EDINBURG, Texas – Vanguard Academy has welcomed the Museum of South Texas History as its latest partner under the GEAR UP program.   

Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) is a federal grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Eduction.

“We are really excited about this partnership with the Museum of South Texas History,” said Barbara Gonzales, director of GEAR UP for Vanguard Academy.

“We are going to be partnering up to do history activities not only for our students but also for our teachers. And as I walk around the museum and see all the phenomenal things on display, now we are thinking about doing activities for our parents also. So, we would really be getting our whole Vanguard GEAR UP family involved.”

Vanguard Academy is a public charter school district with campuses in the cities of Pharr, Alamo and Edinburg. Gonzales brought a group of teachers and administrators from the district to the museum to visit with Dr. Francisco Guajardo, CEO of the Museum of South Texas History. She said many of her colleagues are from the Rio Grande Valley but still they learned a lot from the tour about the history of the region.

“Half of the team, they are from the Valley but they have yet to come here and see all the phenomenal things on display. It is going to be a great partnership because all of this ties into who we are, how we can move forward. It all ties in with being college ready and life ready and school ready and knowing exactly where we came from.”

Gonzales said things are still fluid on how history learned at the museum can be weaved into coursework for the students. 

“I do know we are going to bring in our teachers and discuss all the things that are happening here and how we can now use it in the classroom. And, of course, the opportunity for field trips,” Gonzales said.

“We can embed this to enrich all the phenomenal things we are already doing at Vanguard. This is just another layer that we can add and what a great partner to have.”

Asked how the partnership came about, Gonzales said it started with a conversation between Guajardo and Vanguard Superintendent Dr. Narciso Garcia.

“They are from the same community and so in conversations, a great dialogue occurred and I was brought in. Immediately, I thought we need the museum as a GEAR Up partner. I have known Dr. Guajardo for years myself. It is such a perfect fit and feels like we are already family so we are very excited about this partnership.”

Gonzales added: “Just look around. There is so much history on display here that we are going to share with our students and teachers.”

Guajardo, a former professor at UT-Rio Grande Valley, said he believes Vanguard teachers can learn a lot through the partnership with MOSTHistory.

“What the museum wants to do with Vanguard is to help them see themselves historically. We want to do this with teachers. To help teachers go through their own chronicle as historical beings with the museum as a backdrop,” Guajardo said.

“We are going to take them through a professional development exercise as they come into the museum and see themselves in different parts of history because the intent is to translate that to how they do instruction, how they help their students see themselves as meaningful participants in the chronicle of this region and of this country, really. More than the country, just as human beings. How do you see yourself historically?

“We happen to think that when you come to the museum, a history museum, that there are so many points where we can draw upon the forces of history and connect those forces of history with a force of your own life. The museum is a really good place to do that, to see yourself, to find yourself and to imagine yourself also.”

Asked if Valley teachers, not just those at Vanguard, weave enough local history, the history on display at MOSTHistory, into the coursework of their students, Guajardo said:

“Thirty years ago they were not getting any of that. I think that maybe ten, 15 years ago there was more of an awareness of drawing connections between the students’ lives and the instructional process. And so I think the research that comes out of that practice, that pedagogical teaching practice, the research shows that it helps students become ignited towards deeper learning. And actually, the research is pretty convincing, persuasive.”

Guajardo said that while awareness has grown there has not been a commensurate development when it comes to policy or curricula.

“People know about it but it happens here and there and not as a matter of wide scale application of that practice. And so I think that, not only reminding us but also developing particular skills for how we do that is a very important piece to this. That is part of what it is. We are aware, because the research says, but teacher training has not necessarily changed. And so this is how we can train teachers to be about that.”

Guajardo said he hopes to develop partnerships with other Valley schools, similar to the one with Vanguard.

“We have got about 15,000 students coming in here every year through school tours. During the pandemic we have been hit. That is way it is right now. It is not the way it is going to be in a post-pandemic. We cannot wait for that day. But we also want teachers to come because we believe that having teachers come here gives us an opportunity to scale up that philosophy and that practice. They can do it in their classrooms and we are producing virtual tours. We can send a virtual tour and teachers can be the mediators for that. But, there is nothing like coming to the museum.”

MOSTHistory is open to the general public Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10-5, and the public can come in for free on Saturdays from 10 to 12. “If you come on Saturday morning you get a little sticker and you can come back in the afternoon,” Guajardo said. 

Cabeza de Vaca

While touring MOSTHistory, the Vanguard team learned about explorer Alvar Nuñez Cabeza De Vaca from Guajardo.

“Cabeza de Vaca is important for two reasons. One, because he was part of that wave of explorers who wanted to Christianize in ways that were not by killing and waging violence. He represented a whole movement in the 16th Century. That movement did not succeed, as it turned out,” Guajardo said.

“The other is, he came through here. He is part of the history of this great region. And he wrote about it. He said, I saw the big river. Cabeza de Vaca represents so much that has been so minimally analyzed. Cabeza de Vaca has not gotten the credit, historically. He has been kind of marginalized as kind of a fabricator. He was wont to hyperbole but I think that was part of his charm. He is a great humanities historical character.”

Guajardo said Cabeza De Vaca wrote about his travels and his recollections were published in a book in 1542. Guajardo said he also recommends Andrés Reséndez’s book, A Land So Strange, about Cabeza de Vaca’s journey. 

“Resendez looks at archival material in Sevilla and Mexico City which gives him an ability to re-triangulate and create the complex character that Cabeza de Vaca was. And he writes beautifully.”

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