AAPI Heritage Month Spotlight: Teacher brings Korean culture to life for students at Skyline

Skyline teacher Sophie Nah knows that learning a language not based on the English alphabet can be a challenge, so she makes her Korean language classes fun. Perhaps that is why Nah, who teaches four levels of classes, for grades nine through 12, finds students coming back every year for more.

Her students don’t just learn to speak conversational Korean. They also practice arts and crafts and make pottery, kites, ethnic masks, fans, and other artifacts. And they are introduced to Korean foods – all the while learning about the country and its traditions. “I give them rewards, like Korean snacks or different cultural activities, to make it as enjoyable as possible,” she said.

Sometimes Nah brings guests to her classes, to acquaint students with different aspects of the culture. For example, “I had a tae kwon do instructor come and teach the students ways to defend themselves in a physical situation. And last year we had a visitor who brought a jikji, which was the first system in the world for mass printing. The Gutenberg Bible is known as the first book in the world, but the Korean jikji is the first mass printing system in history. A jikji ambassador came and brought printing samples, to teach students how to do traditional calligraphy. She brought the brushes and special paper to demonstrate.

More than the language

“It’s definitely about more than just learning the language and reading comprehension,” Nah says. “Language is maybe 60 percent of it, and the other 40% is fun activities” to teach the students about the culture. “We have fun games and activities because learning a non-alphabet-based language can be very hard.”

The Korean language system, called Hangul, is made up of 14 consonants and 10 vowels. It is the official writing system in South Korea and North Korea and is used by the Korean diaspora across the world. Some non-natives struggle to master it because it’s really different from the English alphabet.

“It can be especially hard for those who have never been exposed to cross-cultural experiences. Those who already have bilingual exposure at home (for example, parents who speak Spanish) find it much easier to learn another language than those who have never had that experience. It takes longer and is more difficult for those who are not exposed to other languages.“

This is Nah’s fifth year in the district, making her the longest-serving teacher in the relatively new Korean language program. Born and raised in Seoul, South Korea, she came to the U.S. as an adult a little over 30 years ago, after growing up in a family of educators.

“My father was a professor, and so are a lot of my family members. My sister is a professor, as was my late brother. My husband’s family members were teachers and professors, and as a youth pastor, my husband also taught. It really runs in the family. And my daughter, Phoebe, is a music teacher at Preston Hollow Elementary School in Dallas ISD.”

Nah first settled in the Los Angeles area, where she worked for the California Employment Development Department, conducting workshops for job seekers who needed to be retrained to join the workforce. “It was job coaching in a classroom setting. I traveled to classrooms in different communities for about 10 years. After I relocated to Carrollton, Texas, I worked as an education center director in Plano, hiring tutors to make sure students achieved their academic goals.”

She learned about the Korean language teaching job through Dallas ISD’s alternative certification program. “It was something I knew I could do well as a native Korean speaker.” She is the only Korean teacher at Skyline. And because there are very few Asians in the district, she says, her students are 100% non-Korean-heritage. But they are eager to learn. Skyline’s Korean language program is growing and more students are coming back for the next level, Nah says.

Vanessa M., a sophomore in her second-level class, is one of those students. “The class is very comforting and welcoming. I feel like I can be myself when I am in this class. The subject itself is very interesting to me, and Ms. Nah makes it easier and so much more fun to learn. I am honored to be a part of this class.”

Sparking interest in another culture

The students are really motivated and enjoy the classes, Nah said. “And that is something that motivates me to go on. Also, some students are very much interested in Korea. They want to visit there, and they are applying for different opportunities to do so.”

One such opportunity is the Hanbok photo contest, where students dressed in traditional Korean clothing that Nah provided and took photos at landmarks around Dallas to enter a photo contest in Korea. If they are selected, they will have their photos featured in the Korean news.

In another project, some of Nah’s students are participating in a joint class with a school in South Korea. Through a program that matches schools in Korea and the United States, they are reading a story together and sharing reflections, using Padlet as the sharing platform. “We will read O. Henry’s ‘After Twenty Years’ and discuss friendship – what is a good friendship, what is a bad friendship – with Korean juniors and seniors. It is a remarkable thing that we are actually connected with students in Korea.”

