CTN’s Ascender Spring Seminar was held on March 26 from 9 am to 3 pm via zoom. Approximately 30 participants attended the seminar which brought together scholar mentors, educators, advisors, counselors, and trainers from across the state to discuss progress and challenges in the program and to share best practices in the classroom.

CTN CEO, Dr. Maria Chavez, began the seminar by welcoming participants and sharing with them CTN’s mission and current news/updates. She reminded participates that CTN is currently taking applications for leadership fellows and submissions for the Journal of Ideas and Pedagogy. She also announced CTN’s upcoming events including the Student Motivational Conference in April and the Spring Gala in May.

Allegra Villarreal, CTN Director of Professional Development, conducted the first session titled “Exploring Culturally Relevant Texts.” Participants looked at “alternative” texts in the digital classroom and how they can be used to engage students in meaningful connection and deeper conversations about history, society and literature.

Allegra began with Laura Rendon’s question “What do you want your students to learn in your class? She also discussed the beginner’s mind and “monkey brain.” She then led the participants through a freewriting exercise using the CTN methodology of finding strong lines followed by discussion. One “alternative” text she shared was a YouTube video titled “Latinoamerica” featuring performers Calle 13. She opened up the group’s discussion by beginning with guided questions and finished by showing the benefits of reading YouTube comments for discussion in the classroom.

After a break, Keylan Morgan, Program Specialist for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, began his session titled “TSIA 2.0 and the Future of Developmental Education.” Participants learned about the new TSI assessment and discussed its implications for educators and institutions. He gave participants background on the development of the assessment to assure them that “great efforts were made to deliver an assessment to do what it’s supposed to do.” He then explained how the test was constructed with a math section and an ELAR section consisting of English Language Arts and Reading. The assessment has more questions and is “a more in-depth assessment covering a broader array of knowledge.” Keylan said, “It is a really good indicator of a student’s ability.”  Next, he covered the corequisite model and how it was performing under HB 2223. “There have been significant gains in college courses,” he commented.

Presenting next was Kevin A. Christian, Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity for the American Association of Community Colleges which represents 1,044 colleges. In his session titled “Courageous Conversations in the Community College,” participants considered the ways in which community engagement, data collection, curriculum and pedagogy all contribute to a sense of belonging and the mission of more equitable education at the community college.

Kevin began his presentation with a story about why he considers CTN CEO Dr. Maria Chavez one of his mentors. He was attending an Achieving the Dream planning session when he saw Dr. Chavez take a powerful stand in a “room full of powerful leaders in higher education.” For him, that demonstrated “courageousness in a spot where you didn’t see that.”

He next talked about current diversity, equity, and inclusion issues on community college campuses. He said that in March of 2020 colleges had to adapt to putting everything online and, from a national standpoint, colleges did a good job; however, “the band-aid on diversity, equity and inclusion was peeled back enormously. And we really saw the digital divide.” “This was not just for students, but for faculty and staff also,” he added.  This is when Congress enacted the CARES Act.

Then, Kevin said that the murder of George Floyd and others exposed issues of race in America. Leaders began to openly talk about race. “Nationally we began to see colleges hire racial diversity experts to come to their campuses,” he commented. “Leaders began to really look at their data and disaggregate it.” He said that even though it is sometimes extremely hard to do, we have to address those results-“the good, the bad and the ugly.”

He said college leaders are “seeing staff willing to participate in initiatives and trainings in reforming campuses; and having courageous and brave conversations without fear of their jobs.”

“I do think with the new Secretary of Education that there will be some reform in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion,” he said. “When we get back to some form of normalcy, the way we do business and the way we look at diversity, equity and inclusion will be done through a different lens,” he commented.  

He talked about the AACC’s establishment of a faculty council and invited participants who might be interested to email him. “I was so blessed to be invited to a (CTN) conference in San Antonio. I got so much out of that, I brought it back to my organization. I think that is one of the reasons our faculty council was established,” he said. “Some of the ideas you shared and the diversity work each of you were involved in was essential because we don’t hear from the faculty.”

Kevin ended with a Q and A segment and these words “For those in the trenches-we need each other; we need to stand for each other.”

Following lunch, participants joined Disciplinary Breakout Sessions. The first set included “The Need for Creating a Girls’ Math Club” facilitated by Mario Morin, Department Chair, Mathematics, South Texas College; “Visual Narratives: Stories without Words (Using Visual Arts to Create Culturally Relevant Curriculum)” facilitated by Antonio Garza, English faculty, Palo Alto College; “Family Influence on Career Choice: Culturally Relevant Learning Frameworks” facilitated by Allegra Villarreal; and “Advising Session: The Problem of Practice and Strategy for Quality Improvement” facilitated by Maria Martha and Ariel Flores, Advisor, Austin Community College.

The second set included “Finding and Implementing Free & OER Mathematics Resources” facilitated by Mario Morin; “How 2020-2021 Changed Us: The Practices we Carry Forward” facilitated by Laurie Lopez Coleman, Professor of English, San Antonio College; “Setting the Stage – Frameworks of Effective Learning… Let’s Ascender!” facilitated by Samantha Ackers, Instructor and Academic Coach, Austin Community College; and “Advising Session: Part II- Show Me the Way. Closing the Equity Gap” facilitated by Maria Martha and Ariel.

The seminar ended with a wrap up from Allegra asking participants “What will you be taking from this seminar?” Some answers were “visual narratives, getting rid of the monkey, lots of great sources, how to embed familia virtually, ways to get students more involved and how to incorporate more courses into the program.”

Dr. Chavez adjourned the seminar- first by thanking Allegra “for all you do on our behalf” and then thanking cohort 2020 “for the effort you have put into making this program succeed.” She told them they were “love warriors” (which is what Rosie Castro called those involved with the program) because “you have to love what you’re doing which is inspiring the minds that will lead the world.”

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