Bringing mental health to the forefront

Breaking stereotypes and negative cycles in seeking mental health assistance is always a challenge, especially when it comes to communities of color. Monica Zumaya, a mental health clinician at Samuell High School, is on a mission to change that. 

“Things such as generational trauma, the cycles, and how we can heal from them are some of the things we discuss,” Zumaya said. Because she is passionate about the subject, she is not afraid to talk about the issues that have had a profound impact on students.

Zumaya, who has worked for the district for 16 years, believes that change comes from educating the students. 

“Sometimes students grow up feeling like they need to hide their emotions, that crying is weak,” she said. “Some of these stigmas are embedded in culture. I teach them that it’s okay to be vulnerable, to have emotions or cry. Teaching students and parents communication skills is part of the process.” 

One of the things that she has noticed is the trauma that can come from being a newcomer to the country. 

“I’ve had students that have endured traumas such as losing a parent on the way to the United States and homelessness—things that have dramatically changed their lives,” she said.  

She has witnessed firsthand the different challenges that students and families may face, through the different roles she has served in the district. The trajectory of Zumaya’s career spans from having worked in different schools as a clerk, an office manager, a community liaison, a social worker, and her current position as a mental health clinician with Mental Health Services.

When Zumaya first began working at Samuell as a community liaison, she hit the ground running. She worked with a group of parents to successfully grow the Parent Teacher Organization and became a senior class sponsor, instilling in the students the value of volunteering and giving back to others. 

One common thread has always remained true in these diverse roles Zumaya has played, and it’s her love for helping others. 

“When I went into social work, I went in with the goal of doing more community outreach and advocacy, but then I started getting into mental health, and I loved the counseling aspect of it,” she said. “When I was a social worker here at Samuell, I conducted group and individual counseling sessions which I loved.”

According to her colleagues, the impact that Zumaya has had on the students and community runs far and wide.  

“Monica is deeply committed to her role as a mental health clinician. She is understanding, empathetic, and supportive,” said Jennifer Jones Jackson, lead counselor at Samuell. “She has helped students, families, and staff through some of the most challenging situations.  She never hesitates to lend a helping hand or a listening ear to those in need,” 

Jones Jackson added that although Zumaya’s role is at the district level, she does not let that define how she contributes to the Samuell community. 

“Through the work she is doing with students, we are able to see positive changes in student grades, attendance, and overall connectedness to school,” added Jones Jackson. 

One can often catch Zumaya greeting students and checking backpacks in the morning, a task that is not part of her job duties, but one that she performs happily because having that connection to students and families at the school is a priority to her. She lets them know that she’s there to help. 

Zumaya also recognizes the importance of mental health services districtwide. 

“The department has grown tremendously over the last few years,” she said. “Dallas ISD has the largest mental health department than any other school district in the state with supportive leaders. I love that because it shows that Dallas ISD is putting an emphasis on mental health. They’ve hired more clinicians and see the need on campus, especially after covid.”

As far as plans for the future, Zumaya wants to continue working together with the students at Samuell. 

“I plan to stay here and be the consistency that the kids need,” she added. 

Trustees honored during School Board Recognition Month

January is School Board Recognition Month, and Dallas ISD is celebrating its trustees for their dedication and commitment to the district and its students. 

The theme of this year’s School Board Recognition Month is “Forward, Together,” which highlights the collaboration among school leadership, teachers and parents on behalf of students. 

In 2022 under the board members’ leadership, Dallas ISD was given a B rating by the Texas Education Agency and won the 2022 District of Distinction Award from The Texas Art Education Association (TAEA) for the second year in a row. Two district schools earned National Blue Ribbon School awards while two other campuses were selected by the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) and Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) as projects for the 2022-2023 Exhibit of School Architecture

The trustees are as follows:

