Forty-eight-year-old Jaime Chavez came to Harris County Department of Education over a year ago to work on his General Equivalency Diploma (GED) and connected with a few staff members who helped him achieve his goal. Chavez dropped out of school in the ninth grade in the late 1980s. In order to stay at his full-time job with Metro he needed to obtain his GED. He started the GED process in Spring Branch, but with his work schedule always changing his teacher told him about HCDE. Chavez joined an online learning program at HCDE’s Adult Education Irvington Center. When he needed more help, he was introduced to HCDE tutoring volunteers Robert Bell and John Kracht from the Technology Division and Special Schools Assistant Superintendent Jonathan Parker. Chavez was able to pass all portions of the test except for math, and that’s where his tutors helped. “Mr. Bell was my main tutor, but the other two helped me out with their knowledge of the subject,” he said. Bell would spend about eight hours a week of his own time for a year helping Chavez with math problems that would be on the test. “I appreciate all three of them for being patient with me during this process and not giving up on me,” Chavez said. “It was not an easy road for me, but I started opening my eyes.” Last month, Chavez received his score back on the math portion, and he passed. “I’m so grateful for Mr. Bell for the help he gave me by showing the process and breaking it down,” he said. Bell is happy to know he was able to help change someone’s life by tutoring eight hours a week. “I am proud of him, and it makes me realize the work we do and how it impacts individual lives,” he said. “This shows how important our organization is in people’s lives.” Bell said he will continue to volunteer by tutoring adult education students in the content area they need to pass the test. Chavez is set to graduate in May 2020. For more information about HCDE Adult Education classes, contact the office at 713-692-6216 or visit https://hcde-texas.org/adult-education/. Source: HCDE
Harris County Department of Education Head Start is hosting the 5th annual Healthy Minds Healthy Families Conference Sept. 27 from 9 a.m. to 4p.m. at 6300 Irvington Blvd. The conference is open to early childhood educators, families, members of the Head Start community and other who work with children with challenging behaviors. The focus of the event is to provide attendees with tools for providing emotional support for young children and their families, increase attendees’ awareness of mental health issues among children and provide strategies for self-care. Cost of the conference is only $10 and includes lunch. The conference is made possible through a grant-funded initiative from the Hogg Foundation, which advances recovery and wellness in Texas by funding mental health services, policy analysis, research and public education. For more information about the conference, contact Taiwan Reliford at 713-696-2170 or treliford@hcde-texas.org. Source: HCDE

Lluvia Lopez with Jastin Sambula

Huy Tran, principal Dr. Luis Landa, Mary CastilloCASE for Kids Program at Local High School Rocks with Activities Before, After School Sophomore Lluvia Lopez gets dropped off by her working mom on school mornings at 6:45 a.m. at Chavez High School in southeast Houston. The petite, high-spirited sophomore is a newbie from Corpus Christi, and she comes inside the gym to finish her homework and watch her friend Jastin Sambula play basketball. Chavez has a mixing bowl of offerings, including the running club, the Asian-American club, chess club, the business-entrepreneurial club, and tutorials and sports. The gym is hopping by 7 a.m., and head basketball coach Julius Jackson is there to supervise. The program is called out-of-school time because services are offered before-and-after the school day, on weekends and in the summer. Chavez’s program serves approximately 175 students and is a 21st Century Community Learning Center federally funded through the Center for Afterschool, Summer and Enrichment for Kids, or CASE for Kids, a division of Harris County Department of Education.  It’s also infused with funding through City Connections, a program provided through the city of Houston through each council district and operated through CASE for Kids.

Huy Tran, principal Dr. Luis Landa, Mary Castillo

“When people think of out-of-school time programs, they typically envision programs at lower grade levels,” said Lisa Thompson-Caruthers, director for CASE for Kids. “High school programs are equally as important because they allow teens to have a safe space to go before school starts and after school ends, as well as Saturdays and summer. Afterschool enriches teens lives and exposes them to new hobbies and career possibilities.” Over 70 percent of students at Chavez are from low-income families. The predominantly Hispanic school has an English as a second language population which also includes Asian-speaking students. Chavez’s coordinator Carolyn Teas gets to school as early as 5 a.m. to prepare for the school day and oversee teens in the running club. The Houston Marathon is involved in the program and donates funds for tennis shoes, as does local petrochemical company TPC. Junior Mary Castillo arrives at school at 7 a.m. to plan activities for the Asian-American club with president Huy Tran, a senior. She is also involved in the business club and will help develop an entrepreneurial product this year through Junior Achievement. After school, both Castillo and Tran stay late for extracurricular activities.

