“Dynamic duo” making difference in Port Arthur students’ lives, focus on STEM education

Published 12:38 am Wednesday, March 1, 2023

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Husband and wife teachers Meliton and Asther Reyes are always looking for a way to bring something new to their teaching methods.

“It’s like, what can we explore that we could go beyond the classroom and teach more to the kids than just the basics of the book,” Thomas Jefferson Middle School science teacher Asther said.

Meliton teaches eighth grade math at TJMS, and the couple work with students in STEM. They have won accolades and grants for their work.

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The Reyeses are part of the Brilliance Academy of Port Arthur ISD. Last summer they had 94 active members who graduated from the STEM camp and now they have been invited to Get Excited About Robotics, or GEAR.

Port Arthur ISD students take part in a trial-run robotics competition. (Courtesy photo)

The annual challenge is March 25 at Texas Tech University and is designed around a story that motivates the need for autonomous robots (i.e., a robot operating in Antarctica, constructing a moon post, or performing surgery).

“To solve the challenge, students learn engineering skills through a teaming exercise in designing, building, programming, testing and troubleshooting their wheeled LEGO robots,” Asther said.

Chevron Phillips Chemical Company is sponsoring the team for its first-ever robotics competition.

A group of TJMS and Lincoln Middle School students took part in a trial-run event in Lubbock, where there were 50 teams from across the state. Both schools placed in the top 10.

Students taking part were Ezer Hipolito, eight grade, TJMS; Danny Nguyen, seventh grade, TJMS; Mason Dixon, seventh grade, TJMS; Jamor Ragan, eight grade LMS; Alex Nguyen, eighth grade LMS; and Cristianna Moseley, eighth grade LMS.

Students are briefed before the competition. (Courtesy photo)

Teacher philosophy

Meliton explained how it feels to see his students become successful.

“This is good because they created a lot of cooperation skills there,” Meliton said. “We were amazed during the competition because they were able to start building, start adjusting the program on their own without my help because I was just watching them. They kept adjusting the program.”

Asther created a program that gained recognition from Toshiba for TJMS.

Toshiba, she said, encourages teachers to promote STEM. This particular grant focuses on environmental impact. On her grant she proposed the TJMS Environmental Stewards be the ones to go out, explore the water, land and air. They will take samples using the tools and kits provided by Toshiba, then bring their information back.

Meliton is a recipient of an Indorama grant, as well.

Principal Kristi Lewis refers to the two educators as the “Dynamic Duo” and said they are monumental and intricate parts of the TJMS family.

“They both push students to exceed and pride themselves in exposing students to opportunities outside the classroom,” Lewis said. “Their work ethic, passion, commitment and dedication to students are relentless. All teachers in the field of education should possess the authenticity and drive for greatness regarding self and students as the Reyeses do daily. I am honored to work with the Reyeses every day.

A scene from the Brilliance Academy shows Port Arthur ISD students. (Courtesy photo)

Parting words

The Reyes’ are longtime educators who came to the U.S. from the Philippines and have been with Port Arthur Independent School District for a number of years.

Years ago someone asked Asther where she taught and she said PAISD. They responded with, “oh you have all the troubled kids,” which hurt her, she said.

“I came from another country, but when you see these kids, these are my kids,” she said. “My father used to say, gold will always shine wherever you place it, right? And even if you put them in garbage, it’s still gold. It doesn’t change who they are. They might be in a place that’s depressed, might be in a place where there’s trouble, but you have to find that gold and polish it.”

For the Reyeses, it’s not about getting a paycheck.

They look for the best and the best will give them hope.

“I don’t think that we could keep coming here every day and get a paycheck. But that’s not the point. The point is that we are teaching the kids that will be our future nurses or future engineers, one day we’ll come to their office,” she said. “They’re doctors and this is who we are. Our understanding of our job should transcend more than the paycheck that we receive.”