Friday, April 21, 2017

Campuses Sponsor First Annual Chess Tournament

SBISD’s First Annual Chess Invitational Tournament is set for Saturday, April 29, at Spring Oaks Middle School, 2150 Shadowdale, Houston, Texas.

The tournament will be run as a five-round system in which each participant may play five games. Each campus is represented by at least four players, and their scores will be the combined result of the top four performing players from each campus. Chess clocks will not be used, and all games will be classified as unrated.


Participating schools may enter a maximum of eight players. Schools may pre-register participants by emailing Jared Dawson at jared.dawson@springbranchisd.com.


Walk-up registrations will be accepted, and registration will begin at 8 a.m. on the day of the tournament.  
Competition will commence at 9 a.m.

The event is sponsored by Spring Oaks Middle and Spring Woods High School.


Trophies will be awarded to the 5 highest scoring chess teams,  and individual chess players in the tournament. This is an open tournament for all secondary students (middle and high school) who would like to attend.


Invitations have been sent to middle and high schools throughout Spring Branch ISD, the Greater Houston Area and the state of Texas.


Chess Director John Vargas with Community In Schools at Spring Oaks Middle will lead the event.


If you have questions, please contact John Vargas at john.vargas@springbranchisd.com or call 713-251-4800.


Special thanks to Community In Schools, Vissmo Design Signs and Graphics, Brewingz at Silber, Cross Walk Houston and Campus Principal Paul Suess of Spring Oaks Middle School.


Early Voting for SBISD Trustee Election Opens April 24

Voting for two SBISD Board of Trustee positions opens on Monday, April 24, and ends on Tuesday, May 2. Election Day is Saturday, May 6.

Early voting will be held at the following locations:
  • Wayne F. Schaper Leadership Center (SBISD Administration Bldg.)
    955 Campbell Road, 77024
    (April 24-28 and May 1-2 – 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; April 29 – 8 a.m.-noon)
  • Don Coleman Community Coliseum,1050 Dairy Ashford, 77079
    (April 24-28 and May 1-2 – 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; April 29 – 8 a.m.-noon)
  • Holy Cross Lutheran Church 7901 Westview, 77055
    (April 24-28 and May 1-2 – 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; April 29 – 8 a.m.-noon)
  • City of Piney Point Village 7676 Woodway Suite, #300, 77063
    (April 24-28 -- 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; May 1-2 – 7 a.m.-7 p.m. No voting at this location on Saturday)
On Saturday, May 6, voters may cast ballots at their zoned middle school:
  • Election Precinct No. 41 – Landrum Middle School, 2200 Ridgecrest, 77055
  • Election Precinct No. 42 – Memorial Middle School, 12550 Vindon, 77024
  • Election Precinct No. 43 – Spring Branch Middle School, 1000 Piney Point, 77024
  • Election Precinct No. 44 – Spring Woods Middle School, 9810 Neuens, 77080
  • Election Precinct No. 45 – Spring Forest Middle School, 14240 Memorial, 77079
  • Election Precinct No. 46 – Spring Oaks Middle School, 2150 Shadowdale, 77043
  • Election Precinct No. 47 – Northbrook Middle School, 3030 Rosefield, 77080
Trustee Josef Klam is unopposed for Position 1.

Competing for Trustee Position 2 are incumbent Chris Gonzalez and Mary Curry Mettenbrink, a non-profit executive.

All positions are for three-year terms.

For assistance on where to vote, or if you have any other questions, please call 713-251-2217, or go to www.springbranchisd.com.

2016 MHS Yearbook Wins ‘Pulitzer’ of Scholastic Journalism

Current Reata staffers who worked on the 2016 award-winning yearbook
Memorial High School’s 2016 yearbook, the Reata, has been awarded the Pacemaker Award by the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA), considered to be the “Pulitzer” of scholastic journalism. The book also won the Silver Crown from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA).

The Pacesetter award is believed to be the first to be won by an SBISD school and places the Reata in the top 2 percent of yearbooks in the nation. The Reata has been nominated for the Pacesetter Award at least once before.

