Archive | October 2010

In the Spotlight – Alejandro Dominguez

 There’s a new volunteer profile on our Spotlight page. Please take a moment and get to know Alejandro Dominguez, a 6th grade Reading Classroom Coach. Check out his video from the Spotlight page too.

volunteer Alejandro DominguezI met Alejandro during a Classroom Coaching training session. Everyone who works at Austin Partners in Education also volunteers. I signed up for 6th grade Reading Classroom Coaching.

As training started, I found myself a combination of nervous and excited about the experience, not sure exactly what to expect. The two-hour training really walks a person through the process step-by-step. We learned about our role, how 6th graders view the world, and how to interact with them for the best outcomes. Our program coordinator Jannette also took us through our curriculum notebook we use each week with the kids.

Alejandro was at the same table as me for training, so we were in the same group when it came time to role play as 6th graders. I learned a lot from that experience as Jannette played the part of coach with us ‘kids’. And, we laughed. Ends up we are both pretty funny as 6th graders.

Alejandro is a second-year coach, and kindly offered observations and advice that bolstered both my confidence and my understanding. After training, volunteers go the school a few days prior to the first coaching session and meet the teacher. Alejandro was there that day as well, supportive and optimistic as usual.

And, as the ten of us stood outside the classroom door on our first day as real life Coaches, he just smiled and talked about how we were all going to come out of that door in 45 minutes smiling about how great the experience feels. He was right, of course. I’ve never seen a group of grown-ups beaming grins like we were that first day. We seem to come out smiling every time. It leaves you with the knowledge you’re making a difference.

Coaches meet for five to ten minutes before and after each session to support each other and share ideas. Alejandro will continue to mentor me as a coach as we work together in the classroom for the year. It’s great to build the relationships with the kids, but it’s also really neat to build friendships with the other coaches like him, LouAnn, Victor, Madeline and everybody.


City Employees Bring Expertise as Classroom Coaches

Today the blog’s Big Shout Out goes to City of Austin employees. 

There are a lot of reasons to love Austin, and working in a city that recognizes the value of volunteering is a good one.

Because of the efforts of our friends at Austin Energy, city employees stay informed of educational volunteer programs all over town. This school year, 156 of our Classroom Coaches work for the City of Austin, and several more serve as mentors. photo of Austin Police coaching in classKatie Arens and Ben Ornelas are community liaisons, and in that capacity they recruit volunteers for the Austin Independent School District who participate in the Austin Partners in Education math and reading classroom coaching programs.  In addition they also assist four other education-based non-profits with similar programs with AISD.  The city employs more than 12,000 people and views its employees’ volunteer commitment to community programs as an important asset in serving the City of Austin.

Since 2004 Austin has thrown some serious muscle behind the volunteer effort by allowing employees to track their time in the classroom for approved programs as administrative leave. Employees get the hour in the classroom needed for Classroom Coaching and mentoring, and they can also take up to 30 minutes each way for drive time, totaling up to two hours a week of approved service. This allows these caring and intelligent city workers to share their expertise with kids anywhere in Austin ISD.

Each department has a designated coordinator who makes sure all of the employees know the options available to help improve their community. A total of more than 80 volunteer presentations happen yearly within the departments. A luncheon at the end of the year honors those who volunteered.

“It is always so exciting to see the large number of employees from every department who join this program each year,” says Katie. “They always have the best stories about their tutoring or mentoring experience, and it is this enthusiasm that keeps me motivated to get others involved.”

It’s a serious commitment to service, and it starts from the top down. Marc Ott, City Manager, mentors a student at one of our elementary schools, and has for several years. Kathy Garland with Austin Water Utility is starting her fourth year as a Classroom Coach. Jeff Vice at Austin Energy is mentoring and coaching. Sharon Edwards has done a remarkable job getting dozens of our city library personnel involved. Sergio Rodriguez has been helping in our Spanish language coaching, Compañeros en Lectura.

Big departments have big numbers and small departments have high percentages. “We do have large teams from the bigger departments, but it’s important to also realize that some departments do so much so with so little,” said Ben Ornelas, Schools and Community Outreach Liaison. “We have departments that only have ten people and half of them volunteer.” Ben has been with the city for 31 years, and was a board member with the Chamber of Commerce when it partnered with AISD to create Austin Partners in Education.

“I am very proud to serve in this capacity and every year look forward to meeting our goal of one mentor or tutor for each child in need,” says Ben.

