Oak Cliff April 2017 : Page 28

V o te f or y o ur f a v orite l oc al c ul ture in O ak Cliff BEST F BEST OF There is one negative: Garza has only 120 open slots every year for about 450 applicants. The school gives priority to first-gen-eration college students and kids at risk of dropping out; no academic assessment is required. “If we could take all of them, we would,” says principal Marcario Her-nandez. But the school’s small size is part of what makes it successful. The students all know each other. They have all the same 2017 2017 The school gives priority to first-generation college students and kids at risk of dropping out; no academic assessment is required. P oll s Open April 3 -9 oak cliff .advocatemag.com/ bestof20 17 instructors and take the same classes. “The students encourage each other,” says teacher Gracie Garcia. “We are a team.” Hernandez, himself a graduate of Sun-set and Mountain View, has served Oak Cliff schools for his entire teaching career, and he believes hometown teachers are key to great schools. He’s excited about Sunset’s partner-ship with UNT-D, which offers students a pathway to teaching. “I believe in hiring lo-cal talent because they can connect to our students a little better,” Hernandez says. “We want to create a pipeline of teachers who will return to Oak Cliff and become leaders.” Gracie Garcia, 25, is one such homegrown teachers Hernandez hired. She was among Garza’s first gradu-ating class and was able to graduate from Texas Wom-an’s University, obtain alter-native teaching certification and begin teaching at age 21. Garcia, a math instruc-tor, says she “Came from a hard background.” Even though she was a straight-A student and a cheerleader, no one knew her private struggles at home, she says. Trinidad “Trini” Garza Early College High School is “That gave me a heart for inside the Mountain View College campus. kids who might be in the same situation,” she says. Garza students also learn maturity through volunteerism. The school cur-rently requires 100 volunteer hours for graduation, and next year, they’re in-creasing the requirement to 200 hours. Most public schools don’t require any volunteer hours. There are no athletic programs, but students can take physical-education electives, and they can join the Mountain View dance team. Besides that, there are debate and mock trial teams, and a ton of clubs: chess, robotics, volunteer club, a step team and more. The health club promotes fitness, and about 60 percent of Garza students run in the annual Mayor’s 5k race. In part because they’re enter-ing as transfer students and not as freshmen, Garza students regularly receive acceptance letters from im-pressive colleges. Take senior Toni Byrd of Oak Cliff. She hasn’t yet heard from her No. 1 choice, New York University. But she’s been accepted to her second choice, Howard University, for theater and dance. “If I had a chance to speak to middle schoolers, I would say, ‘Come check it out,’” Byrd says. “There’s so much op-portunity, and everyone is focused on academics.” 28 oakcliff.advocatemag.com APRIL 2017

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