Direct Impact

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Elon Musk founded the Musk Foundation with his brother, Kimbal, back in 2002. The foundation grants funds based on one of the five branches listed on their website. These include renewable energy research and advocacy, human space exploration research and advocacy, and science and engineering education. On April 21, the Musk Foundation awarded over $2.4 million to the Brownsville Independent School District.

Brownsville ISD currently has 54 schools, 6,458 employees and 43,028 students. A portion of the money donated from the Musk Foundation will go toward the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program, which is aligned to STEM goals and objectives starting in Pre-K.. This program spans from pre-K all the way to 12th grade, and aims to make children better equipped for learning and experience that goes beyond high school.

CTE program director Dr. Juan Chavez works with the administration of all the schools and oversees the plans and proper implementation of the program. One of the administrators he works with is Mrs. Dolores Cisneros-Emerson, the administrator for Elementary Curriculum, Instruction, & Accountability. Along with the other members in the district administrative team, they have created a finalized plan detailing how the program will work and how the funds will be distributed among the different schools and grade levels.

“It’s just amazing to be able to do this,” Chavez said. “Those funds are really going to be helping us in various aspects, you know, not only in the opportunities for students, but also for the teachers.”

The finalized proposal includes additional training for the teachers, not only being able to use the new and updated Star and Gizmo labs to their full potential, but also in terms of professional development sessions. The training will also help better equip the faculty in creating more activities and specialized lesson plans to start closing the learning gap. One such example is incorporating new equipment like 3-D printers and KUKA robots, which are robots the students can learn how to program themselves. The goal is to help students gain real-world understanding and problem-solving techniques.

The CTE proposal document lists several methods to close the learning gap and to improve passing rates on the District Benchmark and Checkpoint Assessments. Some methods included lessons plans with accelerated learning techniques, walk-through data, and evaluation reports. There is even a plan to provide bilingual instruction to English language learners.

“It was very strategic as to how we were going to maximize the amount of funds in order to maximize the number of students that are going to be impacted, in order to change lives,” Cisneros-Emerson said regarding the creation of the CTE program. “Especially now, post-COVID, it’s going to be very important that we have student engagement.” 

In light of the continuing threat posed by COVID-19, both Cisneros-Emerson and Chavez have ensured Brownsville ISD will continue to maintain safety precautions such as PPE and encouraging students and faculty to get vaccinated. The safety guidebook itself is revised and edited as they continue to get feedback from the community. 

Chavez pointed out that there have been unexpected benefits from the pandemic. Teachers are now stronger in terms of using and understanding technology with ongoing professional development. They have even surpassed their goal of a 5% increase in industry-based certifications to a current statistic of 26.9%. 

The primary focus within the CTE program is how to better equip students both in the classroom but also in future job prospects. There are many job opportunities in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields of study. The program aims to help students to develop an interest in STEM and help prepare them for the workforce in this growing industry.

“My father always told me about education. You know, you get educated and no one can take that away from [you],” Cisneros-Emerson said. “It is the greatest economic and social equalizer and that’s our goal.” 

Faith Chua