“My students are interested in visiting Korea and applying globally for different things, so they are thinking a lot more internationally,” Nah said. “They have better exposure to expand their lives and pursue different opportunities through photos or video contests and the like. They are enriching and expanding their lives, rather than limiting themselves to what is local.”

Transforming student lives through school nursing

Dallas ISD is joining a 50-year celebration on May 10 that recognizes school nurses and promotes a better understanding of the role they play in education—National School Nurse Day.

Zelda Saxton has been a school nurse at Obadiah Knight Elementary School for the past 14 years, and she said she has loved every moment of it. She previously worked in oncology and hematology units with a focus on cancer patients, so she said it wasn’t until she came to Dallas ISD that she fully understood the importance of supporting education.

She recalls working with a student who had dyslexia and was struggling with reading, so when testing came around, he told Saxton that he was going to fail. He did not because he received the academic, physical, and mental support he needed from team members at Obadiah Knight and was commended in reading. 

“As soon as he got the notification that he did well, he told his fifth-grade teacher, ‘I have to go talk to Nurse Saxton right now,’” Saxton said. “It brings tears to my eyes because I heard him running down the hall. He ran into the clinic and said, ‘Guess what? I passed.’ And I just broke down and cried. That was amazing.”

Saxton wears many hats to ensure her students remain safe and healthy. She said she works on the frontlines of mental health, identifying potential concerns and referring students to the school counselor as needed. At the same time, Saxton keeps health records and works with families to get their students the care they need as soon as possible.

“Nurse Saxton is a wonderful mentor to our students, team members, and visiting nurses as well,” said Principal Blanca E. Rojo. “Many of our students see her as a second counselor that they can lean on in times of trouble. She also spreads her TLC when we are feeling under the weather. We are very fortunate to work with a school nurse who goes above and beyond the call of duty and who is resourceful, helpful, and kind.”

Obadiah Knight also has a partnership with Children’s Health that enables students to have telehealth visits with medical providers without leaving campus, which Saxton supports by contacting families and registering their students for the program. 

“It’s a really great program for us,” Saxton said. “If our students are cared for on campus and at home, then we know there’s a higher potential for them to come to school every day and have a really good attendance record. And while they’re sitting in class, they’re going to learn something, and it’s going to stick.”

Saxton said she sees an average of about 40 students a week with everything from illnesses to broken bones, but she does not stop transforming student lives when the work day ends. She tutors students after school, attends basketball games, serves as the soccer team manager, and more, and she said it’s all because of her love for her students.

“I love school nursing, and I love working with kids,” Saxton said. “I could arrive in a bad mood, and just seeing these students gives me a high every day. You can make school nursing anything you want it to be, and I want it to encompass as much as I can and keep my students healthy, mentally and physically. When we do that, our kids are going to do their best.” 

Dallas ISD to host May 6 voting centers

Several Dallas ISD facilities will serve as voting centers during the joint election on Saturday, May 6. Department heads, principals, and office managers of the 98 facilities assigned to serve as polling locations are asked to prepare and staff their facilities accordingly.  

Team members are reminded of election laws related to political electioneering and political advertisement. Although district employees do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate, neither an employee nor anyone else has an absolute constitutional right to use all or parts of a school building or its immediate surrounding areas for unlimited expressive purposes. Therefore, the time, place, and manner restrictions outlined in this memo are imposed regarding electioneering on district property. 

All listed facilities should be opened promptly at 5 a.m. on May 6. Election judges will need access to the buildings until 10 p.m. or until the election staff is finished for the evening.

Please ensure that school team members cooperate with the election judges regarding set-up requests and that polling locations are presentable. At no time should a district facility be left unattended by district personnel.

A custodian will be required to work overtime on May 6. Two custodians may split the time, but there should be no overlap of time between the custodians. Custodial team members must use the supplemental pay icon on the biometric time and must clock in and out, using the activity code 131904.  

To see all the assigned facilities, click here. Contact Orlando Alameda at (972) 925-5142 or OAlameda@dallasisd.org with additional questions. 

Teaching life lessons through science

Van Harris, a fifth-grade science teacher at Maria Moreno STEAM Academy, knows how to motivate his students to go above and beyond. For example, he had a student miss just one question on her common assessment test last year. As he was guiding his class through setting goals for their upcoming State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test, this student decided she wanted to aim for a perfect score. 