Co-Editors in Chief were Aniston Hill (currently at BYU) and Caroline Jones (currently at UT-Austin). The Assistant Editor-in-Chief was Emma Keller (currently at Baylor). Co-Photography Editors were Lucy Tomforde (currently at Fordham) and Meghan Pisters (currently at Ohio State).

“I knew as soon as this book went to print that it was an exceptional book,” said Reata advisor Holly Hartman. “The staff – especially the editors – worked tirelessly on this book. We very regularly stayed at school until 10 or 11 at night working on the book.

“I was thrilled with the nominations and the awards and so proud of the students,” she said, adding that 36 students worked on the book.

Themed “Take Two,” the 2016 Reata is 568 pages, divided into two main sections that include both standard and special layouts. The book uses a specially ordered matte paper that took some doing to get, Hartman said, but, coupled with a linen-like cover material, gives the book a “special and sophisticated” feel.
The 2016 Reata, themed “Take Two.”
Balfour Publishing reps Lisa Schwartz and Milani Argueles tracked down the special matte paper after editor Caroline Jones received a college brochure printed on that paper.

“Because of the paper used and the cover material used, the book seems almost like a coffee table book instead of a yearbook,” said Hartman. “The girls wanted a simple, clean, classy, ‘magazine’ look (for the layouts). They definitely achieved that.”

Hartman and four of last year’s editors attended the CSPA conference in March to receive the Silver Crown award.

In early April, Hartman attended the Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association conference where she, her mother and Lisa Schwartz nervously waited while winners were announced in reverse order.

“I realized they were getting close to the end of the list and started thinking that we weren’t going to get it,” said Hartman. “Then they called ‘Reata – Memorial High School’ and I was shocked and thrilled!

“I jumped up to accept the award, and as soon as I got back to my seat I started texting and Facetiming some of the editors to let them know,” she said. “It was a great experience and I wish the students could have been there with me.”

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Innovate Award – SBISD, You’re the Best!

Spring Branch ISD Superintendent Scott Muri accepted a top prize on behalf of our district – the Innovate Award – during the annual Challenge Awards sponsored by the nonprofit Houston A+ Challenge earlier this week.

The Innovate Award was presented to Dr. Muri on behalf of the entire school district in an April 18 ceremony held near downtown at White Oak Music Hall. SBISD was issued the first-ever recognition under this new award category.  

This prize was one of several honors issued by Houston A+ Challenge and its board of directors to recognize the groups, projects and people who impact education in the greater Houston community in a positive way.

SBISD’s special award states:

“The Houston A+ Challenge Innovate Award is given to the project that best demonstrates how innovation can be utilized to transform education

Spring Branch ISD adopted a single focused goal of doubling the number of students who complete a technical certification, military training, two- or four-year degree.

To reach that goal, SBISD set out to build a strategic plan that shapes a vision of learning in the future that is unprecedented in its ambition. SBISD began the strategic planning process with a simple, bold question: “What if?”

Emboldened by a newly adopted law in Texas giving school districts freedom comparable to charter schools (Texas House Bill 1842 – Districts of Innovation), SBISD asked its community to dream about the promise and possibility of public education.

The plan, adopted unanimously, lays out a vision for personalization that requires educators in classrooms, on campuses, and in the district office to reimagine and redesign themselves to optimize learning experiences for every child.

This includes innovative efforts ranging from tiny ideas that show promise for personalization all the way to whole-school redesign. In addition to improving outcomes for students in SBISD, the hope is to provide learning models that inform a vision of what’s possible in Houston.”

To learn more about Houston A+ Challenge, please visit http://houstonaplus.org/.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Book Drives Focus on Summer Reading Material


Books expand a student’s vocabulary, improve comprehension skills and strengthen imaginations. But many SBISD students face a summer break with limited or no access to age-appropriate books, and they need you to help. Book drives for summer reading are underway for at least two SBISD schools. The Memorial-Spring Branch Rotary Club is collecting books for Bear Boulevard, one of the district’s PreK centers. And over at Treasure Forest Elementary, the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation is raising money to buy summer reading material for the nearly 600 students there.

Please follow the links below for more information on how to help.
Students can also take advantage of SBISD’s partnership with the public library system through the Overdrive app. Students have access to eBooks through the app 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Sister School Solutions Helps Several Schools at Once

A Northbrook High School shop student uses a woodburner to engrave a picnic table built for Woodview Elementary.