It says something about a City when the City employees give back to the community’s children by volunteering in the schools. Thank you City of Austin employees, and thank you Ben and Katie!city of austin logo

To learn more about City of Austin volunteer programs, email Ben or Katie at:, or

We’ll be highlighting a few City employees during this school year on our Volunteer Spotlight page. Stay up to date on Austin Partners in Education news by fanning our Facebook page, then watch for updates and get to know your neighbors. 

El Dia de los Muertos

I was noticing several of our partners and sponsors (Univision 62, 3M, Telefutura, City of Austin and Ahora Si) are sponsoring Mexic-Arte Museum’s Annual VIVA la VIDA FEST this Saturday, October 23 from 2 – 10 p.m. on 5th street. Admission to the event is free.

day of the dead festival logoA portion of the proceeds benefit the Museum’s Educational Outreach Programs, so I thought I’d check the site and found some interesting and fun things to share.

First, you can download the Day of the Dead Educational Activity Guide. I did and found 20 pages of information and illustrations about the history of Day of the Dead. Sprinkled throughout the pages are activities that would be great for the kids, or the kid in you.

Activity one is Make a Guide to Your Traditions. This one asks about family rituals, food and dress associated with each tradition. It’s kind of fun to think about. Other activities include crossword puzzles, quizzes about the origins of customs from Mesoamerican and Spanish people, writing a satirical calavera poem, and more.

There’s also some papier mache patterns for the creative types.

And for the environment, Mexic-Arte Museum is urging participants to to create their props out of recycled and re-used materials.

According to their website, the theme of this year’s festival will be the Bicentennial of Mexican Independence and the Centennial of the Revolution. They are encouraging festival attendees to come dressed as Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, Miguel Hidalgo, Adelitas, or another favorite historic political figure from Mexico.

The grand procession is from 6 – 7 p.m. See you there.

Time Warner, Coaching, and Connections

Today we’d like to do a Shout Out to our friends at Time Warner here in Austin. Their generosity enabled us to receive more than $40,000 of in-kind public service announcements this year during our summer Call for Volunteer Classroom Coaches. Getting that kind of coverage at no charge is something for which all of us here are enormously grateful. Thanks for helping us fill Austin classrooms with coaches and mentors!

science is awesome

Speaking of Time Warner and classrooms, have you joined in their big initiative, Connect a Million Minds? This project is designed to connect hundreds of thousands of young people with after-school  opportunities that inspire them to develop interest, knowledge and skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – STEM subjects.

I recently took the pledge (a non-binding commitment to help a young person stay excited about and engaged with STEM subjects) and typed in my niece’s zip code with my name. The Connect a Million Minds “Connectory” database lets me see what sort of activities are going on within an hour or so of her home. It gives us fun ideas of things we can go do together too.

She’s  a bright 14-year-old  Latina who is showing exceptional skills in Math and Science. What could be more exciting than to support that curiosity? She’s my future, and she’s your future too. The U.S. lags behind internationally in Science in Math and we need to focus time and energy, both personally and professionally, on closing that gap by guaranteeing the success of kids in school now.  Our Classroom Coaching programs and volunteers are helping, but what we all choose to do at home helps a lot too.

Thanks Time Warner. Here’s to Connect a Million Minds. See what you think about this video. Better yet, see what the young people you know think.

Volunteers in the Spotlight

I want to tell you about a new page in our website today.

But first, I should introduce myself. I joined Austin Partners in Education as the Director of Communications last August. I’m Jennifer Rees and I’ll be the primary blogger here. 

In the quick two months I’ve been here I’ve come to realize the benefits to working for a community-based non-profit just keep coming, but three great joys really surface over and over.

The first is doing work that matters for people who care. It sure makes coming to work easy.

The second is getting to work with like-minded people who are also passionate about education. I’ve been fortunate to work with some stellar crews in my life, but am continually amazed by this group of caring individuals. (Volunteer with us and you can meet them too.)

The third great joy is meeting the volunteers who drive this organization, giving tirelessly of their time to help Austin area students succeed and have a chance at a great life.

To let you have the same opportunity to meet our volunteers I’ve added a Spotlight page to our website. (Under the News and Events tab) The first volunteer spotlight is a lady I am so pleased to know. Go meet Sherry Washington. You’re likely to come away inspired. I sure did.