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‘No Excuses’ encourages Highland Lakes Elementary students to dream big

No Excuses University at Highland Lakes Elementary School

Highland Lakes Elementary School Assistant Principal Stacy Lashbrook (left), Principal Leslie Talamantes, and Instructional Coach Casey Keeton recently kicked off No Excuses University, which encourages students to dream big. The wild wigs were to illustrate the campus' theme for the program: Wildly Important Goals. Courtesy photo

Highland Lakes Elementary School Principal Leslie Talamantes recalled the excitement of the kindergartners when they looked out of the school bus windows during a field trip. 

They saw different-size buildings, a lot of street lights, and vehicles of all shapes and colors. In that moment, Talamantes realized something.

“They’d never been anywhere except Granite Shoals,” she said. 

That field trip was on her mind when she picked up the book “No Excuses University” by Damen Lopez at the recommendation of Marble Falls Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Chris Allen and Leslie Baty, the district’s director of Elementary Education. As she read, she saw so much of her student body and city in the pages, she said. 

The book and corresponding program is about showing students there’s a bigger world beyond their everyday lives. 

“Our teachers are really on board,” Talamantes said. “No excuses means no limitations.”

The principal and some staff attended a summer conference to learn how to implement the program. They discovered that No Excuses University is more than a program; it’s a philosophy implemented through six steps:

  • a belief that all students can learn and it is the school’s job to make this happen;
  • collaboration among staff, working together to come up with unique solutions for student learning;
  • aligning teaching with state standards;
  • creating an assessment plan so faculty and staff can see where students are and how to help them improve;
  • analyzing data to see student-assessment trends and sharing the data with students so they can set goals;
  • and working with at-risk students who are behind in their learning.

In encouraging students to dream big, Talamantes was quick to point out that there’s nothing wrong with wanting a blue-collar job. She often hears students talk about being a truck driver or working in construction when they grow up. However, she also wants students to consider one day owning a construction company.

“We want our kids to dream bigger,” she said, “but if that’s what you want, you be the best at driving that truck that you can be. You give them permission to excel.”

Campuses create themes for No Excuses University. Highland Lakes Elementary’s theme is Wildly Important Goals. The leadership team recently donned wild wigs to bring home the message to students.

School walls are covered in motivational messages, and teachers decorate their classrooms with items from their college alma maters so students can see the number of higher education choices they have. They also talk about military academies and trade schools. 

“We change lives – that’s what teachers do,” Talamantes said. “I think this works so much to our benefit. Learning is important to students. We very much want them to know they have the opportunity to come back to this area and contribute and be successful in whatever they choose.”