How a new school thrived during the pandemic: Promesa Academy

Promesa Academy

To say the 2020-21 school year was memorable might be a bit of an understatement. The emotional, physical and mental work required to teach and learn in a pandemic will leave a lasting impression on many of us. But for 200 students, their families, and about two dozen dedicated teachers and staff, it will be remembered fondly as the year they started Promesa Academy, one of San Antonio’s newest K-5 public charter schools.

Promesa Academy opened last year to serve students in kindergarten through 2nd grade. It was founded by Superintendent and CEO Ambika Dani who has committed herself since the young age of 14 to ensuring children everywhere have equal access to quality education. It is located at 603 Merida Street on San Antonio’s near west side and is open to families from all over San Antonio. Promesa Academy provides a strong foundation in math and literacy but is focused on educating and nurturing the whole child. Children are taught by subject-expert teachers from their earliest years and are wrapped in a loving, respectful environment that uses authentic and engaging experiences to teach students how to truly live in community – with each other and with San Antonio.

Dani completed the SVPSA Fellowship in 2020. “Ambika is an inspiring young leader that has begun something really special in education for San Antonio students,” Becky Dinnin, SVPSA Executive Director. “Her insight into teaching and how they are addressing gaps in San Antonio will make an impact for the students at Promesa for the rest of their lives.”

As Dani explains, because Promesa Academy had to launch both virtual and in-person paths of learning simultaneously, it helped ensure a strong virtual learning model was in place all year long. For most of the year, about 50% of students were in-person and the other half virtual. To ensure the virtual learners felt connected as things relaxed a bit in the second semester, Promesa Academy launched a Junior Explorers program that was open to all students and their siblings. As part of the program, teachers created “classes” beyond the traditional curriculum in public parks all across the city. Every Friday, families met to identify plants and elements of nature and to connect with other Promesa families. The program was a huge success and helped lessen the trauma of the year by making sure virtual students didn’t feel isolated. All students were also involved in painting a huge mural on the cafeteria wall, designed by Promesa’s art teacher, Alex Casso. The mural’s theme is “What is a promise?” because promesa means promise.

Looking ahead, Promesa Academy will add another 150 students in the next school year, which will also be the first STAAR testing year. Promesa’s board and staff, together with the supportive members of the Family Advisory Council, will reflect on this first year and look for ways to grow and evolve to meet the constantly changing needs of its students. For those interested, Promesa accepts applications on a rolling basis. Visit the website or call (210) 942-1700 for more information.