  • President, Justin Henry, District 9 (South Dallas and parts of Downtown Dallas, Pleasant Grove, Deep Ellum, Uptown, and East Dallas)
  • 1st Vice President, Dan Micciche, District 3 (Northeast Dallas)
  • 2nd Vice President Maxie Johnson, District 5 (Oak Lawn, West Dallas, Wilmer, Hutchins and portions of East Oak Cliff)
  • Secretary, Joe Carreón, District 8 (Northwest Dallas, Love Field, and parts of East and West Dallas)
  • Edwin Flores, District 1 (Northwest Dallas, including North Dallas, Addison, parts of Carrollton and Farmers Branch)
  • Dustin Marshall, District 2 (North and Near East Dallas)
  • Camile D. White, District 4 (Parts of Southeast Dallas, Pleasant Grove, Balch Springs, and Seagoville)
  • Joyce Foreman, District 6 (Southwest Dallas)
  • Ben Mackey, District 7 (North Central Oak Cliff, Cockrell Hill, and parts of West Dallas)

Learn more about Dallas ISD’s Board of Trustees on the district website here.

Transforming student lives through reading

Jose Fernando Loaiza never expected to become a teacher, but when he entered his first classroom, he said it did not take him long to realize he had found where he was supposed to be. Today—20 years later—he relies on students’ love of reading to transform their lives and make memorable moments at San Jacinto Elementary School.  

“I love this job,” said Loaiza, a second-grade bilingual teacher. “Teaching is a calling. It is not for everyone, but if it’s done well and with passion, we get to go to bed every day knowing we impacted someone in a positive way. As a teacher, service to others is my currency. That passion was instilled in me since I was little, and it still rings true in me.”

As San Jacinto’s 2022 campus teacher of the year, Loaiza is dedicated not only to his students’ success, but also to the success of his school community. One day, Loaiza was encouraging a student to find a quiet spot to read at home, and the response inspired him to start San Jacinto’s after-school reading club.

“He looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘I have nine people in my house. I have no space,’” Loaiza said. “You forget that some of our students are in those situations, so I wanted to create a reading lab for them.”

Loaiza gathered his family and other teachers, cleared out a portable that was being used for storage and got donations of couches, artwork, beanbags and more to furnish it. Now, he said 20-30 students regularly stop by on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for 40 minutes of quiet reading and 20 minutes of fun. 

“It’s a space where they can read whatever they want to and explore that joy of reading in silence,” Loaiza said. “And since we don’t use it during the day, our school psychologist has her sessions there. She was telling me, ‘This is great because it doesn’t feel like a school at all.’ It’s nice to see how that little project is impacting another educator with her work.”

Loaiza, a former basketball player, was also inspired to start a girls’ basketball club on campus last year. He began with just seven students and has grown the group to about 25 fourth and fifth graders, with plans to bring a boys’ team together soon. 

His efforts to create safe, engaging spaces for students have not gone unnoticed. 

“Mr. Loaiza goes above and beyond for our school and believes all students are his students,” said Ashley Combs, a fellow San Jacinto teacher. “He leads with passion and others gravitate toward it. Any way he can brighten a child’s day or even a teacher’s day, he will accomplish that. He believes everything is possible for our students and refuses to settle for anything less than the best. We are grateful to have such a selfless, passionate and empowering educator on our campus.”

Principal Sarah Hafley-Mendoza added, “We are honored to experience Mr. Loaiza’s passion and dedication on a daily basis. His impact is truly infinite. His care for our students, staff and community makes a big difference. Thank you for being so inspiring!”

Through it all, Loaiza has remained dedicated to what he sees as a teacher’s currency: service. 

“We want to make San Jacinto one of the best schools in Dallas ISD,” Loaiza said. “We have a strong team of teachers, wonderful administrators and a wonderful community. That’s one of the many reasons I’m here: I love this community, the parents, the students.” 

Peabody settles into “home away from home”

George Peabody Elementary School is on the move so their current campus can undergo substantial work. Principal Sherri Rogers-Hall and her team recently welcomed their community to their temporary home at the Edison Learning Center to get a look before the start of the spring semester. 

Families and students were invited to tour Peabody at Edison, getting to know various classrooms, one of two gyms, the library and more. They also got to preview their new bus drop off and pick up location at a church next to the current Peabody campus. 

“We are so thrilled about getting a new school in a couple of years!” Rogers-Hall said. “We want to be sure that we maintain a safe environment for all stakeholders and provide the construction team access to the space at the current Peabody so we have the best chances of sticking to the construction timeline that was provided. While we wait for our new school to be constructed, we are excited to be at the new Peabody at Edison.”