An item in the SBISD Council of PTAs April 10 newsletter tells the story of Hunters Creek Elementary’s fifth-grade class continuing a tradition of purchasing a year-end gift for Hunters Creek’s sister school, Woodview Elementary.


Interesting enough on its own, but it gets better.

Asked what kind of item they might want (last year it was a rug for the front entry), Woodview said that they would like a couple of picnic tables for the playground.

So Hunters Creek did a little research and discovered that Northbrook High School’s shop class builds and sells picnic tables.

Do they ever.

Led by instructor Ken Dies, the class takes orders for two kinds of tables – the traditional two-bench style, and a more expensive octagon-shaped table.

His shop is organized much like a factory assembly line – the tables are built in stages, with students working at assigned stations as the tables move through the process.

The tables are customized with artwork of the buyer’s choice. The Woodview tables, for instance, are being engraved with the mascot, a beagle, surrounded by the words “Woodview Elementary.” Other tables are emblazoned with college logos, family names and other unique markers.

Meager profits are plowed back into the program to replenish materials and to purchase tools that need replacing.

“I love how Hunter's Creek Elementary found a way to help their Sister School in addition to helping another school in our district,” said Francine Todes, Sister School Solutions chair for the Council of PTAs.

Sister School Solution Partners:


Bunker Hill Elementary - Thornwood Elementary
Rummel Creek Elementary - Sherwood Elementary
Frostwood Elementary - Housman Elementary
Wilchester Elementary - Spring Shadows Elementary
Hunter's Creek Elementary - Woodview Elementary
Memorial Middle - Landrum Middle
Cornerstone Middle - Ridgecrest Elementary
Memorial High School-Pine Shadows
Valley Oaks Elementary-Shadow Oaks Elementary
Stratford High School-Northbrook High School
Meadow Wood Elementary-Edgewood Elementary
Memorial Drive Elementary-Hollibrook Elementary
SBISD Admin (Finance, Technology, Community Relations)-Terrace Elementary
Memorial Area Women Give Back-Westwood Elementary
Spring Branch Memorial Sports Association-Spring Branch Elementary
Liz Clearman-Treasure Forest Elementary

Schools without a Sister School that may be interested in a partner:


Buffalo Creek Elementary
Northbrook Middle School


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Collegiate Challenge Mentor Offers Encouragement and Advice

Mentor Dana Stewart coaches mentees at Spring Woods High School.
Dana Stewart and his wife were out for a walk in their neighborhood and passed by Northbrook High School, where the school’s marquee read “We Appreciate Our Mentors.”

At that moment, it flashed into Stewart’s mind: “I want to be appreciated too!” He subsequently signed up to be a mentor in SBISD and felt led to be a Collegiate Challenge mentor.

As a retired business manager for World Impact, Stewart’s schedule best aligned with the Collegiate Challenge mentoring program at Spring Woods High School, and he began volunteering at the school this spring.


Watch a spotlight on SBISD's Collegiate Challenge Program  >>


This spring, mentors from the ranks of SBISD administrators and community volunteers are meeting once a week with a group of juniors to prepare them for college applications in the fall.

The mentors and students work on writing admissions essays, polishing resumes, seeking summer college experiences, discussing and researching careers and majors, and much more. To allow all mentors and mentees to work on drafting and editing at a similar pace, program leaders present assignments and resources to the students and mentors each week.

Stewart is ‘getting his feet wet’ as a roving mentor in the program this spring. When a student’s assigned mentor is not able to attend, Stewart fills in by offering encouragement and advice.


“My first opportunity to help a student was life-changing,” Stewart said. “I was able to read about the obstacles they have overcome in their pursuit of a college degree and give input with their essay.  What a privilege!”


Becky Wuerth, mentor coordinator for the SWHS Collegiate Challenge program, said that she is “so thankful” to have Stewart in the mix to work with mentees when their own mentors are unavailable to attend meeting times.

In SBISD, we APPRECIATE our mentors! We are glad that Dana Stewart took that stroll through his neighborhood, was inspired to find out more about the District’s mentoring programs and found a place with the Collegiate Challenge mentors and mentees at Spring Woods High School.

