The students at Achieve Early College High School represent economically disadvantaged, at-risk, and/or educationally underrepresented minorities who have the goal of becoming first-generation college students. Their grades, behavior, and test scores are not a factor in admissions, only their commitment to academics and willingness to work to accomplish their dreams.
Like those students, Dr. Rosalba De Hoyos was once deemed “at risk.” She grew up in a low socio-economic household and was considered Limited English Proficient. Despite these challenges, she became the first in her family to attend college, a dream she now nurtures and seeks to fulfill for all of her students. With her background as a classroom teacher, an academic high school counselor, a high school Dean of Instruction, and now as an early college high school Principal, Dr. De Hoyos is an ideal role model for Achieve’s students.
Students arrive at Achieve from one of seven middle schools, and it is often the first time they are exposed to a college environment. Aware of the pressure and attuned to students’ emotional well-being, Dr. De Hoyos instituted team-building exercises that foster a caring environment and positive learning experiences. Motivational speakers and activities like flag football games between grade-level teams build bonds among students. Dr. De Hoyos encourages teachers to join the teams too as a way of building camaraderie between teachers and students.
Because Achieve is an all-academic school, sports, homecoming, and other traditions are non-existent. Instead, Dr. De Hoyos created plentiful clubs and organizations, including student council, yearbook committee, and music and theater groups to help students alleviate academic stress, socialize, and express their creativity. In order for students to participate in extra-curricular activities, she coordinated with the McAllen ISD comprehensive high schools and South Texas College. Achieve Students participate in intramural sports and drama at South Texas College and participate in band, choir, football, and cheerleading, among other activities.
Dr. De Hoyos constantly looks for new ways to reward success and create activities that engage students. For example, students have taken charge of creating team-building activities to foster unity throughout the school and develop their leadership skills. Academic accomplishments and birthday celebrations are acknowledged throughout the year through grade-level assemblies and pep rallies. MORP, PROM, team dances, and field days are part of the AECHS students’ experiences.
Achieve’s high school schedule continues two weeks beyond each college semester, and Dr. De Hoyos capitalizes on this time with seminars, college-readiness classes, career fairs, health presentations, and financial-planning sessions to address social and cultural needs. She organizes visits from former Achieve graduates who tell present-day students about their college experiences—often the only opportunity students will have to access to this type of information. Dr. De Hoyos leads presentations herself in stress management and leadership development, creating new bonds and helping students see her as a guide and a counselor.
To meet Achieve’s rigorous expectations, Dr. De Hoyos instituted two interventions. First is a differentiated advisory period for the first four days each week, rotating students to different subject areas each day. During this period, students rotate among four teachers to receive support in core subject areas and review for state and college entrance exams. She also implemented Saturday TSI (Texas Success Index) tutorial academies as early as ninth grade to ensure college entrance.
To support Achieve teachers, Dr. De Hoyos created a teaching buddy system whereby two teachers are paired for a series of peer observations, giving each other feedback on engagement, content, and rigor. During the school year, teachers share knowledge from workshops, experiences, and best practices with their peers through monthly staff development meetings. Teachers also participate in monthly Instructional Rounds; teachers are observed and feedback on engaging strategies is provided. Master teachers serve as mentors to all staff in engagement strategies, second language acquisition, and writing across the curriculum. Staff recognitions, birthday celebrations, holiday get-togethers, team teaching, instructional coaching, and instructional rounds are all activities Dr. De Hoyos instituted to support teachers emotionally and academically.