Celebrating language diversity

Every day, over 80 languages are spoken in schools throughout Dallas ISD, and on Feb. 21, this cultural and linguistic diversity will be celebrated and highlighted during International Mother Language Day.

Celebrated since 1999 by the United Nations, the day promotes the richness of multilingualism. This year’s theme—Multilingual education, a necessity to transform education—highlights the importance of celebrating diversity among students like those in Dallas ISD where, according to home language survey data, in addition to Spanish and English, languages like Burmese, Swahili and Arabic are spoken in district homes. 

“At the moment, our current refugee population speaks about 15 different languages. Refugees are one category of immigrants, and we provide different services for all immigrants,” said Zeljka Ravlija, who works directly with refugee students, as a coordinator in the ESL Dual Language Department.

“We work  to meet the needs of different language groups, through translation and interpretation,” Ravlija said. “This includes things such as school orientation for parents in their native language, translated brochures about the educational systems in the [United States], and all types of assistance such as parent conferences, tutoring, among many other services,” 

Ravlija, who is originally from the former Yugoslavia and whose native language is Serbo Croatian, is familiar with the challenges students may face when arriving in a new country and having to learn a new language and culture. 

Translation Services works hand in hand with Ravlija’s department, in providing assistance to students and families who are new to the country.  

“By providing services in their native language, we help families maintain their cultural background as they adapt to their new environment,” said Adriana Cabeza, supervisor in the Translation Services Department. 

Michael Woodruff, an interpreter and tutor, who speaks Arabic and works with refugee students couldn’t agree more. 

“Learning in your native tongue is also preserving one’s culture,” Woodruff said. “There’s a saying in Arabic that says when a language is lost, part of the culture is lost. By the same measure, the traditions and culture continue living in the hearts and minds of those that understand,” he said. 

According to the UN’s website, “Every two weeks a language disappears, taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered.”

Ndayishimiye Innocent, an interpreter and tutor, who speaks French, Kirundi, Kinyarwanda and Swahili believes that teaching students in their native language has many benefits.

“In another language that’s not their native language, students would be limited to think critically,” he said. “So because of that, preserving the native language is important because we always think in our mother tongue. It doesn’t always help with communication but it helps with all other areas of critical thinking, according to scientific research.” 

Christine Nduwimana, an interpreter and tutor who speaks French, Kirundi, Kinyarwanda, and Swahili says the work they do goes beyond language, as they are teaching  students the basics for life in their new school and country. 

“We will explain things such as immunizations, for example. We explain that students need their immunization shots, because if they came from an area in Africa, for example, that didn’t require this, they might not know that immunizations are needed in order to be in school,” Nduwimana said. 

To learn about International Mother Language Day, and what you can to do to commemorate this day, visit the United Nations page dedicated to this day at: /www.un.org/en/observances/mother-language-day



Help us spread the word

Dallas students have big dreams for the future, and they deserve great teachers who can help them break through barriers and build the lives they dream of. Dallas ISD is giving talented educators a chance to become one of those teachers and make a difference for students in the Dallas community at two upcoming job fairs.

Encourage any interested professionals you may know who are interested in working at one of the district’s ACE campuses to join the Human Capital Management recruitment team from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at Billy Earl Dade Middle School. Current Dallas ISD teachers who are interested in working at an ACE campus can attend the job fair in anticipation of the open transfer window that should open soon.  

Another job fair for external and internal candidates interested in high priority campuses will be held on Tuesday, March 7, at Lang Middle School for an opportunity to interview with Dallas ISD principals and gain a teaching position where they are needed the most.

Attendees will need to have a completed teacher application on file, which can be found at www.dallasisd.org/careers.

The recruitment team also asks that candidates upload their resume, references and statement of eligibility prior to their attendance at the in person job fairs. The recruitment team will confirm their registration prior to the event via email. 

To reserve a spot at the Feb. 28 job fair, click here. To reserve a spot at the March 7 job fair, click here. If you have additional questions, email Melody Tillman at meltillman@dallasisd.org

Metroplex Musicians’ Association honors music teachers

Three Dallas ISD teachers were recently honored by the Dallas Metroplex Musicians’ Association for their dedication to student success and their years of hard work in the music industry. 

Nelda Washington of Clara Oliver Elementary School and Osley Cook Jr. of Franklin D. Roosevelt High School Of Innovation were both inducted into the Dallas Metroplex Musicians’ Association Hall of Fame for serving the area for over 30 years. Chad Lott of Skyline High School earned a Next Generation of Music Professionals Award, which is given to professional musicians who have been in the field for less than 10 years.