In addition to exploring their temporary home, students are looking forward to the construction of two new playgrounds at Peabody at Edison, which will be completed in February. Until then, they will use one of the school’s gyms for physical education, while the other is used for indoor recess. 

Rogers-Hall said the Peabody community is eager to settle into their “home away from home,” adding that it will be “a great space for us to continue growing and learning during construction.” 

Molina teacher pursues culinary excellence

Chef Rosilind Coleman has spent the past seven years preparing students in Dallas ISD for opportunities in the hospitality industry and beyond, and now, she is celebrating a new accomplishment: receiving the Jim Howard Hospitality Educator Scholarship from the Hotel Association of North Texas.  

“Coming off the two years we’ve faced with COVID, the hospitality industry has really taken a hard hit,” Coleman said. “People don’t really realize how much these people give in their day-to-day jobs just to provide a pleasant experience for the guests. You need a servant’s heart to pursue this type of work, so it was really exciting to attend the awards ceremony.”

Coleman plans to use her scholarship to take the Texas Hotel Lodging Association’s weeklong intensive training course at the University of Houston, where she will learn about the different aspects of hospitality leadership from front office and marketing, to food and beverage, staffing and accounting. 

She is looking forward to bringing her enhanced skill set back to her students at Moisés E. Molina High School. As a culinary arts teacher, Coleman primarily focuses on advanced baking and pastry classes, but she also supports Molina’s in-house restaurant and catering fundraising for the programs, which give students hands-on experiences that can lead to higher level roles in the workforce. 

“All I’ve ever really wanted to do was share my joy and interest in hospitality with others,” Coleman said. “As I do that, I keep growing and evolving to help my students be better as well and give them new opportunities.”

Those opportunities are already presenting themselves thanks to Coleman’s Jim Howard Hospitality Educator Scholarship. She was able to network with industry professionals at the awards ceremony and is in the process of developing an advisory board of hospitality leaders to work closely with her students and open new doors. 

While Coleman is excelling in her work thanks to her decade of culinary experience, her passion started early. She said she has loved baking and cooking for as long as she can remember. While she did not always want to be a teacher, she comes from a family of educators and eventually “caught the bug.” She decided to merge her two passions, and now she would not have it any other way. 

“It’s really a blessing and an opportunity,” Coleman said. “I get to enhance my knowledge in education while networking to give my students better opportunities for the future. If I can in any way show my desire to be better trained and more well-rounded in my craft, then I feel I can give my students an idea of what it takes to be the best at what they want to do.”  

Sticking to your resolutions

When it comes to resolutions for the new year, Dallas ISD staff list work-life balance, exercise, eating better and being healthier as their top choices. But it’s not always easy to stick to resolutions throughout the year.

“I am still trying to catch up and repair the goals from the last 2 years,” said one staff member who responded to The Beat survey.

There is no need to despair. Experts from Texas A&M University recently shared some tips on how to stick to those beginning-of-the-year goals in an article for Texas A&M Today.

“Three reasons people fail at keeping their New Year’s resolutions are that what they hope to do is unreasonable, the person expects an unrealistic benefit or the person wasn’t physically or emotionally prepared to make a change,” said Jenna Anding, a registered dietitian nutritionist and  a professor and AgriLife Extension specialist in the Department of Nutrition at Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Most older adults tend to shy away from resolutions, while those who take up the challenge for the upcoming year are more likely to be younger or middle-aged, Anding said.

Anding said we make resolutions because the New Year serves as a marker or reminder for us to step back and reevaluate our lives, then identify any changes needed to improve them. She said some of the top New Year’s resolutions include:

  • Eating healthier/losing weight
  • Getting more exercise
  • Spending less and saving more
  • Being more organized
  • Dedicating more time with friends and family
  • Finding more “me” time
  • Quitting smoking or drinking

When thinking about the resolutions you want to keep, it’s a good idea to look at your health multidimensionally to achieve optimal health and well-being, said Miquela Smith, AgriLife Extension program specialist – health.

“Most people know the basics of maintaining their physical health, including physical activity and well-balanced nutrition,” she said. “However, there are other aspects of your life to consider, such as emotional, intellectual, spiritual, social and occupational wellness.”

