img_3374M. Rivas Elementary has reason to celebrate. The Donna ISD campus was awarded $5.8 million in state grant funding over the next four years to help improve student academic achievement and maintain success.

Principal Rosalinda Navarro was notified about the news during the holiday break. “I couldn’t believe it,” Navarro said. “I received an email from the district’s chief financial officer informing me that we received the money but I had my doubts. It wasn’t until we came back from break that I confirmed the news. I’m ecstatic.”

Navarro said the grant money came from Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The federal legislation makes funding available to local educational agencies and schools with high numbers or high percentages of students from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards.

img_3366According to Navarro, 98 public institutions submitted proposals seeking funding. Out of those, 18 including Rivas Elementary were chosen to receive the award. Navarro believes Rivas met the grant criteria because of its overall demographics. The school serves primarily low-income students. “Rivas is one of the highest percentage campuses in the district with 88 percent students considered at-risk,” Navarro said. “Our student population is also 76 percent LEP (Limited English Proficiency), 98 percent economically disadvantaged and ranked 100 percent under Title 1.”

While Rivas Met Standard under the Texas Education Agency’s accountability system this year, it was given an Improvement Required rating prior to that, several years in a row. “Looking at that and then of course looking at our campus needs assessment, we found that our students are struggling in reading,” Navarro said. “A lot of the students are reading below grade level. That doesn’t only impact the area of reading but math and science as well because students need to be able to read the problem solving and science questions which are rigorous.”

img_3372Navarro hopes the new funds will help Rivas achieve success and continue to maintain a Met Standard rating. She plans to expand the Pre-k and Kindergarten program and hire more highly qualified teachers. “Right now, the Pre-k program is only half a day but we’re looking at turning it into a full day which means hiring more Early Childhood teachers,” Navarro said. The grant calls for a 10:1 student to instructional staff ratio, so we would need the additional staff to comply with the grant requirement.”

Some of the money will also go toward stipends for the employees. A process will be put in place to identify and reward school leaders, teachers, and other staff who increase student achievement.

“Our goal is to not only close our student achievement gap, but to ensure academic success for all our students and that they leave Rivas Elementary well-rounded and innovated individuals who will lead and become an integral part of tomorrow’s society.”

The funding will be available to the school in mid-February.