The Dallas Metroplex Musicians’ Association is a nonprofit that works to preserve the legacy of distinctively African American music, celebrate local African American musicians and award annual scholarships to students to foster their musical talent and success.

Cook, who is currently an assistant band director, has taught in Dallas ISD for 28 years and counting. He said some of his accomplishments include taking multiple “dead” band programs and bringing them back to life at the elementary, middle and high school level and seeing his students perform at the Battle of the Bands, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day parades, several universities, the African American Read-in and more. 

While Cook said he was excited to have been inducted into the Dallas Metroplex Musicians’ Association Hall of Fame, his proudest achievement is seeing his students succeed and benefit from new opportunities. 

“The greatest thrill for me is seeing my students take these music scholarships and go to play in the college programs,” Cook said. “I’m currently aware of six of my former students working as music teachers after receiving their degree in music. Plus, I have another who just graduated in December who hopes to find the right fit for the fall.” 

Lott said he sees his job in a similar manner. He started out in Dallas ISD as a math and science teacher and soon decided to put his music certification to good use. Now in his fourth year as director of choirs and an AP music theory instructor at Skyline, he loves helping his students grow, thrive and find inspiration. 

“I’ve really seen students buy into the choral culture we have created, and it has been amazing,” Lott said. “I want to show them that they can do this—that they can do anything—especially as a man of color. Representation matters, and for them to see that I’ve done this gives them opportunities and credence to feel like they can do the same.” 

This Is Home: Building lifelong connections

Instructional specialist Zoe Nelle and graphic designer Jimmy Nelle understand the power of connections thanks to a mutual friend and coworker, Rosalinda Boland, who introduced them to each other at a Dallas ISD reading language arts workshop in May of 2000. They started dating, and three months later, Zoe headed to California to visit Jimmy and his family and found herself at an unforgettable dinner.

They had just finished eating and were enjoying dessert when a bowl of fortune cookies was brought to their table. 

“Everyone was picking theirs, and I picked the green fortune cookie because green is my favorite color, and everyone said, ‘No, pick the red one,’” Zoe said. “There was only one red-colored fortune cookie, so finally I just said OK. It was a good thing I was careful with it, because once I opened it, the engagement ring was inside.”

They got married in the Philippines surrounded by friends and family from around the world on May 26, 2001, after planning the entire ceremony remotely with help from family members in the Philippines. They were supposed to have a beautiful garden reception, but, on the big day, there was “pouring tropical rain,” so they said they had to move to an indoor ballroom instead. 

Zoe said it was “such a happy event,” and the two of them have been thriving in Dallas ever since. 

Two years later, their daughter, Francesca, arrived prematurely on Mother’s Day in 2003, and Jimmy said she has been “the highlight” of their lives. She recently graduated from the School for the Talented and Gifted at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center and is now in her second year at The University of Texas at Austin studying radio, TV and film. 

For Jimmy and Zoe, Dallas ISD is home thanks to the relationships they have developed over the years. They are still close to Jimmy and Lois King, Zoe’s former Thomas Edison Middle Learning Center principal and her former reading language arts supervisor respectively. They even named Rosita Apodaca—a now retired Dallas ISD assistant superintendent—as their daughter’s godmother. 

They are especially thankful for the unexpected way they came together, built their family and have continued working toward similar goals. 

“Jimmy is very patient and very generous as well,” Zoe said. “And he is very good with his work. What he has contributed to the Communications team, it shows. I’m very proud of it, because I’ve seen it. He’s doing excellent work.”

“Zoe is extremely competent and very knowledgeable,” Jimmy said. “A lot of people come to her for advice or direction on instructional matters, and I think they rely on that knowledge that she has.” 

CUTX can help you further your education

The application period for the 2023 William H. Cotton Scholarship, worth $20,000, is now open to all Dallas ISD educators who want to pursue post-graduate degrees.

The scholarship was established by Credit Union of Texas to honor the legacy of Cotton’s 46 years of dedication and service to Dallas ISD and the Credit Union of Texas. It is awarded to one district educator or administrator seeking to pursue continuing post-baccalaureate education, including certifications, to further their career in the field of education for the benefit of the Dallas ISD community and its students. Cotton was a long-time principal and administrator who was also the first African-American president of the Dallas School Administrators Association. He retired in 2000 as an associate superintendent.

The completed scholarship application should be emailed or postmarked no later than March 31, 2023.

Who is eligible?

