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

 
 

Sieve Health is an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials. Photo via Getty Images

On many occasions in her early career, Dr. Arti Bhosale, co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health, found herself frustrated with having to manually sift through thousands of digital files.

The documents, each containing the medical records of a patient seeking advanced treatment through a clinical trial, were always there to review — and there were always more to read.

Despite the tediousness of prescreening, which could take years, the idea of missing a patient and not giving them the opportunity to go through a potentially life-altering trial is what kept her going. The one she didn’t read could have slipped through the cracks and potentially not given someone care they needed.

“Those stories have stayed with me,” she says. “That’s why we developed Sieve.”

When standard health care is not an option, advances in medical treatment could be offered through clinical trials. But matching patients to those trials is one of the longest standing problems in the health care industry. Now with the use of new technology as of 2018, the solution to the bottleneck may be a new automated approach.

“Across the globe, more than 30 percent of clinical trials shut down as a result of not enrolling enough patients,” says Bhosale. “The remaining 80 percent never end up reaching their target enrollment and are shut down by the FDA.”

In 2020, Bhosale and her team developed Sieve Health, an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials and increase access to clinical trials.

Sieve’s main goal is to reduce the administrative burden involved in matching enrollments, which in turn will accelerate the trial execution. They provide the matching for physicians, study sponsors and research sites to enhance operations for faster enrollment of the trials.

The technology mimics but automates the traditional enrollment process — reading medical notes and reviewing in the same way a human would.

“I would have loved to use something like this when I was on the front lines,” Bhosale says, who worked in clinical research for over 12 years. “Can you imagine going through 10,000 records manually? Some of the bigger hospitals have upwards of 100,000 records and you still have to manually review those charts to make sure that the patient is eligible for the trial. That process is called prescreening. It is painful.”

Because physicians wear many hats and have many clinical efforts on their plates, research tends to fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Finding 10-20 patients can take the research team on average 15-20 months to find those people — five of which end up unenrolling, she says.

“We have designed the platform so that the magic can happen in the background, and it allows the physician and research team to get a jumpstart,” she says.” They don’t have to worry about reviewing 10,000 records — they know what their efforts are going to be and will ensure that the entire database has been scanned.”

With Sieve, the team was able to help some commercial pilot programs have a curated data pool for their trials – cutting the administrative burden and time spent searching to less than a week.

Sieve is in early-stage start up mode and the commercial platform has been rolled out. Currently, the team is conducting commercial projects with different research sites and hospitals.

“Our focus now is seeing how many providers we can connect into this,” she says. “There’s a bigger pool out there who want to participate in research but don’t know where to start. That’s where Sieve is stepping in and enabling them to do this — partnering with those and other groups in the ecosystem to bring trials to wherever the physicians and the patients are.”

Arti Bhosale is the co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health. Photo courtesy of Sieve

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