Menchaca Early Childhood Center on the first day of school.
Menchaca Early Childhood Center at Southside ISD is one of the schools accused of denying parents without a Texas driver's license access to the campus. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

When Marcus Miller walked into Menchaca Early Childhood Center for his first day of kindergarten, he brought a posse. His mom, Jessica Miller, trailed closely behind him, as Marcus stopped for photos with family members and greeted his teachers from last year.

His dad, grandmother, and great grandmother were also in tow, touring the Southside Independent School District campus for the first time, along with many other parents and visitors.

Menchaca opened Monday as Southside ISD’s first new campus in a decade. The school is the result of a successful May 2017 bond, passed about a year after Mark Eads became superintendent and about three months after the state announced it would install a board of managers to govern the district.

The new campus serves all of the district’s pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes, and enrolled just over 700 young students on the first day of school, with a total capacity for 855 students.

Completed just in time for the Aug. 27 start date, the school wasn’t entirely put together yet. Stacks of supplies destined for classrooms filled the gym, and the main lobbies stood empty, awaiting the addition of interactive tools district officials hope will give kids opportunities to interact with technology that will make lessons more engaging and offer opportunities to learn that may not be available at home.

Once it is fully outfitted in September, the Southside campus will have a special focus: each classroom will have “three or four significant pieces of technology,” including iPads, Chromebooks, and touch-screen computers, said Cliff Herring, Southside’s director of technology.

Each classroom will also contain an interactive display that will allow kids to use computer technology to learn on what looks like a traditional white board. Students can use the boards to solve math problems, complete puzzles, and learn about the weather outside, according to a video shown by the district.

The empty lobbies will be filled with augmented-reality technology. Students will be able to use an augmented-reality carpet that pairs with  tablets to make elements of the carpet appear three-dimensional, books, and applications on a table top that allow students to record music, learn patterns, and draw, among other things.

“We want to give our kids the same opportunities that kids are getting in the other school districts,” Herring said, adding that advancements in education technology is forcing all districts to adapt and offer more computer tools in the learning environment.

While Chromebooks and smart boards are common in classrooms around the city, augmented-reality technology is not an ordinary fixture for students at such early grade levels. Spokesman Randy Escamilla said directors of technology from Bexar County’s 14 other districts have contacted Southside asking to tour the school and learn how to use similar technology with their own early learners.

Emphasizing that technology is already a major influence in every student’s life, Escamilla addressed an audience of parents who had just dropped their children off in class. He asked how many of their kids, most of whom are age 5 or younger, knew how to play with a smartphone. Almost every parents’ hand shot up.

“I didn’t even know what augmented reality was until it was explained to me,” Escamilla said. “Imagine this – there are carpets that will teach your children their ABC’s and how to sing a song. There are books that will come to life so that your children read these books and the images in these books will come to life.”

Tiffany Fuentes, Marcus’ kindergarten teacher, said she’s looking forward to the addition of technology to her classroom. For now, she is using a projector with her students, but will begin using her interactive display once it is installed.

Jessica Miller hugs her son Marcus seeing him off for his first day of kindergarten at Menchaca Early Childhood Center.
Jessica Miller hugs her son Marcus as she says goodbye to him during his first day of kindergarten at Menchaca Early Childhood Center. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

With the new screen, Fuentes’ students will be able to put together puzzles set out in front of them, choosing where to fit blocks into shapes, and see cartoon animals come to life.

Fuentes believes her students will be more engaged through the use of technology in lessons. She previously used Google Earth to teach her students about neighborhoods and geography and said they were amazed about where technology could take them.

“It really does make the lessons come alive,” Fuentes said.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.