Listening and Learning – Building School Connectedness

International Festival at Meadow Wood Elementary
“No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.”
- James Comer

This idea is at the heart of transformative work at the campus and district level in Spring Branch ISD as part of the school system’s five-year plan, The Learner’s Journey.

Creating powerful, relevant student learning experiences shapes an educator’s daily life, and parents and students alike want to share in a learning environment that fosters positive results for kids.

SBISD educators, parents and community leaders are collectively exploring the topic of school connectedness and how it impacts learning and student achievement.

ASCD, a professional learning community of educators, defines school connectedness as an academic environment in which students believe that adults in the school care about their learning and about them as individuals.

Like many of her peers and colleagues, Meadow Wood Elementary Principal Pamela Redd is exploring the topic – and the data – as she works to create meaningful connectedness for both new and long-term residents.

Her student body represents more than 30 countries and 18 languages with about 37 percent of students on free and reduced lunch. Redd’s challenge is to create connectedness in the face of this diversity. She doesn’t want students or families to simply feel like they fit in – she wants them to feel like they belong and are part of the ongoing, evolving narrative of her school community.


Redd’s strategy is just as simple. Focus on being more purposeful and make sure she knows all she can about her new families, and that they know more about her and her campus community. This knowing starts with asking and listening.


“I’ve learned that families who are coming into our system have experiences that are different,” Redd said. “They are coming from systems that have ideas and ways of looking at things differently. They are willing to share these ideas, if only we ask.”


This act of asking can often be pushed aside in the fast-paced, solutions-driven modern world. Leaders across SBISD recognize the need to stop and listen to their community and families and the diversity of need.


To facilitate this listening, and foundational to the work of The Learner’s Journey, the district formed a special work committee, known as E3 (Education, Engagement, and Empowerment).


E3’s mission is to invest time and to actively dialogue with families about the resources and services needed to best support student achievement. The collaboration is helping the district listen, develop a deep understanding of needs, and learn.


Comprising a cross section of employees, partners, and parents, the committee has been hard at work this school year researching and exploring ways to strength school connectedness and student engagement.


The goal is to create a framework upon which to provide a deeper level of comprehensive, customized supports to families and students. A framework is slated to launch next school year, pending board approval, in selected pilot locations.


Additionally, a marketplace of resources and tools will be accessible to participating campuses to support enriched outreach, and supportive professional development will be provided for educators.


A central challenge? The range of need. Being able to provide custom or personal solutions while meeting families where they are is a big task. That’s why listening and developing a clear understanding of what those families require is critical.


Principal Redd’s experience at her campus mirrors that of the E3 Committee’s district-level work.

“It’s hard – but mostly because it’s different,” said Redd. “As principals, we are in situations every day where we are forced to make quick decisions. People want and need answers right away. We are ALL pressed for time, but it’s worth it to slow down and go through a deep process of understanding to solve problems and address concerns. It’s not about being reactive; it’s about being proactive and connecting the dots.”


To do this Redd has adopted the process of Design Thinking. It’s a method of thinking based on developing deep empathy and understanding in finding solutions that fit individual needs.


Design Thinking has also shaped the work of the E3 Committee and the earlier development of the school system’s strategic plan. It’s not so much about solving problems as finding solutions based on empathy and shared understanding.

From Redd’s perspective, this increased focus is empowering when looking at ways to provide the most effective service and support. Solutions are not about what she thinks, but what she learns from parents, students, and educators. It’s about listening. For Redd, the acts of asking and listening are the foundation of school connectedness.

“We already have so much to build on,” she said. “Our PTA is amazing and does a remarkable job supporting our school programs. We have an opportunity to inform and help our new families feel at home here, and in turn, they offer us a wealth of information that we can learn from. This process of dialogue and understanding helps deepen the connection.”


In the crush of demands parents and educators face, the time required to invest in the work can seem out of reach, a luxury almost. For Redd, it’s worth it to change gears and make the investment. Now that she’s gone through the process, Redd’s sense of credibility and transparency as a leader have been buoyed.

“In the design challenge process,” she said,  “the playing field is leveled between parents, students, teachers, and administrators.  All ideas are listened to, valued, and everyone can contribute. The culture of the campus can change to truly be one where collaboration is not just valued but is a real thing.”