  • Applicant must be a CUTX member with a checking account or a loan product prior to submitting an application. Eligibility requirements must be met annually for renewal.
  • Checking account, and all other accounts at CUTX, must be in good standing. Eligibility requirements must be met annually for renewal.
  • Must be a full-time or part-time Dallas ISD faculty or administrator. Eligibility requirements must be met annually for renewal.
  • Must be intended to further your career in education and serve the Dallas ISD community during the course of the scholarship term. Eligibility requirements must be met annually for renewal.
  • Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident.
  • All required attachments must be submitted with your application (see below).
  • CUTX employees and family members of CUTX employees are NOT eligible for this scholarship.

 The rules

  • Incomplete applications or those missing any required documents will not be considered.
  • Applications postmarked after the deadline will not be considered.
  • Scholarship funds will be paid directly to the educational institution. Continued disbursement of scholarship funds requires a grade of C or better in a graded course and passing in a pass/fail course.
  • The scholarship value will be awarded in increments of $5,000 per semester over a period of four semesters.

For more information about the scholarship and to apply by March 31, visit https://www.cutx.org/community/cutx-cotton-scholarship.

ESSER Update: Reset Centers transform discipline in Dallas ISD

Dallas ISD has taken a positive step toward restorative justice by replacing out-of-school and in-school suspensions with 52 innovative Reset Centers that are focused on teaching middle and high school students appropriate behaviors and responses. The centers launched in August 2021 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and have contributed to an overall reduction in discipline referrals ever since. 

Jameile Choice, executive director of Student Engagement and Support, said discipline referrals have been reduced districtwide by 23 percent from fall 2021 compared to fall 2022. 

As for the 52 Reset Center campuses, they have seen discipline referrals decrease by 22 percent from fall 2021 compared to fall 2022. Those 52 campuses have also seen a 32 percent decrease in student recidivism—the number of students referred to Reset Center more than once—in that same time period.

According to Choice, overall, elementary, middle and high school student referral recidivism, regardless of consequence and offense, has been reduced by 42 percent, and by 43 percent at Reset Center campuses, from fall 2021 compared to fall 2022. Additionally, the number of referrals for fighting is down 38 percent districtwide and 41 percent at Reset Center campuses. 

Choice said one of the biggest challenges in implementing the Reset Centers has been shifting people’s mindsets from a traditional discipline approach, which relies on direct consequences, to a more holistic one. 

“So many of our students within Dallas ISD are acting as adults outside of school, and when you’re acting as the adult in the household, there’s no one teaching you the appropriate ways to respond to conflict or how to manage your emotions,” Choice said. “The Reset Centers teach students these necessary survival skills that aren’t traditionally taught in the classroom, and they are equipping students to interact with people from all walks of life and to appropriately respond to conflict when their initial thought is fight or flight.”

Rolling out the Reset Centers was no easy feat. Each one required high-quality staff, furniture and professional development training, all of which were supported through an allocation from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund. The multiple-year initiative received $21 million in ESSER funding. Approximately $10 million have been used so far, and about 5,500 students have been referred and/or self-reported to a Reset Center since August 2021. 

When students are referred to Reset Centers, they go through different lessons based on the specific behaviors that brought them there. However, the overarching objective is always rehabilitation. 

All students use a social and emotional learning app called Rhithm when they arrive so their Reset Center coordinators understand how they are feeling and what approaches might work best. The students then go through various virtual modules on topics like drug prevention and fighting to gain knowledge about disruptive behaviors. They also write reflections on their behavior and what they could have done differently, get general classroom support and practice other restorative techniques with their Reset Center coordinators. 

Choice said he particularly enjoys seeing students engage in restorative circles. In these circles, students may work through disruptive behaviors or conflicts with other students who are facing similar issues, or they may interact with their teachers to repair relationships and build trust. 

“Sometimes there is a power struggle in the classroom, or there is broken trust between the teacher and the student or vice versa,” Choice said. “When they come to the Reset Center, they talk openly, honestly and transparently about what it is that the other person did to break that trust. Then, in the end, they repair that relationship.” 

The main goal of the Reset Centers is to decrease overall discipline referrals across the district, particularly when it comes to African American and Hispanic students, who disproportionately receive those referrals. Choice has worked with the Student Engagement and Support team to fund a restorative justice coach at seven schools for the 2022-2023 school year to continue strengthening those restorative practices.

“When students come to school with behavior gaps, they don’t necessarily know the appropriate way to behave, so we teach them that,” Choice said. “We do that in hopes that when they leave us, they will be able to navigate life. We know life is filled with so many ups and downs, and more often than not, conflict will come your way. Your response will determine whether or not you can push forward, so Reset is all of those things. It helps the students beyond their K-12 experience.”

Each middle and high school with a Reset Center was selected according to historic discipline data that indicated where students have experienced the greatest need. While not every campus has a Reset Center, Choice is eager to promote similar restorative justice practices across Dallas ISD, transforming student lives in the process. 

