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Students and Staff Energized by Expanded Electives at TeWinkle
Posted 1/10/23

electives at TeWinkle

Students are passing papers around a colorful classroom, as a small group quietly crosses the threshold. The energetic teacher at the front acknowledges the visitors with “Hola, hola, Coca-Cola,” as heads swivel and giggles erupt. She then leads them in a group greeting in Spanish. Everything is done in Spanish in Teacher Dilsa Urriola Delgado’s TeWinkle Middle School Spanish classroom, which features cultural artifacts from various Hispanic countries. 

“We’re not just learning the Spanish language in the class. We’re learning about different Hispanic cultures,” said eighth-grader Sergio Alvarez Hernandez. “My favorite part of the advanced class is learning the history,” he added.

Introduction to Spanish and Advanced Spanish are among a host of new elective classes offered at TeWinkle during the 2022-23 school year. 

Our District continually evaluates programs and student offerings district wide to offer students meaningful and purposeful learning opportunities. In response to community input last spring, TeWinkle’s bell schedule shifted to accommodate an additional elective in students’ schedules, and language, art and engineering classes were added to the catalog of offerings.    

In Teacher Fabian Lopez’s art class, his students are learning basic techniques while stretching their imagination. Inkwells are carefully dipped into while graphite pencils scratch at large sheets of sketching paper as fantastical new animals come to life at the hands of middle schoolers. The assignment is to create a unique creature from parts of existing animals. At one table, a blowfish gets puffier under the gaze of white-on-black drawings of various animals on the wall. At another, the group discusses what a capybara really looks like while two students use laptops to look up photos of the square-faced rodent. In the back of the classroom, eighth-grade student Logan Stollenwerk quietly contemplates the black lines of his classmates’ drawings, then studies his own work. “I really like art, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot. It’s fun to do projects like this,” he said.

Lopez, who teaches Art and the new Art 2, says he often gets inspiration for projects from his own time as a student. “For a lot of kids, this class is their first exposure to what art is, so I want them to learn the basics, but I also want them to have fun,” he said.  

Fun is also happening in the Robotics classroom, as Teacher Yassi Ogulnik dispenses lengths of string to students building pull toys. TeWinkle recently added a Design and Modeling elective that strengthens the students’ robotics skills, and students are learning more about computer coding. 

Teams of two fuss over last-minute adjustments to their projects, all of which must feature two working mechanisms, before presenting the finished products to the class. Each presentation must answer a list of questions that are technical and project-based. Not only do the students have to define the specific mechanisms used and demonstrate the project’s workability, but they must also discuss the challenges they faced, whether technical or personal, as well as the outcomes.   

Seventh-grader Jacquelyn Ngo adjusts gears while Damian Garcia, also in seventh grade, checks the design against the team’s sketched plans. The duo searched YouTube for inspiration for the art component, an image of a flappy bird that will bounce up and down as the pull toy is wheeled around. For the most part, they worked well together, they said, though there were difficulties with the drivetrain and the shaft. “We overcame our differences,” Garcia said.

According to Ogulnik, the goal of the class is to inspire students to continue on a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) pathway when they move on to high school and college. “We want them to experience different types of engineering — civil, software, electrical, mechanical — and discover all the different careers open to them,” she said. 

“I like learning about all the different parts you need to make something, then figuring out how to put it all together,” Ngo said. 

The bell rings, and students file out of classrooms and into hallways as teachers reset for the next class. In Delgado’s classroom, she sweeps piles of paper scraps into the trash, then shows off the colorful booklets each student had been working on that allows them to connect the verbs they’re learning in Spanish to themselves in their daily routines and the world around them. “I have this amazing opportunity to teach these kids. The kids are incredible; they come prepared every day, and they are so respectful,” she said. “I love this school and the support I get from everybody,” she added.

Eighth-grade student Ammy Arreola enters the room, fired up for Advanced Spanish. Though she learned conversational Spanish at home, she says she appreciates learning “educated Spanish” and about different cultures. “I’m so excited to continue learning Spanish in high school,” she said.

Next year, according to Principal Ixchel Sanchez, the school will share a drama teacher with Estancia High School so that interested students can explore the subject, then seamlessly continue on at Estancia. “We’re excited to bring more opportunities and more energy to TeWinkle,” she said. Student interest surveys and course registration for the upcoming school year will be forthcoming.