When setting resolutions to achieve optimal health, people may focus on two or three dimensions but lose sight of the others, Smith said.

“You may be eating well, but are you fostering meaningful social connections and maintaining adequate boundaries between your job and the rest of your life?” Smith said. “Developing a well-balanced life is vital for personal wellness, but can differ depending on environment, culture, circumstance, resources and other factors.”

Consider Life Balance

Smith said New Year’s resolutions should take into consideration a balance of work, recreation and relaxation, interaction with family and friends, community engagement and being physically and spiritually active.

When setting resolutions with the goal of improving overall well-being, you must be aware of habits or behaviors that influence your health and wellness and be able to identify which are working for you and which aren’t, Smith said.

“This balance will vary with a person’s needs, wants, expectations, preferences and capabilities as well as what stage or season of life a person is in,” she said. “This awareness and understanding are foundational to where you must focus in order to build a healthy lifestyle.”

Smith said if you are not sure exactly where to focus in making your resolutions, some things you might try to improve your overall well-being may include:

  • Becoming involved in social or community activities that have a purpose
  • Making changes in social interactions that might be interfering with aspects of your overall life balance
  • Keeping a calendar to help remember what, when or how often you need to get things done
  • Repeating a desired positive behavior until it becomes a habit

Set Attainable ‘Mini-Goals’

Anding said one way to approach successful resolution-making is to first list the three behaviors or habits you most want to change.

“Look at the behaviors you have identified and choose the one you most want to concentrate on improving,” she said. “Then take a close and realistic look at the behavior you have chosen and think of a specific goal that would reflect where you would like to be through modifying that behavior. Write down that final goal, making sure it is both realistic and achievable.”

The next step is to make a plan and come up with a series of smaller, attainable goals leading toward the final goal, she said.

“For example, if the goal is to run a marathon, but right now you can’t run to the end of the block, consider starting with a more realistic goal of walking for 30 minutes a day three to five days a week,” she said. “Once that is a regular habit, set another goal to run a 5K within three to six months and then a 10K, gradually working up to a half-marathon and then a full marathon.”

It’s also helpful to write down and commit to a specific date to begin the desired behavior change, Anding said.

“Pick an important, significant or memorable date and put it on your calendar,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be the exact start of a new year. Once you pick your date, plan how you will accomplish your goal. In other words, identify and write down those specific actions you will need to take to be successful.”

Dallas ISD chess tournaments hit record-breaking participation numbers

Two tournaments, two Saturdays, and one school filled with excitement and suspense as almost 2,000 Dallas ISD elementary and secondary students competed against each other in the fall chess tournaments hosted recently by the Student Activities Department at the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy at A. Maceo Smith. 

The secondary chess tournament in October kicked off the first of two Saturday tournaments with 665 students from 72 middle and high school campuses ready to play the strategy game of chess.

Students were able to play multiple rounds of chess, paired with different opponents, based on their wins and losses after each game. Different strategies were used throughout the tournament, and the winners came home with a gold, silver, or bronze medal.

Even though the king’s pawn is the most popular opening move in chess, Christian de Santiago from H. Grady Spruce High School said he prefers the second most popular opening move. “I like to use the queen’s pawn opening to get most of my pieces free,” the bronze medal winner said about his strategy. “This lets me get a lot of my pieces out on the board and control the game.”

On the other hand, Diego Galvan from Trinity Heights Talented and Gifted said playing fast is his strategy. “I like to play a fast-paced game, predicting future moves and not giving my opponent time to think too much before their next move,” said the gold medal winner.

“Students came ready to use what they have learned from previous years as they played each game,” said Tyne Thompson, coach at South Oak Cliff High. “My students are eager to compete and learn from their opponents, while also sharing their knowledge and love for the game,” Thompson added.

Following the secondary tournament, students in kindergarten through fifth grade had the opportunity to compete in the elementary chess tournament, held in early November. This was the first year that kindergarten through second grade students were invited to compete in the districtwide chess program. Shattering attendance records, 1,265 students from 103 schools attended the elementary chess tournament at Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy at A. Maceo Smith. 

For many, it was their first time participating in an in-person competition. “It was cool to see all the chess boards set up to play in one room,” said Lucie Tims, a fifth grader from Alex Sanger Preparatory School. More than 600 chess boards had been set up the previous night, spread across two gyms and the cafeteria, to be able to accommodate all the students who competed in the tournament.  

