Aware of the importance to instill a love of learning among students at a young age, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District has developed a program to support children through their first years of school.
The PSJA Building Blocks Program provides high-quality learning experiences to ensure children ages 3 and 4 are ready for school. An important component of the district’s Early Childhood Department, the program works with students in the district’s elementary schools, Hidalgo County Head Starts, and local childcare centers to increase access to high-quality Pre-Kinder Program and Kinder Readiness.
The program was launched during the 2018-19 school year and is possible thanks to a Community Partnership Grant of $1.69 million from the Texas Education Agency. The grant is aimed to help the program become a state model for early childhood.
“We want to encourage our students to love learning,” said Community Partnership Grant Manager Abby Gonzalez. “At PSJA ISD, we are doing so by promoting play-based learning activities in our elementary classrooms and even at our partner daycares.”
According to Gonzalez, as part of the grant, TEA has been working very closely with five schools selected to pilot the program, partner daycares, and Head Starts. The schools selected to implement the program and help lead the efforts to make it a state model include Berta Palacios Elementary, Augusto Guerra Elementary, Amanda Garza-Peña Elementary, Daniel Ramirez Elementary, and the PSJA Early Start Pre-K School.
Over the last school year, teachers and administrators at these campuses have received specialized trainings from early childhood experts, school readiness kits, library books, and a focused curriculum.
For Palacios Elementary Principal Michelle Cardoza, being part of the PSJA Building Blocks Program has had a tremendous impact on her campus.
“Our teachers have had the opportunity to participate in professional development sessions to enhance their instruction and learn about how 3- and 4-year-olds process information and make connections via play-based opportunities,” Cardoza said. “Play-based learning captures the attention of our students as they learn via interaction. They are so engaged and able to connect their learning to the world around them.”
Studies show that play-based learning is more effective than direct instruction for 3- and 4-year-olds, according to the PSJA Early Childhood Program Director Maricela Cortez. As a result, play-based learning is something that is being promoted throughout all PSJA elementary schools.
“Teachers in all of our elementary schools have been introduced to the importance of play-based learning during staff development sessions,” Cortez said. “By partnering with organizations and local daycares, we are also making sure to set the right foundation for our students’ educational success.”
Play-based learning provides students with opportunities to laugh and learn through fun activities that help them develop a positive attitude toward school readiness. Currently, PSJA ISD’s Early Childhood Program is partnered with over 50 local childcare centers.
“We want our students to reach their full potential,” PSJA Superintendent Dr. Jorge L. Arredondo said. “By increasing kinder readiness, we know our students will set a strong foundation of lifelong learning.”
PSJA ISD accepts students living anywhere in the Rio Grande Valley. Registration for the 2020-21 has started. To learn more or register, visit www.psjaisd.us/pointsofpride.