By Juan Cabrera
El Paso is 300 miles west of what east Texans call “west Texas.” El Paso and Juarez Mexico straddle the Rio Grande (or Rio Bravo, depending on what side of the river you are on) wrapping around the 7,000 foot peaks of the Franklin Mountains, the southernmost point of the Rockies. With Las Cruces New Mexico, the combined international metropolitan area is home to almost three million people and is the largest bilingual-binational workforce in the Americas, perhaps the world.
The El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) embraces our geographic location as an asset and a benefit to students as future employees in our increasingly global and connected economy. The fact El Paso has a border economy where people and goods move freely back and forth has strengthened the EPISD commitment to help students develop global connections and communication skills.
We want students to understand and be prepared for life and work in a global economy. Like Nogales in southern Arizona (highlighted by the US Chamber of Commerce), we’ve embraced dual language, students supports and improved college and career readiness.
Dual language and career readiness isn’t just a border town issue. We all live in a border economy. Multilingualism should be seen as an asset the way it is seen internationally – and we need that mindset in the U.S. if we are going to stay globally competitive. As Parag Khanna notes in his new book Connectography, “Mega-cities compete over connectivity more than borders.” Communication, trade and connections in most jobs traverse borders and define our personal and professional relationships.
Powering Up to Connect Students
Three years ago, we set four new priorities for the district: active learning, great community schools community partnerships and leading with character and ethics.
We held community conversations to update our graduate profile including five learning goals, most notably including bilingual communicators and socially and emotionally intelligent individuals.
Leveraging the Border Economy
Beginning last year, we provided every high school student with a laptop for use at school and at home, as well as collaborative tools for teaching and learning. Using open content helped pay for our digital conversion. We partnered with CK-12 Foundation to replace high school science textbooks with free, electronic texts. Working with a team of teachers, the district created textbooks for high school science and math classes.
Many of our students speak Spanish at home. Many of our schools offer two-way dual language programs that help English speakers learn Spanish and Spanish speakers learn English. Dual language programs are not just an equity issue, they’re an economic development issue.
We also believe that being able to communicate in another language is far more powerful if students are also able to use language to get along with others and establish positive relationships with each other. Social emotional learning is at the crux of our communication skills development with students. Employers want bilingual employees that also have relationship skills.
We will continue to embrace El Paso as a great place to live and learn, especially due to the fact we have a border economy.