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Innovative Garland ISD program aims to close student academic gaps

Team USA Olympic high jumper Liz Patterson

By Dorothy J. Gentry
Sports Editor

Photos: Garland ISD

The list of those adversely affected by the ongoing global pandemic – now official in its second year – most certainly includes the entire education system and specifically, its students.

Cancelled classes and after-school activities, remote learning by technology, socially distanced classrooms, lunches and bus rides, mandatory masks and more has changed the way students are learning. All of this has had an unfortunate result: thousands of students nationwide falling behind academically.

 “I know the pandemic and this past year has not been easy for many people,” said Liz Patterson, a 2006 North Garland High School graduate. “There have been a lot of things going on in our world and country. I just want to encourage them to continue doing what they need to and realize that their education is the key and the platform for what they want to achieve moving forward in life.”

Patterson, a former Team USA Olympic high jumper, was one of several professional athletes who recently visited several Garland ISD schools to motivate students during the district’s second Intercession program.

Garland ISD is the region’s first district to launch an intersessional calendar in order to meet the academic needs of students following the COVID-19 shutdown.

Instead of waiting for summer to help students catch up or get ahead, the district’s calendar includes additional instructional dates dedicated to support in the fall, spring and summer. Not all students are required to attend these small-group sessions which are aimed to meet specific intervention, enrichment and acceleration needs.

Team USA Olympic high jumper Liz Patterson

“With an ongoing pandemic and our recent historic winter weather event, students need as much support and encouragement as ever. Intersession reduces burnout by including frequent, smaller breaks at the end of grading cycles,” said Lea Ann Schkade, GISD’s Director of Intervention.

The first Intercession was held in October. The third and final for this school year will be held this summer with a theme of “Go for the Gold in GISD.”

The second Intercession held last month featured several athletes including Patterson, Dallas native Jared Mayden, San Francisco 49ers safety and Sachse High School grad, and Antwaun Woods of the Dallas Cowboys, all of whom answered the call to help inspire scholars through campus visits and appearances, during “Game On! GISD Intersession with the Pros.”

The athletes visited several GISD campuses encouraging students who are working to improve, accelerate and enrich their studies. In addition to hearing words of inspiration from the pros, participating students had half a day of fun activities, breakfast, two learning sessions, lunch, contests and more.

Patterson, who lives in California and recently retired from professional track, was home visiting when she got the call from one of her high school coaches to participate in Intercession and speak to the students.

“I said, I’m actually going to be in town,” Patterson said. “I feel like it was meant to be. For me it was personal. I got my start in GISD. It only felt right to pay it forward and hopefully show kids you can do so much if you put your mind to it and not put limits on yourself.”

Before retiring from professional track, Patterson was a high jumper and participated in international meets including the 2015 Pan American team, world championships and some regional teams and competitions for North and South America. She now uses her time mentoring young people.

“I delivered a message of hope, optimism and just encouraged the kids to continue working hard and being resilient,” Patterson said. “For kids, it’s just important to know that you have someone that cares about you and your well-being and your future.”

Jared Mayden visits with students

Patterson also share with them the importance of keeping education first and taking the limits off of themselves.

“I also let them know they are student’s first before an athlete. Your education is what will take you the furthest,” she said. “Another big part of my message was the importance of being limitless and not putting limits on yourself.

“I encouraged them to think outside the box, go after dream and try,” Patterson continued. “The amazing thing about the Garland school district is that there are amazing staff and teachers there who want to support and see students succeed. There is no way I could have done all the amazing things I did in sports without a super support system.”

Schkade said it’s important for students to understand that they do have support and caring adults in their lives as they continue trying to juggle learning amidst the ongoing pandemic.The district specializes their intervention program, looking at student data and grouping them “with teachers that can help them close that (learning) gap and move them forward.”

“The learning won’t happen until theconnection happens,” she said. “You build that relationship with that student and then, all ofa sudden, they want to do anything for that teacher. They have fun learning and are engaged and don’t even know they are closing gaps.”

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Dorothy Gentry is the sports editor for the Texas Metro News.

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