Andrew Campanella: Your school outperforms all students across the state when it comes to almost every possible metric. How do you make that happen?
Victoria Orozco-Martinez: We try really hard to connect with students and understand them, and to involve their parents. The big component here is motivating our kids and encouraging them when it comes to academics. But the after-school component is important, too – getting students involved and addressing that component of their brains. And we try really, really, hard to connect with parents. We want to make that connection with the parents and create a love of reading [in students] and lifelong learning in our school community.
Andrew Campanella: Do you think that the emphasis on reading is something that has helped our students achieve such success, including success in other subjects?
Victoria Orozco-Martinez: Most definitely. Our students are competitive. We participated in a reading competition [organized by a local foundation]. And we outperformed our competition by double the number of books read, because our students were really, really driven by that competitiveness in them. Because the reading had to be done at school, the students were asking ‘Ms. Orozco, can we stay after school to read? Can we come on Saturdays to read?’ So we opened up the school after school and on Saturdays because of their competitive drive. Reading is a big component with every other subject.
Andrew Campanella: Your school also has a lot of other interesting programs, projects, and activities. Tell me more about how your school developed these programs?
Victoria Orozco-Martinez: Years ago, we didn’t have a lot to offer to our children. It was academics, academics, academics. So one of our teachers said, ‘You know, I want to offer something for our kids.” And he started with a soccer club, and after that, he said, “Okay, we should offer clubs for our kids.’ And now every teacher sponsors a club, whether it be an art club, a Lego club, a robotics club, the STEM lab, reading clubs, gymnastics, political clubs, the arts. We have a mixture of different clubs. And we have a club night. If you’re a sponsor, you set up your table, and then, whatever the students decide, they sign up for the top three clubs and they go through the process of elimination.
Andrew Campanella: Your school participates in a lot of school fairs at HISD. Why is it important for your school to promote itself and how does school choice impact your school?
Victoria Orozco-Martinez: We want to make sure that in our community – even though we live in a very poor neighborhood – the parents know that we do have resources for students. We promote that, we make people aware. We try to create well-rounded students. So when we go to [school fairs], that’s one of the things that we really, really talk about. And it creates that curiosity in the parents because they don’t realize that we do provide all of these great resources for students. We participate in National School Choice Week because of that. We also want to inform students when they are fifth graders that they have choices [for middle school]. It’s like, ‘These are the different schools that you have choices with. You have choices whether you are interested in STEM, the fine arts, communications, health, law enforcement, teaching.
Andrew Campanella: It sounds like you have created a feeling at your school of one big family where everyone’s working together, supporting each other?
Victoria Orozco-Martinez: That’s what we try to create. And that’s why we say we are one community coming together to strive for student excellence because we want to involve everybody.