Position: Founder and School Director
School: Rêve Preparatory Charter School
School District: Rêve Preparatory Charter School
City, State: Houston, TX
Music that Describes Traci
Traci Thibodeaux was nominated by a colleague, Erik Gomez.
Growing up in some of the most challenging neighborhoods in Houston, Ms. Thibodeaux always viewed education as the path to freedom. She had to travel out of her own community to find high-performing schools, which set her on the path to college and career success. Drawing from those personal early childhood experiences, she is committed to ensuring high-performing schools exist close to home.
Beginning at elementary school and all the way through high school, Ms. Thibodeaux was fortunate to take advantage of school programs in the Houston area. Although this allowed her to attend high-performing schools, it also meant personal sacrifices from her and her family. These sacrifices, along with the experience of growing up in poverty, left a lasting impression. They would provide the inspiration for the vision and mission of Rêve Preparatory Charter School, which serves the very same community where Ms. Thibodeaux grew up, Hiram Clarke in Houston.
“When I was younger and growing up in the community, my mother actually drove up to two hours to wealthier communities that had really great schools, which opened up all the doors I had after graduation,” said Ms. Thibodeaux. “I chose to start Rêve Prep because I never knew that I had an option not to go to college. That's essentially the environment I want all of our children to be exposed to.”
After graduating from the University of Texas and completing an MBA at the University of Michigan, Ms. Thibodeaux embarked on a successful career in corporate finance. However, amidst her growing professional achievements, the memories of her early childhood education were not forgotten. She was left with a desire to do more to give back. This desire drove Ms. Thibodeaux to leave her successful professional career, get an M.Ed., and begin work with Chicago Public Schools.
During Ms. Thibodeaux’s time with Chicago Public Schools, she led the Seal of Biliteracy launch across 18 high schools. It resulted in students receiving documentation stating their proficiency in English and a secondary language, supporting the students’ preparedness and applications for college. She was also a key contributor in the establishment and implementation of a K-12 STEM strategy for the district.
Ms. Thibodeaux recognized there was still a desire from her early experience to give back directly to her community. That led her to found and lead Rêve Preparatory Charter School in her hometown of Houston. The challenges the neighborhood faced in her early childhood are still there. Today, at Rêve Prep, almost 80% of the student body is economically disadvantaged, and over 50% is considered at-risk. In addition, almost 30% are English Language Learners, and over 20% have already experienced early childhood trauma.
Rêve Preparatory Charter School’s vision is that all students deserve a comprehensive, rigorous K-8 education that ensures their readiness for high school and college. Rêve Prep’s vision is established upon the following six core principles:
“It sets a model for what these kids can accomplish in the future. It’s going to stay in their parents’ and siblings’ minds, and I think that can only benefit this community,” said Odis Garrett, a teacher at Rêve Prep. “I want them to understand there are no limits to what they can do.”
To fulfill Rêve Prep ‘s vision, Ms. Thibodeaux developed a unique design to support students academically. A two-teacher model allows students to receive high quality instruction and get the personalized support necessary to achieve their academic goals. Spanish is offered for all students beginning at kindergarten, which gives them a strong foundation in another language to ensure a path to be college-ready by the time they graduate from the eighth grade. A focus on literacy and math is another core foundational element to the educational model at Rêve Prep, with increased instructional time in literacy and math.
“Our experience at Rêve Prep has been excellent. My kids are learning at a high speed,” said a parent. “What I love about Rêve Prep is that there are two teachers in each classroom. It gives the students the opportunity to have one-on-one instruction with the teachers.”
Character development is also a central aspect of Rêve Prep’s unique design developed by Ms. Thibodeaux to help children excel in life. A daily focus on the school’s RÊVED-UP values – Respect, Êxcellence, Virtue, Enthusiasm, Determination and Understanding, Preparedness – ingrains the characteristics necessary to ensure a safe learning environment and help students develop the habits required to overcome challenges and reach their goals.
“Our kids start in kindergarten here with high expectations, which helps set that foundation of, 'As I keep growing, I know what my goals are. I know what my future is going to look like,'” said Rosa Torres, Dean of Curriculum and Instruction. “I think that’s really important, especially with our black and brown community, because we don’t often see our students being empowered by that.”
Even through the many unforeseen extraordinary challenges in 2020 due to COVID-19, and in addition to the typical challenges the school faces in the community, Rêve Prep continued to make positive progress towards its mission. A major milestone was all students either meeting or exceeding testing expectations after moving to virtual, remote classes at the end of the school year. That was followed up by the school doubling its student enrollment in its second year of classes and successfully passing its first external and TEA audits. Finally, after obtaining a significant grant earmarked for facilities from a major local foundation, the school has commenced exploratory actions to build a new, fully owned school facility to support Pre-K through Grade 8.
“The name of the school, Rêve, means to dream in French. The philosophy is making sure that we give our students the skills and knowledge to turn their dreams into reality,” said Ms. Thibodeaux. “If a student comes with us, we will be doing everything possible in combination with their family and parents to make sure they are prepared for college.”
Ms. Thibodeaux brings a true understanding of the social and economic hurdles faced by many of the children living in the Central Southwest community of Houston. She is committed to maximizing the lessons she has learned in her professional career to provide a high-quality education that not only prepares students for college, but grows each child in a holistic way to ensure they have the support to grow into healthy, confident members of their community. This is truly exemplified by Rêve Prep’s mission statement:
“Educating kindergarten through grade eight students for success in high school, college, and beyond, Rêve Preparatory Charter School ensures rigorous academics, individualized supports, and purposeful character development for every student, every day.”