This collaboration and engagement are just as important to the every member of the E3 Committee.


“I think it’s empowering for families to know that we’re listening and working to directly support need,” said Victoria Graham, SBISD family E3 specialist. “As a learning organization, success is knowing that every SBISD campus has a robust and collaborative partnership with the families they serve.


“Real, measurable student success is what we’re working toward,” she said. “Every family deserves a school system that supports education, engagement, and empowerment.”


Like Graham, Principal Redd sees value in the power of the parent campus partnership. Does she feel like she has all the answers or is done with the work? No. She recognizes it’s an on-going, never-ending cycle of improvement. A cycle of success, failure, collaboration, and change.

“As long as it is good for children, it will be OK, said Redd. “Our district leaders are not charged with having all of the answers. Through this process, all of us can design solutions. It’s a journey, one we are on together.”


“As long as it is good for children, it will be ok. Our district leaders are not charged with having all of the answers. Through this process, all of us can design solutions. It’s a journey, one we are on together.“

Looking for ways you can engage and become more connected to your campus community? Here’s a list of suggestions.
  • Encourage your child to talk to you, teachers, counselors, and other school staff about his/her ideas, needs and concerns.
  • Visit your school and explore what the expectations are and how you will review communication and information from your school and teacher.
  • Join the Campus Parent Teacher Association.
  • Sign up for campus news and alerts.
  • Be a volunteer and encourage your child to follow your lead.
  • Read the school newsletter, attend parent conferences, and visit your campus website.
  • Attend class or campus events.
  • Ask if your campus offers transportation or child care for events if needed.
  • Ask for materials about the school you can share with others.
  • Learn about community organizations that support your campus. (dental and health screening organizations, child care, health programming)
  • Join the campus improvement team and help plan policy and activities.
  • Talk to your teacher and school staff about simple changes that can make positive impacts on the school environment.
  • Manage your contact information and view student grades, homework and absences with Family Access.
  • Make time to get involved!
For more information about the work of The Learner’s Journey, SBISD’s Strategic Plan, click here.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Register today as a runner or vendor – SBEF’s 2017 Running for the Arts 5K & ArtFest

Spring Branch Education Foundation is expecting its largest field of runners when it celebrates the 25th annual Running for the Arts 5K & ArtFest in a new location with expanded activities.

SBISD schools are vying for the top spot in Most Participation category on Saturday, May 6, at the Altharetta Yeargin Art Museum, 901 Yorkchester.

In addition to competitive and non-competitive running events, the day will include an expanded art auction and an opportunity for art-related vendors to display and sell their artwork.

Competitive runners will begin at 8 a.m.; 5K walkers will follow. The Kids K (1K) non-competitive run for participants in eighth grade or younger will begin at 9 a.m.  The art festival will extend to 1 p.m. Runners and vendors are encouraged to register early.

Be a Runner or Sponsor
Runners/walkers may download registration forms or register online at www.runningforthearts.com. Information is also available at www.facebook.com/sbisdspringbrancheducationfoundation and at all SBISD schools.

Registration fees, which include a t-shirt and race packet, begin at $20 per person for participants 18 years and younger, $25 for adults. Fees increase by $10 on May 4.

Community members are invited to be a Student Sponsor at the $275 level (15 SBISD students) and $125 level (five SBISD students). Download a form at www.runningforthearts.com/sponsors/.

“Saturday Sleep In” sponsorships are $70 prior to May 4 and $80 after. These sponsorships include four Running for the Arts t-shirts; and four registrations count toward a selected school in the Highest School Participation Contest. T-shirts should be claimed during packet pick-up times.

Walk-up registration and race packet pick-up are scheduled at the Altharetta Yeargin Art Museum on Thursday, May 4, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Friday, May 5, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Race day, Saturday, 6:30 – 7:30 a.m., is packet pick-up only; there will be no late registration on Saturday morning. Runners should pick up packets early for best selection of t-shirt sizes.

All participants are invited to the awards ceremony. Runners will be treated to an after-race party, thanks to generous donations by SBISD Child Nutrition Services, SBEF and community merchants.

Male and female overall winners will each receive $300 gift certificates, and overall male and female master (over age 40) winners will receive $200 gift certificates.

