Schools in Texas will be looking to Longview ISD’s Judson STEAM Academy as a model after it was named a Texas School to Watch.

The National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform and the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals each year name Texas Schools to Watch. Judson was chosen along with around 50 other campuses in the state.

Principal Melanie Pondant said there are about 1,600 middle schools in Texas, so the honor is huge for the campus.

“When you walk into this building, there’s something here,” she said. “It’s just a really great culture, a really great climate.”

Judson will be honored as part of a virtual celebration in March with other state schools and nationally in June, Pondant said.

The campus had to fill out an extensive application with pages of data, send out surveys to staff and parents and go through an on-site visit with TASSP representatives. Pondant said the application process alone took about two months.

During the on-site visit, representatives visited every classroom, met with groups of students, teachers and parents and met with administration.

On Tuesday morning, Pondant shared the news with the staff and said the visitors were very impressed with the students.

“He said, ‘We asked the students, if Judson STEAM Academy was gone, what would you miss most?’ What do you think kids would say — band, athletics, whatever, do you know what they said? They said we would miss our teachers the most,’” Pondant said. “That speaks volumes for the staff on this campus. If I take credit in any of this, it’s being smart enough to hire all of you because you truly make this campus what it is.”

Seventh grade English and reading teacher Amy Bruyere said the honor is rewarding for her and her fellow teachers.

“Being a teacher and in education is always a challenge, there’s really exciting challenges and sometimes the challenges of the days where you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got make it though this,’” she said. “But I think these moments are the moments we go, ‘You know, it’s just great to know that you really are making a difference,’ and this year has been even more of a challenge with COVID.”

Bruyere, who is new to Longview ISD this school year, said the school’s commitment to reach all students sets it apart.

“I think they do a really good job here of targeting our students who are learning at all different levels — our students who come from different cultures, our students who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds,” she said. “I think here, there’s a lot of attention placed on what can we do to reach each one of those groups at whatever level that needs to be, and I see that in academic and social and all kinds of different ways that we try to reach out to students.”

Assistant Principal Mary Taylor said the recognition is validation for the staff.

“It’s great for them to be recognized, and for the students,” she said. “We pride ourselves on being a flagship campus, one that is a model campus for others to look at and say, ‘OK, I want to model what they’re doing.’ I feel like that’s what’s going to come out of this and we’ll continue to grow.”

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Les Hassell is a multimedia journalist who specializes in photography, mostly useless trivia and BBQ. Raised in Reklaw, TX by optimistic parents, he studied photography and fine art at Stephen F. Austin State University.