Excellence doesn’t happen by accident

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The key to success at STISD’s BETA Academy

By Joey Gomez

Shania Callaway believes her high school has achieved what all schools are meant to do in the first place, but often fall short in accomplishing; it has changed her life.

As a senior in the business track at South Texas Independent School District’s Business, Education & Technology Academy (BETA), she has already taken two years of accounting, business law, banking, and finance.  Through the school’s senior internship program, she has also secured valuable unpaid experience at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance Conference Center to prepare her for her future career.

With original aspirations to become a doctor, Callaway said she instead found her future calling in the hospitality industry as an event planner for hospitals, restaurants, airlines, and other industries.

“BETA has changed my life.  It altered what I wanted to do.  I wanted to be a doctor, and I got to kind of see what type of schooling that was going to take, and I decided on something else,” she said.  “I really love business.  I have a passion for people, and I don’t think I would be where I am now without BETA and without the business track.”

Callaway’s example is one of hundreds of stories told by the students themselves, who say they have received more than they could have hoped for in an education, and have the tools necessary to do great things as they grow.

Jorge Vidal, class president and a junior currently studying in BETA’s technology track, said that after taking three years of computer science, he has learned to code and make programs.  He aspires to be a developer for Apple, Inc.

“I’m going to leave high school already being a programmer,” Vidal said.  “I think I have a huge head-start when I get to college, and in life, too, because the whole world is now interconnected through technology.”

Jose Nerio II, a senior who is also in BETA’s technology track, aspires to be a part of something created from the imagination, something invented.  Already accepted to Texas A&M University, he dreams of working in software engineering or perhaps environmental technology, in which he could work with technology and help people, two of his ambitions.

“When I was a kid, I dreamed of screaming ‘Live from New York, it’s Saturday night’,” Nerio says about his childhood dream to work at Saturday Night Live.  “This school has shown me there is more to life than being an SNL character.  There are a lot more things you can do for the people.  School has taught me about culture.  I think it has taught me there is more to life than work.  There are the people that you live with.  That’s what I like about BETA.  I would like to be part of something that people make up with their imaginations, and BETA has taught me to keep moving forward.”

Pushing students beyond their limits

Formerly known as The Teacher Academy of South Texas (Teacher Academy), BETA came to be in 2003, when the school was renamed to reflect the addition of business and technology tracks to its curriculum.  BETA is a tuition-free, public magnet school that caters to students entering the fields of business, education, and technology.  By offering rigorous instruction in those fields, administrators and faculty at BETA say the result is a unique and hands-on approach that will mold students into future leaders and propel them to success.

The plan is working.  BETA has been consistently ranked in education polls, including those in Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, and The Washington Post.  In 2013, BETA was recognized as 51st in the nation and 16th in the state in The Washington Post’s High School Challenge Index – America’s Most Challenging High Schools.  BETA was also ranked in Newsweek’s America’s Best High Schools 2013 list, as well as in its Top 25 Transformative High Schools list (20th).   In 2011, it ranked 1st in the state and 17th in the nation in the U.S. News & World Report Most Connected Classrooms Rankings.

BETA is a Texas Education Agency Recognized Campus and a National Center for Educational Achievement (NCEA) Higher Performing School.

As the 2000th International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, BETA also offers the prestigious IB Diploma Programme.  The program involves an academically challenging curriculum that prepares students ages 16 to 19 for success in college and their future careers.

“The IB Program has really changed some of the ways our kids are working with each other, with the teachers, and with groups in general,” said Marcos Flores, IB Program coordinator for BETA.  “They’re balancing being caring individuals with taking initiative in the classroom; and going beyond that, they’re being representatives for the program and school.”

“BETA and IB are alike in their mission to students,” Flores said.  “The goal is to push students beyond their limits of what they feel they can do and what they think they can do,” he said.

“The program does that because it is extremely rigorous in asking kids to go out into the community and act as ambassadors for the schools and for themselves,” Flores said.  “I think that’s how a program like this fits with the school.”

Business and culture

Ying-Ching Jeter has taught music at BETA since 1996.  Originally from Taiwan but educated at the University of Texas in Austin, Jeter says she arrived with the intent to develop an appreciation for the Chinese culture among students.

The school district has since increased her role at BETA, which now offers Mandarin Chinese language courses for students, something Jeter acknowledges is of vital importance in today’s economy.

“We do have some students who are doing really well.  I have one girl who is going to major in Chinese at Michigan University,” Jeter said.  “They all know that everything is made in China, and Mandarin is probably one of the most spoken languages in the world right now.  It’s important for them to know something about Chinese.  I just think what is more important for me is to foster that interest in Chinese language and culture.”

And the most important message for students?

The two most important traits for students to possess are to be flexible and to think on their feet, because these behaviors carry on to everything they do, according to Johnson.

One of the most critical bits of information she can relay to students is that nothing goes according to plan; it’s how you handle the situation that matters.

“One of the things – as any educator can tell you – is that you can lay out everything perfectly, you can have the most beautiful plan, the best lesson, and everything that can go wrong will go wrong.  You have to be able to think on your feet,” Johnson said.  “You have to be able to take that one sidebar and get back on track.  You have to really understand that.  It’s just making sure they are prepared.”