Girls Inc. of San Antonio takes different approach to improving STAAR scores

STEM camp makes learning ‘exciting and tangible’ for students

SAN ANTONIO – A local nonprofit that believes in inspiring girls and young women to be “strong, bold and smart,” Girls Inc. of San Antonio is taking a slightly different approach to improving their academic performance.

Belen Plascencia, its leadership program manager, said Girls Inc. has had some girls this summer who had to retake the STAAR test which saw an obvious drop in this year’s test scores.

The Texas Education Agency attributed the decline to the learning disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“How do we help them sort of fix that anxiety and help talk about the test is just a test,” said Plascencia. “It is not a marker for a defining moment for young people.”

She said one way is to boost their confidence while teaching a specific subject. In math, for instance, they try to teach “in a way that’s exciting and tangible for them, that isn’t about teaching to a test.”

As part of its four-week summer STEM camp, Tuesday’s class was about financial literacy. The girls from schools throughout Bexar County, were planning a “vacation,” estimating the costs and how to pay for them.

“It’s about them reinforcing some skills that they already know from experience,” Plascencia said.

She said that helps build confidence while taking away “all those barriers of anxiety, of a grade, of testing.”

Kaylee Kanevski, a 13-year-old eighth grader, said, “I used to be virtual, so it was very hard for me, especially mathematics.”

But, she said, it became easier when in-person learning finally resumed.

Kanevski said she’s in the Girls Inc. program because, “I love STEM and I love that this program is all about empowering girls and showing girls that they can do anything.”

Plascencia said it’s kind of confidence that can help them speak up in the class, ask questions, and be better prepared for the next STAAR test.

“I won’t feel like I have to worry so much,” Kanevski said. “I can focus more and say, oh, I can do this. Not say, oh, I can’t do this.”

Plascencia said the girls and young women also are taught mistakes are part of learning.

She said they’re often reminded, “Fail hard, fail fast, and then we can pick ourselves up, because when you know better, you always do better.”

About the Authors:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.