Back to school at SODA

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The School of Dreams Academy keeps growing and growing.

The School of Dreams Education Foundation is in the process of obtaining nonprofit status. It is a separate entity that offers support to the school and will help secure the funding for the school’s expansion.

Photo courtesy of SODA: All of the School of Dreams Academy staff will be involved in training for the Common Core State Standards mandated by the state. The school will begin implementing the standards this year, even though it is not required to do so until next year.

This year, the nationally and internationally accredited charter school is adding five classrooms in portable additions, and will have its first graduating senior class of nearly 30 students.

Consequently, the school is expanding its dual-enrollment program, both on school grounds and at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus.

“We’ve been doing really good in our dual-enrollment numbers the last couple of years, but for some of our older kids, this could begin to look more like a community college setting,” said Principal Mike Ogas.

Enrollment, not counting night school or credit recovery, is at about 340 students, and school officials are already planning land purchases for future growth.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Several new faculty members joined the School of Dreams Academy this year. Eric Brown, left, who has been a teacher at the charter school, is the new dean of students. Two of five new teachers include Kim Berlat, second from left, a language arts teacher, and Jerry Esquivel, a digital arts teacher, second from right. Pictured, at right, is Principal Mike Ogas. The three other new teachers, not pictured, are Mateo Sanchez, physical education; Jennifer Chavez, special education; and Bonnie Dodge, science and upper level math.

A dean of students position was added, and it was awarded to Eric Brown, who has been the robotics coach and life sciences teacher.

Five new teachers have been hired as well, including Kim Berlat, a language arts teacher. She is a writer whose former Socorro students have done well in major competitions she has entered them in.

For more than two decades she has been a teacher. She taught at Cottonwood Valley Charter School for four years, and spent 17 years at Sarracino Middle School.

Bonnie Dodge, a former Infinity High School teacher in Belen and Teacher of the Year, is a science and upper level math educator.

Jennifer Chavez taught at Katherine Gallegos Elementary, and will teach special education.

Mateo Sanchez, former dean of students at the Native American Community Academy, was also the director of Indian Education for Bernalillo Public Schools.

Sanchez has extensive experience with intervention programs and working with at-risk youth. He will teach physical education, as well.

Jerry Esquivel is the new digital arts teacher, and is also vocationally certified.

“We have a number of kids now that are going to be either in work study or work experience programs throughout the valley,” said Ogas. “He’s very good at video filmmaking, web page design, animation and that kind of stuff.”

Students will be able to earn credits through the program.

“That’s something that is going to be our focus this year, talking to the business community to see where we might be able to place kids,” Ogas said.

Some of the internships include Color Works, an auto body restoration business owned by Chuck and Joyce Rumshlag in Los Lunas. They will teach all aspects of their business, from front office operations to auto-body restoration, over a period of nine weeks.

“What we’re hoping is that they’ll get a good feel for the auto body business, and then when they decide what they want to do, if they want to go some place like ETI or an automotive (school), they already have experience and can get right in and start getting their education,” Brown said. “Once they graduate, (the Rumshlags) would like for them to come back and have a position there.”

Students in robotics have also attracted opportunities for internships. Chloe Grubb, a junior this year, was offered an internship with the KISS Institute for Practical Robotics, but declined in favor of being a competitor instead.

Over the summer, Grubb and Denton Shaver, a sophomore, represented the school at the Global Conference on Educational Robotics in Hawaii. They each competed separately as solo teams, and earned awards.

Grubb was awarded a judges’ award certificate for Outstanding Initiative Achievement, and Denton Shaver earned a finalist trophy for the Botball double elimination tournament.

“It was a tough competition,” said Creighton Edington, a math and robotics teacher.

This year, SODA students will undertake a college level submarine robot competition, and build a submarine about three or four feet long using equipment the engineering class department already has, such as the computer brains from the Botball robots.

The school will also participate in a lot more art, digital arts and dance performances, competitions and shows in the community.

“My hope is that we can develop a relationship with the New Mexico film industry, or that kind of thing,” Ogas said. “We’re at that point now that we’re ready.”

The principal would like to develop some type of collaborative effort with the village’s historical project, he said.

SODA digital arts and film students have already produced documentaries and videos of senior citizens in the community.

“I’ve always had a notion that maybe we could host a photo shoot and have our kids run it like a business,” Ogas said. “Families would call in and we’d set up a photo shoot of their entire family, from their 90-year-old matriarch all the way to their little babies, and then document and hand that work over to the museum.”

Esquivel’s digital arts curriculum will have students make a music video, a commercial and public service announcement as well as a documentary film in the first semester.

Students have already been involved in producing commercials for some of the local businesses, and Esquivel would like to get student projects at the state level, too, he said.

The school will also continue to develop its journalism department and the student newspaper, The Scrolls of Sparta, headed by retired journalist and former News-Bulletin reporter Curt Gustafson.

New this year are school uniforms. Students will now be required to wear uniforms of khaki pants or skirts and polo shirts with the school name embroidered on them.

The principal said grant funding has been applied for to assist families who might need help purchasing the uniforms, and the school will purchase blazers and neck ties for more formal occasions and student presentations.

Common Core State Standards will be initiated this year, even though the charter school isn’t required to do so until next year.

Teachers have already begun training, and all the computer E2020 courses have been updated to reflect the CCSS. The entire staff is involved with the transition to CCSS.

“We actually started with training last year,” said Ogas. “We began our discussions through our accreditation process on how we were going to implement Common Core. We knew it was coming down.”

The state is phasing CCSS in, starting with lower grade levels, and the higher grade level charter school isn’t required to begin until next year.

“We’re going to work into it,” Ogas said. “It will be included as part of our continuous improvement model, what we’re doing with our AdvancED accreditation piece. It will also be included in our application for our renewal, which is a year from October, due to PED. So, it’s all interwoven.”

The CCSS approach is a little different than what teachers have been using when it comes to language arts, said new SODA language arts teacher Kim Berlat.

“In language arts, when kids are looking at text, for example, they really want them to spend more time on a piece of text rather than the quantity of text, and go really deep into it.”

She said there are three genres of writing that are the focus — narrative, argumentative and informational, with emphasis on the quality of a students’ writing.

“I honestly think the Common Core just makes sense,” she said. “I think kids are just going to come out more skilled readers and writers. It’s a better approach than the standards and benchmarks. I think the whole Common Core philosophy makes more sense.”

The state has initiated new charter school rules on establishing or reauthorizing a charter school, which will include a defined, negotiated contract with the state.

“The new renewal process as well as this upcoming annual reporting process is going to begin following the guidelines of Senate Bill 446 passed two sessions ago, and is now beginning to be implemented,” Ogas said. “A performance contract is something that’s a little bit different, something that will be negotiated between the charter, which basically is our governing council, and the authorizer who is the public education commission.”

It will specifically outline what the charter is going to do over the next five years of the renewal. SODA will be up for renewal a year from this October.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.