Project-based learning leads to community service

When Vicky Ramirez, a fourth grade bilingual teacher at Hogg New Tech Center, is not busy mentoring two fellow teachers, leading a UIL chess club during lunch or supporting fourth- and fifth-grade robotics teams, she can be found instilling real-world lessons that will last her students a lifetime. 

Hogg New Tech Center is a project-based learning school, so Ramirez is always looking for new ways to help her students make connections to themselves and to the world around them. So when her class began a unit on reducing, reusing and recycling last spring, she encouraged her students to dig deeper into the material. 

They realized they could easily reuse their clothes and hosted a fashion show, and then Ramirez challenged them further with a simple question. 

“The conversation got started, and I know at the time, I was seeing some students who did not have the right uniforms,” Ramirez said. “Twice a year at home, I go through my kids’ closets, and we take out bags. My mom is from Mexico, so we send those clothes to Mexico to people who really need them. I thought about it and told my students, ‘We see that students don’t have uniforms. What can we do?’” 

Together, they started a collection drive for uniforms, giving students across campus the incentive of a free dress pass. By May of 2022, they had collected five giant trash bags of clothes in a variety of sizes, and a group of students had approached Ramirez to ask if they could form a club dedicated to helping their school community. 

Of course, Ramirez said yes. She and her family members took the clothes to a laundromat over the summer, sorted them by size and added everything to Hogg’s uniform closet. They were ready to go by “meet the teacher” night in August, just in time for a new family to ask for the uniforms their student needed. 

“They came up to me as I was in the middle of greeting parents,” Ramirez said. “That moment brought me immense joy. We were able to help a family! Knowing they had one less thing to worry about made the extra work worth it.

Her students have been just as excited to contribute. The members of the new club are helping Ramirez keep the uniform closet running and plan to go around asking if anyone needs a new uniform once a month. 

“At first, I worried that students might be embarrassed to ask for a uniform, but Hogg has created a positive environment where we teach our students to ask for help,” Ramirez said. “Our students were also excited to extend our PBL into a real-life application, as reusing items in good condition will leave a positive footprint for generations ahead. The best part is that we are reducing the amount of waste in landfills.”

Moving forward, Ramirez said she hopes to do everything she can to improve her skills and continue transforming student lives. With 13 years of teaching under her belt, she is currently working on her master’s degree in curriculum and mathematics, which she will earn in May.

Her ultimate goal is clear: “I want to create opportunities that empower our students to be the positive change they want to see in the world.”

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