The SBISD school with the highest participation will win gift certificates, $500 each, from Young Audiences of Houston and Academy Sports & Outdoors. All other SBISD schools with at least 10 participants will be entered into a drawing to win one of two prizes: a gift certificate from Young Audiences of Houston or from Academy Sports & Outdoors.

All registered runners and walkers will be eligible for numerous door prizes from community merchants. Winners must be present.

Be a Vendor
For the first time, the festival’s vendor marketplace will host artists and art-related vendors who are interested in displaying and selling their work. Local artists are invited to participate in the juried show.

SBISD schools or school organizations are invited to sell school merchandise.
There is space for up to 100 vendors. For more information or to download a registration form, please visit www.runningforthearts.com before April 21.

Art Auction is Bigger than Ever
The art auction has something for everyone. “We are so excited about the quality of the art in this year’s auction,” said Leann Newton, co-curator of the Altharetta Yeargin Art Museum. 

“In addition to outstanding donations from SBISD art teachers and collaborative works from students, we have donations from many professional artists. We have an original drawing from renowned artist Jose Perez, a whimsical painting from Austin artist Linda Buikema, beautiful fused glass pieces from Susan Loewen, and many other donations in all types of media.

“Art collectors should not miss this opportunity. The artwork is on display at the SBISD administration building, 955 Campbell Road, through April 18. It will be displayed at the Museum, 901 Yorkchester, April 24 through May 6. Bidding will close at the conclusion of Running for the Arts 5K & ArtFest at 1 p.m.”

Something for Everyone
“Runners and non-runners will love this event,” said Cece Thompson, SBEF executive director. “In addition to all the kids’ activities families have enjoyed in previous years, SBISD students from all over the district will create street paintings and offer so many cool musical and choral performances. Garage bands will perform throughout the morning. Food trucks will be on hand to provide breakfast and lunch to festival-goers. There will be something for everyone.”

A Good Time for a Good Cause
SBEF uses the day’s proceeds to provide cultural arts field trips for SBISD students in grades one through eight. Students experience visual and performing arts in Houston’s premier arts venues. Many hear the Houston Symphony or visit the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston for the first time.

Altharetta Yeargin Art Museum, which is hosting the expanded art auction, will also benefit. This ethnographic museum offers visitors a peek into cultures from Africa to Asia. The galleries include art and artifacts as diverse as pottery, textiles, musical instruments, weapons and sculptures.

A portion of the proceeds benefits the Health Fitness Teachers Association. Members help organize the event. The Association sponsors student scholarships for college, teacher scholarships for professional development and community awareness programs.

Community Support
The community is generous in its support of Running for the Arts 5K & ArtFest and SBISD students. Sponsors include AOK Medical Center; Mallory and James Shaddix; Children’s Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center; Perdue, Brandon, Fielder, Collins & Mott, LLP; and Gary and Lydia Junek. Other sponsorships are available; visit www.runningforthearts.com.

Running for the Arts 5K & ArtFest is sanctioned and certified by the USA Track and Field Association. 

At a glance:

SBEF Running for the Arts 5K & ArtFest
Saturday, May 6, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Altharetta Yeargin Art Museum
901 Yorkchester, 77024

To participate in the vendor marketplace, register for the race/walk, or become a sponsor visit www.runningforthearts.com.

For information or to volunteer, call 713.251.2381.


Design Challenge Adds New Dimension to Learning

Ask SBISD Librarian Renae Van Zeelst why she loves her job, and like most educators her answer is about engaging kids.

“My curiosity is innate, and I’m always looking for innovative ways to spark interest in a subject area,” said Van Zeelst at a recent campus visit to her library at the Memorial High School.

And if traffic in her library is any indicator, passions are poised to set afire the learning space in her library, via a humming 3-D printer and countless inspired minds.

From a glowing artificial leg design to a compact, marketable shoe rack and a double insulated coffee cup, students are lining up to render their dream projects as part of Van Zeelst’s recently issued student design challenge.

Van Zeelst, a self-professed STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) teacher at heart, offered up confirmation with the challenge she put forth to students.