“I said, ‘OK, we’re going to focus on that goal,’” Harris said. “So I got her packets on the one TEKS she missed, and from that point on we did packets and different activities on that TEKS over and over. Then on the STAAR test, she got them all correct. I’ve never seen that before in my life.”

Harris, who is Maria Moreno’s 2022-2023 campus teacher of the year, said he credits his passion for education and transforming student lives to his family. He comes from a long line of teachers, starting with his great-great-grandfather and continuing onto one of Harris’ own daughters. 

After 24 years of teaching, Harris has countless student success stories. Some of his top classroom strategies include creating clear procedures for his students’ day-to-day operations, modeling behaviors he wants to see from them and taking advantage of resources and partnerships to increase engagement. 

Maria Moreno has a partnership with OutTeach, a nonprofit that trains teachers to use the outdoors to improve math, science and language arts instruction, and Harris said he has loved incorporating outdoor activities into his lesson plans.

During a weathering and erosion activity, he had his students gather rocks and put them in tubes of water. He then played Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” while his students danced and shook their closed tubes. By the end of the song, he said his students poured out the rocks and were able to see how “smooth and shiny” they were.

“When you make those connections hands on, the students are committed and they never forget,” Harris said. “That’s why I enjoy this particular subject. Students are interested in space and the world, and they’re always asking questions.” 

While teaching can be challenging, Harris said he is thankful for the opportunities he has had to make memorable moments in the classroom and ensure that his students are on their way to being college and career ready. 

“I love teaching science because science is life,” Harris said. “My students have learned a lot, and they are proud of that. I am pretty proud of them, too.”

Prioritize health during World Immunization Week

World Immunization Week is recognized annually during the last week of April to promote the use of vaccines and the protection they provide against vaccine-preventable diseases. Dallas ISD’s Health Services department offers a range of services to meet the mental and physical health needs of students and families in the district, including immunizations. 

According to Jennifer Finley, executive director of Health Services, the district’s partnerships with the Dallas County Health Department and Parkland Health have provided more than 10 mobile immunization clinics throughout the district. 

“We are so fortunate to have medical community partners that provide opportunities for students to receive school-required immunizations,” Finley said. “Staying up to date with routine immunizations protects against diseases such as measles and whooping cough.”

Dallas ISD offers two ways for district students to receive immunizations:

  • Families can make an appointment at a Youth and Family Center to receive immunizations for as little as $5.
  • Families can receive immunizations at no cost from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Care Van, a mobile immunization clinic that visits schools and serves families at community events throughout the year. Contact your school nurse to find out when the Blue Cross Blue Shield Care Van is scheduled for your child’s campus.

Learn more about the available health services in Dallas ISD by visiting https://www.dallasisd.org/Page/952, and help spread the word about World Immunization Week  to help keep students, team members and families safe. 

Central summer schedule starts in June

Starting in June, the district will be closed on Fridays as central team members begin to work the four-day week summer schedule.

Supervisors may allow employees to work a schedule other than the four-day workweek so long as the change does not negatively affect the functions of the department. In addition, some departments may choose to return to the regular work schedule sooner. Decisions regarding the work schedule are at the discretion of the department supervisor. In addition, departmental leadership may modify the employees’ work schedule to meet campus, departmental, or district needs at any time. Any event such as New Teacher Academy or a back-to-school program may require a change to the work schedule in order to provide support. Principals will make the determination of implementing a four-day workweek based on the needs of their campus and executive director approval.

Monthly and biweekly start dates

Monthly—Employees paid monthly will work the four-day work week from June 5 through July 28. Monthly employees will resume their regular work hours on July 31.

BiweeklyEmployees paid biweekly will work a four-day workweek from June 2 through Aug. 3. Biweekly employees will not work on June 2 if they participate in the four-day workweek. Biweekly employees who participate in the four-day workweek will resume their regular hours on Aug. 4.

Summer hours

The summer schedule for the district will be from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Employees are responsible for consulting with their supervisors to determine the start, end, and lunch times of their daily work schedule during the summer. Employees approved to take a working lunch will only be required to stay at the worksite or be available remotely for 10 hours. Employees will be compensated for the “working lunch” time, and it will be considered part of the regular work hours.

Remote work

Remote work schedules will be considered and communicated based on the needs of the department and at the discretion of the supervisor. Eligible employees may work remotely up to one one day per week and onsite three days a week. It is encouraged that executive directors are onsite four days per week during the summer work schedule.