“These last few years have been extremely trying for everyone, for teachers, for students, for families,” Choice said. “When things seem to be at their absolute worst, they can turn around in an instant. So remain positive, remain hopeful, and know that no matter what you’re going through, you don’t have to be a victim. You can be a victor of your circumstance.” 

Bringing joy and fun into the classroom

For Stevens Park Elementary School kindergarten teacher Deborah Castro Torres, creativity is the name of the game. If she is having fun, she said it’s likely that her dual language students will be, too, so she has spent the past 17 years and counting looking for innovative ways to keep her classes engaged. 

That often means using real-world interactions to keep students involved, whether she is teaching math, science or reading. 

“One thing that I love to do when we’re doing science is to bring real worms,” Castro Torres said. “I won’t touch them because they gross me out, but kindergartners love touching worms. I also love to take them out to the garden for science or math. It’s a blast.”

Another piece of the puzzle is encouraging her students to take advantage of opportunities to help their community. Castro Torres joined the Leaders Readers Network this year to help provide diverse books in English and Spanish to all Stevens Park students, and she is encouraging the entire school to get involved through her monthlong Pennies for Literacy project. 

Her class of 22 students has been helping her lead campus-wide efforts to raise money to buy books for students to take and read at home by putting up fliers, signs and collection containers, and they are looking forward to the results.

Castro Torres also organized the Gratitude Project, during which her kindergarten class made their way around the school to thank teachers and other team members. 

“These projects spark a love of giving and giving thanks,” Castro Torres said. “I have always wanted to find a way to help people, and I have been able to get books for my kids, and they’ve been super excited. And they have been loving the service projects.”

Whether she is teaching in her classroom or supporting her community, Castro Torres’ efforts are paying off. She recently became a 2022-2023 distinguished teacher, and she said she is proud of the accomplishment, a result of dedicating herself to growing as a person and as a teacher and “never working alone.”

“In this job you can’t work alone,” Castro Torres said. “Whenever we get new teachers, I ask them, ‘What do you need? I probably have what you’re looking for, whether it’s in English or in Spanish.’ We have so much to do, so it’s a big team effort. Rely on other people. Work with them and find ways to collaborate and grow.” 

Castro Torres is passionate about making everyone around her feel welcome and puts joy at the forefront of everything she does.

“You have to be happy when you come to work,” she said. “That, for me, is the ultimate thing. If you’re happy, you do your job well, you work well with others, you help whoever needs help. It’s about growing yourself and growing others so that we all grow together and we all look amazing together.”

Be randomly kind

In celebration of Random Acts of Kindness Day, we would like to know if you’ve recently participated in a random act of kindness or perhaps have been on the receiving end of one. You can share your thoughts, stories, or ideas with us by clicking on this link

Random Acts of Kindness Day falls on Friday, Feb. 17. If you’re looking for ways to commemorate this day, here are a few ideas from the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation:

  1. You can pay it backward and buy coffee for the person behind you in line.
  2. Compliment the first three people you talk to today.
  3. Try sending a positive message to five different people. 
  4. Post inspirational sticky notes around your school, office, or community.
  5. Donate old towels or blankets to an animal shelter. 

One more thing: While you’re out bringing joy to others, don’t forget to practice kindness with yourself. 

Own your story—Boosting your self-esteem

International Boost Self-Esteem Month is celebrated annually in February to encourage people to prioritize their mental health and well-being and to believe in themselves. The benefits of having a positive self-esteem affect every area of life, and everyone can work toward improving their self-esteem and receiving those benefits. 

A 2022 research review conducted by psychologists at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Bern found that people with high self-esteem tend to have better social relationships, more success at work, improved physical and mental health and more active social behavior that lasts throughout their lives.

The following tips, which the Mayo Clinic devised from cognitive behavioral therapy, can help you assess your current self-esteem habits and alter your thought patterns.

Identify your pain points. Consider which areas of your life are most likely to result in your experiencing low self-esteem. These situations could include projects or presentations at work, crises at home, conflicts with loved ones and more.

Recognize your thoughts and belief systems. As you reflect on these moments that decrease your self-esteem, pay attention to how you are thinking about the situations and talking to yourself. Determine if your thoughts are largely negative, positive or neutral, and whether they are based on facts or emotions. Then consider whether those beliefs are true. A common test is to imagine how you would talk to a friend or family member in a similar situation. If you would respond differently to them, why are you the exception? 

