This tool will be collaboratively designed and strengthened over the course of the year in response to student growth and development.  

School Can Be Hard AND Fun!

Spelligent San Antonio is planning to provide a rigorous, engaging, and rich curriculum that integrates language opportunities for all students. For example, we will offer dual language and heritage language programming to students in a variety of languages. Our academic model will be guided by an international curriculum (IB) and will be rooted on project-based, multi-sensory learning and real-life learning experiences. 

Even more importantly, for kids anyway, we will balance rigor with fun to create a school environment that students crave coming to every single day. Students will engage in immersive learning experiences that will allow them to put their content into context. For example, students will transform their classroom space into the biomes they are learning about in science: one group will recreate an aquatic biome, while another group recreates the tundra.

Our schools will leverage flexible student groupings through mixed-age cohorts to support our model of individualized and personalized learning based upon the learner profile. These groups will be supported by a distributed staffing model where each staff member is teamed with the right student at the right time based on their expertise.  

We Need You . . .

We are still in the process of creating and designing a reimagined learning experience for your child. JOIN US! To learn more, please email InfoTx@Spelligent.org or schedule a call to chat with me, Celestina De La Garza, Executive Director of Spelligent Texas. You can also comment below and we will follow up with you. We want to hear from families and caregivers about their wants, needs, and experiences so that we can design a better school for San Antonio’s children! Find out more by visiting our website, spelligent.org.

Charter Moms Chats

Watch Celestina De La Garza, Executive Director of Spelligent Texas, speak with Inga Cotton on Charter Moms Chats on October 25, 2021 at 4:00 PM Central live on Facebook and YouTube.

Celestina De La Garza is the Executive Director of Spelligent Texas. She is originally from the westside of San Antonio, Texas, and she came to realize early on in college that education was her calling. She was one of 13 Mexican American students at Bryn Mawr College, and quickly realized that the high quality education she received in elementary, middle, and high school set her on the path to college. She knew that these high quality schools were not easily accessible for everyone—especially her friends and family who lived on the west side. She was committed to giving back and after college, joining Teach for America and teaching in New York City. In 2009, she was able to realize her dream of starting her own girls school and opened Excellence Girls Charter School, a Blue Ribbon Award winning school in Brooklyn, New York. After being in school leadership for nearly ten years, she began to focus her sights on returning back to her roots here in San Antonio, Texas.  

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