“Everyone is an engineer just like everyone is an artist,” said Van Zeelst. This thinking, coupled with a system-wide Renaissance to empowering educators to be proud, brave and bold in their instruction, is at the heart of the students’ work and Van Zeelst’s instructional approach.

“We just need to give students the opportunity to build their inner STEAM” she said. “This design challenge incorporated the Engineering Design Thinking Process.”

Van Zeelst challenged students to identify a problem, research a solution and work collaboratively to prototype and deliver a product using a recently acquired 3-D printer. 

"I wasn't going to do this project," said Kyra Rubinstein. "When I learned we could use the 3-D printer I was excited about the work. The fact that I could print my idea in 3-D helped. I think this kind of project inspires students to have a deeper understanding." Rubinstein design for a prosthetic leg that was as creative as it was functional won her the Mustang Innovation Award in the challenge.

Van Zeelst was herself inspired to engage students from her own design challenge experience as an educator. As part of SBISD’s new strategic plan, The Learner’s Journey, educators around the school system are encouraged to find a challenge and rapidly innovate a solution based on data and a deep understanding of the end user – students. 

Van Zeelst’s ability to model and replicate this challenge with her students holds huge promise. Video Spotlight: Listen to what her student had to say about this here.

“Librarians are looking at how to use best or redesign library spaces,” she said. “Before I refresh my library, I want as much data as possible so I can provide the best learning environment for my kids. It’s about creating optimal learning. This experience is helping me explore and uncover that information.”

From developing a point of view about what needs to be addressed to generating quick and rough solutions, prototyping then testing ideas with the users the solutions are intended to help – and doing it all very quickly – the process required collaboration and flexibility. It also requires accepting failure as part of the learning experience, something her students recognized as they worked to turn idea into deliverable.

"We work really hard to avoid failure, but it helps us learn," said Yunuo Sun. Sun designed an interior space called Tomorrow, winning the challenge's Best Presentation Award. "This project was a reminder that you have to try things and learn from them. It's not about learning just the facts. It's about having an experience."

Part of Van Zeelst's experience involved a process of research and data collection to explore the range of options available to her in Makerspace and technology applications. Another influencing factor was how to provide students not enrolled in formal coding or engineering classes an avenue to explore and experiment on their own time.

As luck would have it, Van Zeelst was selected by the SBISD Integrated Resource Media Systems to pilot the Dremel Dream Builder, a 3-D printer containing a Dremel, build tape and filament. While a refurbished unit, it’s now seeing daily use along with an HP Sprout, an all-in-one computer, and an itslearning website portal.

“It is an incredible learning opportunity, and students are mesmerized by it,” said Van Zeelst.  “I’ve watched students work their way through simple software to more difficult design software.  It is the best machine for self-paced exploration.”

As her library redesign focus moves from research to implementation, she is planning on ordering a larger Dremel model. The upgrade will provide for bigger builds, which is already adding to her students’ excitement about building and learning.

Students like Sun are thrilled, already planning for next year's competition. "I learned a lot. I worked through my problems and finished my design. It was a great experience. I am already thinking about what I will design next year!"

Van Zeelst's advice to inspire thinking differently for adults and students alike?

“The Design Thinking Process works for every profession and every decision,” she said. “You be the spark. It may sound quite cliché, but in this case, if you build it, they will come.”

For more information about SBISD’s strategic plan, The Learner’s Journey, click here.

Congratulations to all the student design challenge winners!

Competition Award Winners: 
(Click here to see a listing of awards and designs.)

BEST OF SHOW (Individual): Alex Carriles
An extremely well-done animation Venin 

BEST OF SHOW (Group): Amir Pashael-Mirandi, Arun Ruhfus, and Pablo Say
A highly empathetic idea to build a one-handed gaming controller for individuals with physical limitations

THE MUSTANG INNOVATION AWARD: Kyra Rubinstein
An incredibly original idea to give those individuals with prosthetic limbs the opportunity to express their individualism by designing prosthesis that are not only functional but artistic

BEST PRESENTATION AWARD: Yunuo Sun 
A thorough presentation of an Interior Design project called Tomorrow that included a fully finished prototype and documention

THE EVERY DAY USE AWARD: Avantae Heard 
A Bluetooth Mustang Model car with an incredible amount of audio options