• Oliver Peña smiling

    Blended learning prepares James P. Butler Elementary student for future success

    The Socorro Independent School District selects an outstanding student to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the monthly Board of Trustees regular meeting. Students chosen for this honor seize the endless opportunities SISD provides to help them excel in the classroom and beyond. Here is how one student is seizing his opportunities in Team SISD.

    At 7 years old, Oliver Peña is already taking ownership of his education. A straight-A scholar at James P. Butler Elementary, Oliver enjoys tracking his progress in reading to see how he is improving each month. 

    “It feels great because we’re accomplishing our goals to get higher and higher points on our I-stations,” Oliver said.

    Oliver’s parents attribute much of his success to attentive teachers such as Crystal M. Castillo in James P. Butler's blended learning program.

    Blended learning combines the best of in-person classroom teaching with online technology so educators can utilize data to personalize instruction. At the same time, students can gain more ownership over their learning.

    The Socorro Independent School District was the first in the El Paso region in 2020 to receive $300,000 in grant funding from Raise Your Hand Texas to implement blended learning in the district.  Butler Elementary launched the blended learning program, Ignite Innovation, in March 2021.

    “They have some awesome teachers on their staff at Butler Elementary, and they care about their kids, not just academically but also as a whole person,” said Melissa Peña, Oliver’s mom and a Wilson Dyslexia Provider and Read 180 Teacher at SSG. Manuel R. Puentes Middle School. “That’s why I want him to be at that school.” 

    Blended learning environments use a combination of in-person and online instruction, enabling students to rotate through classroom-based learning stations at their own pace.

    A fan of computer games like Minecraft, Oliver enjoys how blended learning integrates digital technology into his math and reading lessons. At the same time, he is gaining the technological soft skills to live and work in a digital world.

    “He loves math and anything technology-based,” Castillo said. “Where most kids will struggle because they don’t know how to use the typing tool or the internet is down, he’ll be like, ‘OK, let me go over there and fix it.’ Anything that has to do with technology, he’s on it.”

    Castillo said Oliver excels in academics across the board. He is a member of the school’s gifted and talented program. In addition to exercising his brain, he also is into physical fitness joining the school’s track team and playing flag football in SISD’s Volunteer Sports Program. Last year, Oliver received the school’s Terrific Kids award.

    In recognition of his success, Oliver was selected to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the SISD Board of Trustees regular meeting in March.

    In January, Oliver was one of three scholars who participated in a panel touting the benefits of blended learning.

    As part of the program, Castillo meets with her scholars monthly to analyze their I-station reading data. By doing so, she said scholars like Oliver have a better and more defined understanding of their strengths and weaknesses in each of the I-station domains.

    "Oliver takes pride in his learning, and he likes to see his gains and what he's strong in," Castillo said. "He takes the actual data part of it, and he likes to compare where he's come from, like the beginning of the year until now, and he understands it."

    Melissa Peña, Oliver’s mom, said she is considering applying for Oliver to be in SISD’s STEAM elementary academy and in the future applying for one of SISD’s high school computer science academies, so he can take full advantage of the opportunities they offer. In the meantime, she and Oliver are happy to be at Butler Elementary.

    Peña said she was impressed with how much Oliver's social skills have grown, especially since he spent kindergarten learning at home due to the pandemic.

    "He has grown socially so much!" Peña said. "So that's the part I felt he has grown tremendously in the last year and a half he's been at Butler. He's really come a long way there."

    Published February 23, 2023