Juneteenth and Summer Break

The district will be closed on June 19 for the Juneteenth holiday. The district will also be closed for summer break July 3-7. Employees will not be permitted to work for pay while the district is closed unless the employee has received prior written approval from their department chief. Central team members will return to work on July 10.

Award-winning art at Molina inspires school and community

It’s been said that a place without art is a place without an identity. That’s not the case for Moisés E. Molina High School where artwork, images, murals, and 3D sculptures can normally be seen throughout the school.

Visual arts teachers like Melissa James and Miriam Montaño Perez have made these displays possible with the aim of helping students develop a strong sense of identity.

The visual arts program at Molina High School is so successful that students recently took home 18 regional medals at the Texas High School Visual Art Scholastic Event (VASE). This weekend, three of the students’ works will be competing in the state competition in San Marcos, Texas. 

“Every art communicates some kind of message—whether it’s expressing culture or pride, and you’ll see that in the artwork of the students who went to VASE, because they were very personal pieces of art,” said James. 

The students who have advanced to state are: Diego Duran, a sophomore, and Jessica Martinez and Kevin Cecena, freshmen.

“Most of my students that went to the VASE competition were freshmen,” James said. “They were so proud of themselves and were able to experience and look at all the beautiful work at the event.”

“They had to speak to a juror and tell them their artist statement,” she added. “They had to explain what it meant to them personally, and explain the art element and design principles, which was part of their score.”

Beyond the classroom and competitions, Montaño Perez feels that art plays another important role in students’ lives.

“Art has really helped our students find their own identity, and has helped them express their emotions,” she said. “As they’re working through their art work, they visualize what they’re feeling and it helps them better understand themselves. Art plays this role for a lot of students.” 

Both Montaño Perez and James attribute much of the success of the visual arts program to their principal, Jacob Núñez, who has helped them find new spaces for art to exist in the school. 

“We had this empty wall and our principal, Mr. Núñez, suggested that it would be a good place to have a mural, and he helped to fund the materials,” Montaño Perez said. “We had a group of students who painted the mural, and we guided them whenever they needed help.”

The mural was inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s iconic “Starry Night” painting and represents both Molina and Starry Night. It fuses a sense of pride that says, “That’s my school displayed in my artwork,” she said.

Not only has art in the school inspired the students, but it’s inspired team members as well.

“Art in the school really raises morale,” James said. “I’ve had so many compliments on the 3D sculptures throughout the school, and I’ve received requests from people wanting those word sculptures above their doors. It’s bright and colorful and it gives us a platform to show our students work.” 

Outside of the school, students have also had the opportunity to show their work in community spaces, including the Kiva Gallery at Mountain View College and a Día de Los Muertos exhibition at Arts Mission Oak Cliff.

“It was nice for students to see a part of themselves in their art,” Montaño Perez said. 

Both James and Montaño Perez hope that collaborations for students to showcase their artwork in the community continue, as they both see the impact that organizing exhibitions can have on the students, school, and community. 

“It gives students the opportunity to have their artwork out there for others to see,” Montaño Perez said. “It will really motivate them and encourage them, and they will take what they learned here at Molina and use it beyond high school.” 

Meet Master Principal Brittany Thompson

Master Principal Brittany Thompson has spent 11 years in education, all at Dallas ISD. Originally from Chattanooga, Tenn., she was placed in Dallas with Teach for America at J.L. Long Middle School, where she quickly stepped into leadership roles. 

Thompson was subsequently promoted to instructional coach at John Quincy Adams Elementary School and then became assistant principal there and at Thomas C. Marsh Preparatory Academy. While at John Quincy Adams, she led the mathematics department, realizing double digit gains before ultimately moving to Lakewood Elementary School as principal. 

Thanks to her commitment to working alongside those she leads in order to make a lasting impact, Thompson was among the top 10 percent of Dallas ISD principals to be awarded the Master Principal designation for the 2022-2023 school year. Learn more about her outlook on leadership below. 

What drew you to education? 

The desire to have an impact on students, their lives and futures—and the joy I feel on campuses—inspired me to become an educator! 

What qualities make a great principal? 

Great leaders I admire are decisive, good communicators who value relationships and their people and always put students at the forefront of their work. 

What is your educational philosophy or a motto by which you work? 