Chavez Business Club makes decorated bottle opener

“It’s nice to have a commonality among students where there is less fighting and more getting along,” said Castillo. At Chavez, all ethnicities join the ranks of the Asian-American club because of the popularity craze of K-pop and K-dance brought on boyband BTS, often compared to the Beatles. For Lopez, before- and after-school activities are important, and she is giving her new school a thumbs-up. “It’s good to have things to do around here, because if you don’t, kids will get bored and tired,” she said. “And that’s not good.” (CASE for Kids is an afterschool intermediary which provides resources, training and afterschool services for 17,441 students and teachers in greater Harris County. For more information about how to get involved with afterschool, go to http://hcde-texas.org/after-school.) Why do teens need afterschool or out-of-school time?
  • Juvenile crime triples between 3-6 p.m., and youth are more like to become victims.
  • Self-care and boredom increase the likelihood that youth will experiment with drugs and alcohol as much as 50 percent.
  • Teens need additional help preparing for college and the workforce.
  • Reaching out to teens can be challenging, and afterschool helps by providing mentors.
(Research through http://www.afterschoolalliance.org.) Source: HCDE
Two newcomers are introduced this school year as the Schools Division adds a parent engagement liaison and instructional coach. Meet Gabriela Hernandez and Nkechi Ihejirikah. New Parent Engagement Liaison Hernandez Helps Ease Challenges, Strengthen Relationships Gabriela Hernandez is the new parent engagement liaison for Harris County Department of Education’s Schools Division. She is passionate about helping families of children with behavioral and learning disabilities because of her own family members’ challenges and successes. “I am grateful for all my personal and professional experiences because both environments helped me understand the challenges both families and professionals face,” she said. Hernandez’s role includes supporting students with autism, intellectual disabilities and emotional disorders and advocating for them within the community. Specifically, the counselor will develop community partnerships which support vocational training for students, as well as Special Olympics opportunities. The California native has a bachelor’s degree in child psychology will soon receive her master’s degree in clinical counseling. She has supported students with special needs for four years as a counseling professional and has worked with families in therapeutic settings for two years. In her support capacity, Hernandez will provide counseling, resources and activities for the special education students enrolled in Harris county Department of Education’s Schools Division, specifically at Academic and Behavior School East and West campuses. “It is my goal to help children achieve success by providing resources from their community and matching parents with community-based tools to strengthen their family life,” she said. New Instructional Coach Ihejirikah Supports Teachers of Special Needs Students  Nkechi Ihejirikah is the new instructional coach within Harris County Department of Education’s Schools Division. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Prairie View A&M University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of St. Thomas. She couples her entrepreneurial spirit with her learned skills in making research-based, data-informed decisions. She has used those skills in both education and business. In business, the Galleria-are resident coached small business owners. In education, she uses research-based decisions to impact student success. “I’m able to use those very same skills to promote student success,” she said. As instructional coach, she has supported students with autism, emotional and intellectual disabilities and generalized learning disabilities in the Houston area for 10 years. Her responsibilities at HCDE will be to provide campus and teacher support by modeling lessons and facilitating instructional strategies and planning for teachers. “My goal is to positively impact classroom environments through increased student engagement,” said she. Source: HCDE
Technology continues to factor heavily in children’s school lives.  As students go back to school, computers and cell phones are being used for research assignments and communicating with teachers and classmates. However, families should set technology boundaries for the school year. Studies have found that one in five students is bullied each year. Harris County Department of Education Teaching and Learning Center Curriculum Director for Digital Education and Innovation Colina Poullard reminds parents to keep an eye on their children’s use of technology. One thing Poullard says parents can do to keep children safe is to install a form of spyware on phones. “You can do this with your child’s knowledge or not to keep them safe from cyberbullying,” she said. “You can also use the spyware for setting timers for how long they can be on social media and as a locater to know where they are at all times.” Other tips include keeping tabs on your child’s emotions. If there is a change, learn a child wants to be on social media apps. Follow the account to see what is going on. Also, let the teen know what is appropriate or not to post online. People who cyberbully will hide behind different online accounts to either get attention or to be hurtful towards others. Either way, it’s harassment and includes serious ramifications. “Cyberbullying is defined in the law, but not in people’s mind,” Poullard said. Parents should talk to a child up front about bullying, discuss what the student can do to stop it and set consequences if their child is the bully. “Most kids will hide and not come forward about being cyberbullied because they don’t want to make a big deal about it,” she said. “However, it can cause long-lasting damage to the child.” If cyberbullying is taking place, make sure to keep all the evidence to get both sides of story when reporting to campus leaders to solve the issue. “The key is safety-first while children are using technology and taking these steps,” Poullard said. Source: HCDE
Stephanie Wright is the new chief accounting officer for Business Services at Harris County Department of Education. The Texas certified public accountant formerly served as executive director at Lone Star College for seven years where she provided leadership and strategic direction within the accounting and financial reporting divisions. In addition to preparing monthly financial statements and board reports for the college, she facilitated the annual external audit and prepared the comprehensive annual financial report. The Woodlands resident earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Houston-Clear Lake and Master of Science from Texas A&M University-Commerce. Her broad financial experience spans both private and public sectors. “My goal at HCDE is to continue a legacy of financial transparency and fiscal diligence with the Department’s financial matters while also supporting and collaborating with not only the Department’s internal divisions but also among area school finance professionals from our greater Harris County school districts,” said Wright. Source: HCDE
Annual Staff 2019 energized HCDE staff and provided inspiration for the upcoming year as Superintendent Colbert, Board members, administration and staff came together at the Kingdom Builder’s Center on Aug. 23. View HCDE Goals Video: https://youtu.be/4bZYgpIaurg With a theme called “the Realm of Possibility,” the convocation supplied a synergy across all divisions demonstrated by the reactions of the 900 HCDE employees who attended. Superintendent James Colbert Jr. provided an inspiring presentation based on the theme “Realm of Possibilities.” “The past few years, the annual staff meeting has focused on how we find and meet the blind spots in public education and serve our communities and clients,” said Colbert. “This innovative perspective has made me realize one thing: Anything is possible with HCDE when we come together as a team and support children. So that makes today’s theme ‘Realm of Possibility’ even more fitting.” Employees took advantage of the Twitter Wall, a social media message wall which gathered employee tweets and provided responses based on the hashtag #HCDEConvo19. From many of the postings, it was evident that Annual Staff is an opportunity to network and share inspiration with old friends as well as new colleagues. “The talent in this room is astounding, and I am proud to be on this journey with you,” Colbert said. Source: HCDE
School is now back in session for most of the school districts around Harris County. This means children will be walking to-and-from schools in the early morning hours and late afternoon. Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools Director Julia Andrews offers tips to drivers to prevent accidents this school year. “It is so important for drivers to slow down and pay attention when children are present- especially before and after school,” Andrews said. If you’re dropping off: • