There’s something in the DNA at Diamond Hill Elementary that’s special. Maybe it’s the fact that more than a quarter of the staff of the Fort Worth ISD school either grew up in or went to Diamond Hill as a child.
“They all take pride in making our school the very best,” Diamond Hill principal Marlyn Martinez said. “They understand that a school is the hope of the community. I always tell parents, ‘Nuestra escuela es la esperanza de nuestra comunidad por favor ayudenos a cuidarla.’”
Translated, “Our school is the hope of our community please help us take care of it.” That care is at the core of a learning ecosystem at Diamond Hill that cherishes the needs of its students and empowers teachers.
Principal Martinez knows firsthand what it means to be a student and teacher in the same community. She was born and raised in Fort Worth, attending and eventually teaching in FWISD schools. A graduate of Polytechnic High School, she taught at the elementary she attended (H.V. Helbing), became a literacy coach and eventually moved into administration.
With roots that run deep, Principal Martinez and her staff embrace the challenges faced by many students and families in the Diamond Hill community. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent move to virtual learning options has provided a new set of hurdles.
Undaunted, Diamond Hill soldiers on and continues to show progress academically. The school is 97% minority (mostly Hispanic), with 95.6% students classified as economically disadvantaged. Diamond Hill received a ‘C’ accountability rating with a 79 from the state in 2018-19, falling just short of a ‘B.’ (Accountability ratings were waved for 2019-20 due to the pandemic.) Diamond Hill, with 676 students, did receive a ‘B’ in school progress.
“That’s a true definition of where we’re at,” said Principal Martinez, in her eighth year at Diamond Hill. “We’re not quite a ‘B’ yet. Yes, the pandemic hit but we’re not going to let that stop us. We’ll have to climb that mountain right up. Just like FWISD, we’re right on the cusp.”
In terms of literacy, the staff has spent the last three years developing lessons around a growth mindset and connecting literature to help guide work.
“Our students come to us with a rainbow of knowledge and abilities when it comes to reading and academics,” Principal Martinez said. “Our teachers work tirelessly to meet our students where they are. For years we have recognized that engaging our students so that they can connect with the skills they need to learn has been a challenge.
“Therefore, we have made it part of our mission to help our students connect and find relevance in everything they do. Our teachers understand the importance of weaving literacy throughout all content areas. They understand that reading cannot stand alone.”
Diamond Hill’s team has worked to identify students’ interests, using that knowledge to motivate and engage their passion in areas such as art, music and PE. From there, the instructional staff weaves literacy through everything they do, while continuing to utilize the TEKS and FWISD Instructional framework
For example, the music teacher highlights literacy skills in lessons, helping students comprehend the meaning behind what they are singing by making real world connections, and identifying key vocabulary and rhymes to support the essential skills needed to develop fluent readers.
“Our teachers and staff are our driving force,” Principal Martinez said. “During these unprecedented times, creativity and tech knowledge have flourished. The way we teach will never be the same. Our teachers have discovered innovative pathways to lesson delivery by creating virtual classrooms and tapping into resources such as interactive books, etc.
“We definitely still have a long way to go. Our path may be different these days because of COVID, but our mission to inspire and ignite student’s passion for learning and reading remains the same.”
Some students need a deeper level of motivation and intervention. Diamond Hill works alongside a variety of community partners and programs, such as United Community Centers-Wesley Center and the Mavens Milestones reading program, to provide additional incentives and instructional opportunities beyond the regular school day. Working through Project Lead the Way, Diamond Hill students are exposed to STEM opportunities in the areas of engineering.
“Our students can’t help feeling the enthusiasm,” Principal Martinez said. “Our staff makes sure that our students are part of the process and understand the importance of everything we do. Our students and parents are consistently involved in setting goals and tracking their own progress. At Diamond Hill, we celebrate all student successes.”
Being a part of Diamond Hill is a source of pride that goes beyond the school’s walls.
“Our community makes Diamond Hill special,” Principal Martinez said. “We embrace our challenges and help each other grow. Our students do not deserve any less.”