At the end of the secondary tournament, 30 gold medals, 10 silver medals, and 87 bronze medals were awarded to the sixth through twelfth grade students who competed that day.

At the end of the elementary tournament, 103 gold medals, 80 silver medals, and 300 bronze medals were awarded to the kindergarten through fifth grade students.

Each school participating in the districtwide chess program receives chess boards and pieces as well as gold memberships, allowing students to play with peers at their campuses. The Spring chess tournaments for secondary and elementary schools are scheduled for April 15, 2023, and May 6, 2023.

You can start looking ahead

Even if you are not planning to retire soon, it’s always a good idea to know what to expect and how to prepare so your retirement years can be all that you hoped for. Dallas ISD is here to help with a series of webinars hosted by the Benefits Department and the Dallas Retired Teachers Association.

The webinars will take place virtually on designated Tuesdays and last about an hour. They will include updates, information on steps to take to prepare, resources, and tips on topics like medical insurance. Representatives from both groups will answer questions. 

Click on your preferred date and time to register to attend. Once you register, you will receive a confirmation email with the link to join.

Jan. 10 • 5 p.m. 

Jan. 17 • noon

Feb. 14 • 5 p.m. 

Feb. 21 • noon

March 7 • 5 p.m. 

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.”

Supporting parents for student success

Families are a key component in educating all students for success, and Dallas ISD is dedicated to equipping them with the tools they need to help their students thrive. The Parents Advocating for Student Excellence (PASE) program was designed to do just that by giving families the opportunity to participate in a nine-week course that teaches parents how to take an active role in the academic success of their children. 

Campuses around the district have used the PASE program before, but Leslie Swann, director in the Graduation, Recovery, Attendance, Advocacy and Dropout Intervention, said PASE expanded during the 2021-2022 school year thanks to federal dollars from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund to support families involved in Phoenix 2.0—a new accelerated graduation program that prepares high school-aged middle school students to enter high school. 

ESSER funds were allocated for two years to provide PASE to families participating in the Phoenix 2.0 Program. Final approval was granted for participation again during the 2022-2023 school year with a virtual edition as well as in-person sessions hosted at Phoenix 2.0-Spruce. The ESSER funds will go to The Concilio, the outside vendor that conducts the PASE program on behalf of Dallas ISD. 

The Concilio has been an ally and champion for the Latino community in North Texas since its founding in 1981, serving over 80,000 individuals with its education and health programming and over 220,000 via its community outreach campaigns. The Concilio’s mission is to provide families equitable access to resources and opportunities to break the cycle of poverty through resources like the PASE program. 

In 2021 alone, The Concilio reported that its parent engagement programming served 1,228 individuals, with 75 percent of parent graduates increasing their comfort level in talking to their children about their expectations for their education and 77 percent of parent graduates increasing their confidence that their children will attend college.  

“We feel that parents in Dallas ISD have been able to learn some of the skills and feel very comfortable asking questions,” Swann said. “At the eighth grade level, there are several options for high school, so they need to be comfortable asking those questions. Our goal is to build capacity with our families; we want to make sure they understand that we are here for them.” 

Some parents believe that if they do not know how to help their child with homework, they cannot be helpful, but PASE teaches them several other ways to get involved. Checking in with their students and monitoring their progress on various assignments can make a world of difference. Parents are also encouraged to attend parent-teacher conferences, understand and advocate for their children’s needs and be their future graduates’ biggest cheerleaders. 

“Student success is a partnership between home and school,” Swann said. “If students see that, it’s a win, because they know that we’re all on the same page trying to support them and push them toward that ultimate finish line of earning their high school diploma.” 

Swann said about 10-15 percent of Phoenix 2.0 families are participating in PASE so far. The goal moving forward is to increase that number, expanding the overall impact of the program through PASE itself and through its graduates. 

The families who graduate from PASE are empowered to share their newfound knowledge with their social networks, organically augmenting parents’ confidence and skills across the district. 

“There is strength in numbers,” Swann said. “Together, we can advance the district’s mission of educating all students for success. We want the parents to feel that way, too. It’s a joint effort.”