My philosophy is students first. When struggling with a difficult situation, we always ask ourselves, “What is in the best interest of the students?” 

What inspires you about your position? 

The people I get to work with inspire me: the teachers in the classrooms who pour their hearts into their classes, the students and their ability to exceed expectations and show such kindness and empathy, and the community members I work with who move mountains for our students. 

Bringing other countries into the classroom

Jazmin Mier, instructional coordinator in the World Languages Department, is a citizen of the world. She has visited over 30 countries and uses this knowledge to help teachers in the district. So when she saw that the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth was offering an opportunity for 12 educators to participate in a United Arab Emirates Educator study tour this past spring, she jumped at the chance to go. 

Mier and 11 other educators from around the country visited the cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai March 11-18 to make connections between classrooms in the Emirates and the United States, and for educators to share what they learned in their classrooms. 

Participants had the opportunity to interact with top UAE government officials, visit internationally renowned museums, participate in cultural activities, and visit schools and universities. 

Mier said she learned a lot about new initiatives that the Emirates has related to education. She was able to see some things in common between classrooms there and in Dallas ISD.

“I saw a lot of independent work,” she said. “It was not a traditional classroom where they have students sitting on their desks and working.” 

“Students were very self motivated, and I can already see that in our schools. I don’t know if it was because of COVID, but I saw a lot of similarities like that and students were eager to learn,” she added. “They really were working on their assignments, as independent learners. That’s one of the things that really reminded me of our schools.”

Mier is using this new knowledge to work on lessons for district teachers to use in their classrooms. The trip was so impactful to Mier that she and Amy Anderton, director of the World Languages Department, are working on bringing Arabic classes to schools, as Arabic is one of the top five languages spoken in the district. 

“We really want our students to be global citizens and for them to be aware that there are different languages out there that they can learn,” she said. “It’s very important to encourage them to be open to other cultures.”

Anderton agrees: “I clearly see how her service helps our teachers. If she can go and serve our teachers by opening new opportunities to them and opening doors and perspectives–even windows to look out of, she’s done her job. All of these world travels have done that.”

During the tour, Mier also had the opportunity to visit different places related to industries like artificial intelligence.

“They are focusing towards the future,” she said. “When we think of the Persian gulf, we think of the natural resources that they have such as petroleum. But their goal is to not be dependent on oil in 20 years.”

From what she saw, the country is building its technology, industry, and education systems to expand into other fields like artificial intelligence, she said. Another one of the takeaways from the trip was the role women play in government.

“They are intentional in having a certain number of representation of women in their government,” she said. “Not only did we meet brilliant women in government roles, we met artists, writers and teachers. It was very eye opening and motivating.”

Mier, who began working for the district in 2001 teaching Spanish at Moises E. Molina High School and then at Trinidad “Trini” Garza Early College High School at Mountain View, has always had a passion to learn about geography, language, and culture. 

“When I was little, I Ioved to look at maps,” she said. “I didn’t study geography because they didn’t have a geography major at my university, Texas Wesleyan University,  but I took all the geography classes. I love learning about maps and about the people.”

As far as next steps, Mier has already begun her work in creating lessons to share with teachers of the district, which is aligned with the mission of the department—to provide instructional support to all world languages teachers through coaching, professional development, and the design of curriculum and assessments.

Part of this mission is for every student to graduate with the ability to communicate in a language that they didn’t originally come to the district with, according to Anderton. 

“She has the heart of a public servant and I really see how her service to the district really helps our teachers and will have a long lasting impact for years to come,” said Anderton. 

Hot spots available for team Dallas ISD

The district has opened hotspot requests not only to students but also to all campus and central team members, thanks to a partnership with T-Mobile to support internet access needs at home.

The hotspots will be activated under T-Mobile’s Education plan, which includes free mobile internet with content filtering. All content accessible via these hotspots will pass through a content filter that blocks access to any form of inappropriate content and is compliant with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).

Central employees who need internet access at home can request one by submitting a service request for a hotspot device through Support Hub. Download this guide of the process for additional help. 

Campus team members can take advantage of this resource by completing this form with recipients’ information and return to Thross@dallasisd.org by May 12. 

All devices can be kept through the tenure of Dallas ISD employment or enrollment. 

Once the request is submitted, additional information will be shared. For additional information, questions, or concerns, contact thross@dallasisd.org.