The Texas Empowerment Academy is a public charter school in Austin that is dedicated to students’ academic achievement. Serving a population of predominantly African American students, the school’s K-12 programming is designed to address the needs of the whole student, recognizing that an environment where students feel valued, accepted, and supported will provide them with the greatest opportunity for academic success and personal development.
Like schools across the country, Texas Empowerment Academy quickly pivoted to ensure students’ safety and well-being amid the pandemic. The school’s two campuses are located in zip codes with many families under the poverty line, which made a return to in-person instruction critical. The academy also worked to strengthen students’ higher education pathways by bolstering its dual enrollment program with Austin Community College.
We are going to blanket them with support to make sure that they have all the tools and all the resources to not just get into college, but graduate, excel, and go beyond.Llyas Salahud-Din, Chief Development Officer
How it Helps
School closures due to the pandemic left many students, particularly those from low-income homes, in less than ideal learning environments, with inadequate technology or connectivity and no shortage of distractions. In a time of extreme disruption, students were also missing the normalcy of school routines and time with their friends.
In addition to providing resources for virtual learning, the Texas Empowerment Academy quickly got to work on an action plan to bring students back to the classroom where they could provide emotional support through this tumultuous time and keep academic progress on track. Due to social distancing protocols, step one was expanding the school’s physical space to safely accommodate students and staff. With physical barriers and masks in place, the school took every precaution when reopening its doors.
Returning to campus significantly reduced the academic and personal challenges many students experienced in a virtual setting. But the impact of the pandemic on families is immense and ongoing, and can be destabilizing for children. It can be hard to focus on schoolwork when coping with the effects of trauma or adversity.
At the Texas Empowerment Academy, social-emotional learning practices are at the heart of the classroom, helping students develop self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital to current and future success. With increased need due to the stressors of COVID-19, the academy expanded training and capacity to integrate social-emotional learning further into everyday instruction – so that students are better prepared for success in school.
Strengthening College Enrollment
College enrollment is taking a hit amid the pandemic, and students from low-income backgrounds are more likely to drop out or not enroll at all – significantly reducing the likelihood they will later earn a college degree. A four-year degree may feel out of reach currently as reduced work hours and shifting family responsibilities present additional financial and personal commitments.
Students who participate in dual enrollment programs can earn college credits while they’re still in high school. In addition to boosting college readiness, these programs allow students to save money and reduce the time it takes to earn a degree. Dual enrollment programs also increase the likelihood that students will ultimately reach college graduation.
The Texas Empowerment Academy partners with Austin Community College to help students earn college credits that can be used towards a degree at a two- or four-year institution or a certificate to fuel transition into the workforce. In response to national enrollment declines, the academy is working to increase students’ level of participation in the program, making higher education a more viable path after high school graduation.