Manuel Jara Elementary School is in the Historic North Side of Fort Worth, Texas. The school’s mission is to have every child reading on grade level and ready for college and career success! The school serves over 600 students from grades 1-5, most of them are Hispanic, economically disadvantaged and of Limited English Proficiency (LEP).
Manuel Jara is led by Marta Plata, a fearless principal who encourages student, parent and community empowerment by celebrating academic milestones and successes. There has been a lot to celebrate! In 2016, 34 percent of third-graders scored at the final recommended level on the Texas STAAR Reading test, up from 24 percent in 2015.
Ms. Plata and her staff celebrate student success with a rally every six weeks. Students who show Honorable Character are awarded special “squiver” awards, and community leaders award bikes as a raffle prize for working hard in school. Every six weeks, the school also hosts the “High Five Club,” where community leaders greet students at the door with a high five and a pencil.
Ms. Plata also believes in empowering the community she serves, providing students and parents with a system of accountability. She believes that the greatest tool to give parents and children is ownership of their own performance. “The most important thing is that the children own their own data,” she shared. She believes that when students can chart their own literacy levels, they know exactly where they stand.
Ms. Plata constantly asks her students what their reading level is, and expects them to know. Children come up to her, in the hallway, classroom, and cafeteria, to excitedly share the growth they have experienced. She also expects every student, regardless of grade level, to articulate their growth by writing her a letter explaining how they achieved it. Ms. Plata reads and responds to every letter her students write!
Ms. Plata’s drive to empower parents led to the creation of Parent University at Jara Elementary. The program was established in 2013 to equip parents with skills that will enable them to become a part of their student’s educational success. What began with a model of involvement turned into a model of empowerment that has gone on for the past four years.
Ms. Plata prioritized her efforts towards having a stronger presence of fathers in her courses. She scheduled evening meetings, to ensure that parents did not have to miss work. “I didn’t want the dads to go home. I give them one water bottle and one bag of chips.” Ms. Plata attributes changes in negative student behavior at school to the active role the fathers, known as the leaders of the Latino home, have taken through their involvement in Parent University.
With no additional funding from the school district, Ms. Plata partnered with her staff and a local pastor to reach not only parents but students, family members, teachers and anyone closely involved with the school. The partnership ensured she could purchase a curriculum, Raising Highly Capable Kids®, a 13-week program that focuses on equipping parents, families and communities. Raising Highly Capable Kids® is the introductory course for Parent University. It is the first course parents take and it is a prerequisite for all other courses.
The first Parent University class graduated 20 parents, 19 with perfect attendance over the 13-week course. Ms. Plata herself designed a second and third level of Parent University which provide opportunities for parents to enroll in classes at Tarrant County College.
What an encouraging story! We celebrate their victories and look forward to their continued success!