And the Winner Is

Top elementary science teacher in Houston named by alliantgroup

SPARK Award finalists Ruth Giles, Lynell Dillard, Leticia Sifuentes, Melanie Jenkins, Mimi Munoz, and Gerjuan O’Neal. Photo courtesy of alliantgroup

Remember voting last month for the SPARK Award, the program that rewards outstanding HISD science teachers? Well, folks, we have a winner.

During a luncheon on Thursday at alliantgroup’s headquarters in the Galleria area, elementary science teacher Leticia Sifuentes was named this year’s SPARK Award winner for her outstanding work at Bonner Elementary School.

Since 2019, alliantgroup has partnered with Houston ISD to reward innovative science teachers who are increasing student engagement by emphasizing the importance of science, but also why it’s fun.

Sifuentes says she has worked alongside incredible teachers throughout her career, and that is why she is so honored to be chosen among them now.

“I am so excited to have won this award, especially with the company I was in. They are all fabulous teachers,” says Sifuentes. “I am extremely honored to have won this award for my students, because they are the reason I am here.”

Sifuentes has only been teaching at Bonner Elementary School for one year but is a veteran in the classroom, with 24 years of experience. She says her own fifth grade teacher inspired her to also become an educator.

“My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Johnson, was very interactive,” says Sifuentes. She was definitely somebody I looked up to and wanted to be exactly like.”

Sifuentes was selected among five other finalists, including: Melanie Jenkins with Katherine Smith Elementary School, Ruth Giles with Cornelius Elementary School, Mimi Muñoz with Seguin Elementary School, Gerjuan O’Neal with Mark Twain Elementary School, and Lynell Dillard with Clemente Martinez Elementary School.

All six teachers were gifted $500 toward their classrooms. The finalists were also given $1,300 for themselves and the winner took home $3,500 for herself.

SPARK Award winners Deirdre Ricketts (2019), Leticia Sifuentes (2022), Whitnee Boston (2021). Photo courtesy of alliantgroup

Despite the competition, Sifuentes says this group of teachers has already become close and is focused on helping each other succeed in the classroom.

“They are all amazing teachers and we have a created our own professional learning community group,” she says. “We’ve started an email chat where we share ideas and collaborate with one another. That is one of the best things about meeting other teachers through this: We are all willing to help each other, which is how you become a better educator.”

The nominees were selected by HISD’s science curriculum department before being interviewed by a panel of judges, who ultimately chose the grand prize winner.

The panel included the newly appointed general manager of Univision, Glen Coleman; senior principal Frances Crossingham with Slalom Consulting; FOX 26 meteorologist Lena Maria Arango; and Ivan Rodriguez, who is the founder and CEO of Glocal Advantage.

They got the chance to meet the finalists, interview them, and then see a video of each teacher in action inside their classroom. Casey Curry, senior director of strategic communications and philanthropy at alliantgroup, says after getting to know Sifuentes better, she understands why the judges selected her as this year’s winner.

“Leticia was our honorable mention teacher in 2019 and I’m so thrilled she is our winner this year,” Curry says. “She truly embraces her students and because of her own experiences she is able to relate to them in a unique way.”

“Many times, my students think being bilingual is negative and keeps them from things, but I tell them it is their superpower,” says Sifuentes. “Now they have two languages they can use to be successful. I tell them they will use it all the time because it is quite valuable.”

This is the fourth year that alliantgroup has recognized and rewarded HISD elementary science teachers. You can learn more about this year’s SPARK Award nominees here.

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Building Houston

 
 

Here's your latest roundup of innovation news you may have missed. Photo via Getty Images

It's been a new month and a few Houston startup wrapped up November with news you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, three Houston startups across health care, space, and sports tech have some news they announced recently.

Houston digital health company launches new collaboration

Koda Health has a new partner. Image via kodahealthcare.com

Houston-based Koda Health announced a new partnership with data analytics company, CareJourney.

"This collaboration will aim to develop benchmarking data for advance care planning and end-of-life metrics," the company wrote on LinkedIn. "Koda will provide clinical and practice-based expertise to guide the construction of toolkits, dashboards, and benchmarks that improve ACP programs and end-of-life outcomes."

Koda Health announced the partnership in November..

“Beyond the checkbox of a billing code or completed advance directive, it’s important to build and measure a process that promotes thoughtful planning among patients, their care team, and their loved ones,” says Desh Mohan, MD, Koda's chief medical officer, in the post.

CareJourney was founded in 2014 in Arlington, Virginia.

"I'm hopeful next-generation quality measures will honor the patient’s voice in defining what it means to deliver high quality care, and our commitment is to measure progress on that important endeavor," noted Aneesh Chopra, CareJourney's co-founder and president.

Sports tech startup raises $500,000 pre-seed investment

BeONE Sports has created a technology to enhance athletic training. Photo via beonesports.com

Houston-founded BeONE Sports, an athlete training technology company, announced last month that it closed an oversubscribed round of pre-seed funding. The company announced the raise on its social media pages that the round included $500,000 invested.

Earlier in November, BeONE Sports completed its participation in CodeLaunch DFW 2022. The company was one of six finalists in the program, which concluded with a pitch event on November 16.

Space tech company snags government contracts

Graphic via cognitive space.com

The U.S. Air Force has extended Houston-based Cognitive Space’s contract under a new TACFI, Tactical Funding Increase, award. According to the release, the contract "builds on Cognitive Space’s work to develop a tailored version of CNTIENT for AFRL to achieve ultimate responsiveness and optimized dynamic satellite scheduling via a cloud-based API.

The $1.2 million award follows a $1.5 million U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research award that the company won in 2020 to integrate CNTIENT with commercial ground station providers in support of AFRL’s Hybrid Architecture Demonstration program.

“The TACFI award allows Cognitive Space to continue supporting AFRL’s vitally important HAD program to help deliver commercial space data to the warfighter,” says Guy de Carufel, the company’s founder and CEO, in the releasee. “CNTIENT’s tailored analytics platform will enable HAD and the GLUE platform to integrate modern statistical approaches to optimize mission planning, data collection, and latency estimation.”

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