Hawthorne Academy in Government Hill, San Antonio. Photo courtesy of SA Charter Moms.
Hawthorne Academy in Government Hill, San Antonio. Photo courtesy of SA Charter Moms.
Rachel Diaz-Pacheco

My first exposure to Hawthorne Academy and the Core Knowledge Curriculum took place when I arrived here in 1995 as a Trinity University intern.  Little did I know just how great an impact Core Knowledge would have on my personal life and my life as an educator.

To fully understand my appreciation for Core Knowledge, I must first take you back a few years.  I grew up in the Westside of San Antonio and attended school in Edgewood ISD.  I was fortunate to have some pretty amazing teachers and educational opportunities. So much so, that I graduated at the top of my class.

However, upon my arrival at Trinity, I came to realize that there was a great discrepancy between the knowledge I had acquired and that of my peers.  I often found myself lost and confused during class discussions.  In order to master the material being taught in class, I found myself going home and researching the things I didn’t know and then studying the material I needed to learn for class.   Needless to say, it took a lot of perseverance and great effort my first couple of years. Looking back, I see what a difference the Core Knowledge Curriculum would have made in my life.

Fast forward to 1995, I will never forget my first meeting with Mrs. Shaughnessy my mentor teacher.  She said, “Your first unit is titled Antiquities.”  I looked around to make sure that I was in the right classroom.  After all, I had been told I would be spending the year in a second grade class.  And so began my journey with Core Knowledge.

The Library at Hawthorne Academy. File photo.
The Library at Hawthorne Academy. File photo.

That year I taught 2nd graders all about Ancient Greece, Westward Expansion, the American Revolution and phrases such as “don’t cry over spilled milk” and “two heads are better than one.”  What I noticed was that the students couldn’t get enough of the content.  They always wanted to know more.  Since then, I have taught Special Ed (pre-k through 7th grade) as the Behavior Improvement teacher, 1st grade and now 5th grade.

It was during my special education years that I saw the greatest impact.  The students were so engaged in the content that their behavior just fell into place.  My job as the behavior specialist took a back seat to my role as the Core Knowledge teacher.   I believe that Core Knowledge levels the playing field for all students as it provides a content rich curriculum that some students may not otherwise be exposed to.  Our curriculum is driven by the district and state standards.  Core Knowledge provides the rich content through which we teach those standards.  The students become so engulfed in the content that sometimes they don’t even realize that they are mastering the skills necessary for their educational success.

Another reason why I am such a big fan of Core Knowledge is that it lends itself to cross curricular integration.  I am currently the 5th grade reading teacher.  I use the Core Knowledge social studies content to teach many of my reading skills.  One of the most difficult skills to teach is how to inference because it requires use of your schema and your text to draw conclusions.  I see a big difference between the students who have been here from an early age as opposed to those students who transfer in at a later age.  The students who have been with us longer have a broader knowledge base from which to pull from when making inferences.  They are able to make connections and appear more confident because of the knowledge they’ve obtained.

Student Architecture Project at Hawthorne Academy. File photo.
Student Architecture Project at Hawthorne Academy. File photo.

On a more personal level, I have seen the benefits of Core Knowledge in my own home.

In 2003, I chose to enroll my first daughter here because of the Core Knowledge curriculum. I knew because of my own personal experiences that I wanted my daughters to have a broad base of knowledge from which to build on.  Both my oldest and middle daughter attended Hawthorne Academy as charter students from k through 5th grade.  My third and youngest daughter is currently a 2nd grader here.   My two older daughters are now students at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy.  I firmly believe that their academic success is a direct result of the education and experiences that they received while attending Hawthorne Academy.

How ironic, that last night as I sat there thinking about what I most appreciated about the Core Knowledge curriculum, I overheard my two older daughters having a conversation about a lesson on the Greek and Roman gods my freshman daughter had had that day.  I heard her say, “I am so glad we went to Hawthorne because today many of my friends were so confused in class while I knew exactly what they my teacher was talking about.”  I proceeded to ask them what they found most beneficial about their years at Hawthorne Academy.  Both responded almost as if we had rehearsed it, “Core Knowledge of course!”

[Rachel’s story has been adapted from her presentation about the Core Knowledge Curriculum at a recent SAISD Spotlight Breakfast. To accompany Rachel’s story, we have also received two short essays from Hawthorne Academy students, Elizabeth Vargas and Angel Gonzalez, that were passed out to attendees.]

My name is Elizabeth Vargas and I am in 5th grade.

I like Hawthorne because everyone is in control.  I feel super safe here and the students are nice and smile just like you.  It’s an ordinary school with extraordinary things about it , and there is a lot of activity here.

I’ve been at Hawthorne since 1st grade and I know that the teachers and students are super friendly when there are new students. There is no bullying either. The teachers will do whatever it takes to make the students learn. That’s a good thing.  Don’t you think? There are a lot of fun projects and field trips. When I was in third grade I went to NASA. When we go on field trips the teachers remind us to show the same pillars of character we show here.

My big brother and sister attended Hawthorne. They are in high school at Edison now. So it’s just my little brother and sister with me at Hawthorne. My whole family likes this school. Even my step brothers and step sister came here.

At Hawthorne I’ve been in UIL, Archeology Club, and Bear Choir. This year I am still in choir and UIL.  Now I am also in basketball and the Eco Club.

I was honored for being a superstar of the pillars of character five times: responsibility twice, respect two times and self-discipline once. I have learned many things about science and social studies here. I have made projects about gods and goddesses, a castle, and a pueblo. This year I dressed up as a Renaissance person for social studies night.  I loved learning about the Maya.

In science we have made ooblek, tested soils for how much water they hold, and seen butterflies hatch from their cocoons.

I think Hawthorne is a great place, and I am so glad to be here. I hope you have enjoyed your visit here and will come back again.

Hello my name is Angel Gonzalez.

I am 13 years old and currently in 8th grade. I’ve been attending Hawthorne Academy since I was four years old. I think this school is so amazing because the teachers really go out of their way to help you and they will not let you fall behind no matter how long they have to work through the same thing. Here at Hawthorne it’s like a big family.  You will always be safe here. You will get to know every one so well since you spend so much time with them.  You get to learn so many new and exotic things like for example, in 1st grade we learned about the Ancient Egyptians, in 3rd we learned about the Roman gods and goddesses.  We are the only middle school in SAISD that gets to use I pads and other technology.

Most of my family has come here, from my uncle who is forty years old to my brother who’s four years old. Hawthorne Academy has become a huge part of my family. Another cool thing is that you get to grow up with friends.  So Hawthorne doesn’t only build a great education for you, it also builds great character, friendship and bonds that will last you forever.  So this is the reason there is no other school I would rather be than Hawthorne Academy.

Thank you.

Rachel Diaz-Pacheco, a 5th-grade teacher at Hawthorne Academy, has been an educator for 18 years. She earned a bachelor’s degree in humanities and a master’s degree in teaching from Trinity University.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org