Challenge negative patterns. Negative thinking can be hard to address, especially if it has become a longstanding habit. If you experience negative thought patterns, practice naming and defining them. A few examples are listed below:

  • All or nothing thinking is when you see something as all good or all bad, like having a difficult time with one piece of a project and deciding the entire project was a failure. 
  • Jumping to conclusions involves assuming an outcome will go wrong based on fears instead of facts, like deciding someone is mad at you because they did not respond to a message. 
  • Filtering out the positives means you focus on the negative and skew your perspective of a situation. 

Practice positive thinking. Just as negative thoughts are powerful, so, too, are positive ones. Instead of remaining trapped in negative or untrue thoughts, work to replace them with positive, accurate ones.

  • Adopt hopeful statements like, “It may be hard right now, but I will learn from this experience.” 
  • Reframe your anxious thoughts. When you fall into negative thinking, use it as an opportunity to find out what you need. Try asking yourself things like, “What can I do to ease my stress?” 
  • Learn from the past and consider what changes you can make to turn a negative outcome or situation into a positive one. 
  • Have realistic expectations of yourself. Instead of saying you “should” or “must” be doing certain tasks, determine what you can realistically achieve and avoid overburdening yourself.
  • Show yourself grace by remembering that you are a human being. Forgive yourself for your mistakes and do not expect perfection.
  • Be your biggest cheerleader by encouraging yourself and building positive self-talk into your daily routine. 

In the words of Brené Brown, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do.”

If you need additional support as you develop positive self-esteem, help is available through Dallas ISD’s Employee Assistance Program by LifeWorks. The confidential, secure platform has countless resources available online for free. From 24/7 on-call counselors to practical tips on subjects like managing anxiety and achieving work-life balance, team members can find what they need, when they need it. 

Reach out to LifeWorks at (972) 925-4000, or visit www.dallasisd.org/benefits and click on Benefits Resources to access online EAP information. Mental health and wellness is available to everyone, so do not hesitate to get the assistance you need. 

Sources: University of California, Davis, and Mayo Clinic

Elevating women and girls in science

On Feb. 11, the world will be celebrating and advancing equitable development of women in the science fields during International Day of Women and Girls in Science. North Dallas High School biology teacher Kathy Nguyen is proud to be among the powerful women scientists, leaders and innovators being celebrated. 

Nguyen never guessed that she would become a teacher at her alma mater when she was going through high school and college. In fact, she planned to become a lawyer and was even accepted into Harvard Law the day after signing her contract with Dallas ISD. But she realized that law was not her passion and turned her attention to a career that she said felt “purposeful” and let her “grow as a leader and as a public servant.” 

She called Principal Katherine Eska and was told that North Dallas had available positions in English, math and science. Nguyen selected science, both for the challenge and for the insight it would give her into her own life.

“I battled osteosarcoma all through college,” Nguyen said. “By becoming a biology teacher, I was able to learn more about what I had and how I can help others understand the risks of cancer and how we can prevent it from happening.”

Nguyen dove into the curriculum, driven by the belief that if anything was confusing for her, it would also be confusing for her students. Her hard work paid off. Not only did she earn the title of “Rookie of the Year” last year, but she also learned that her test data was No. 1 in the network twice with two recent major exams.

She said she likes to “go all out” with her labs to catch her students’ attention as soon as they walk into her classroom. Whether that means setting up a fossil excavation or turning her room into Hogwarts to sort students into houses and study genetics and Punnett squares, Nguyen is eager to step up and get her students involved.

“Whenever a student has an aha moment, that’s when I feel most accomplished,” Nguyen said. “It sparks my curiosity even more to push students into science, especially my female students because we are very limited with women in STEM. Science is one of those subjects that people think is really hard, but in reality it’s not. One concept will always scaffold into another.” 

Another way she motivates her students is by sharing her own story. All through her first year of teaching, she battled yet another form of cancer. She is currently in remission, and she uses her experiences to fuel her students’ curiosity and form deeper connections. 

‘I tell them my story to show them, ‘I went through this my first year of teaching trying to get you to understand this content. If I can do this—having to show up to chemo every morning and then coming here and teaching eight hours a day—you can literally do anything you want in life,’” Nguyen said. 

Jenny Christian, director of STEM Science and Wellness, said she is proud to see the accomplishments of Nguyen and so many other team members across Dallas ISD. 

“The International Day of Women and Girls in Science provides us with an opportunity to celebrate the relevant impact that women and girls in science make in present-day society,” Christian said. “Since not all scientists wear lab coats (only a small percentage), having women and girls engage in science means that we are recognizing and celebrating the innovative advancements in multiple areas of science that they bring to the table. We are very fortunate in Dallas ISD that we have many women and girls in science who use their creativity and innovation to solve real-world problems on a daily basis, and that is worth celebrating!”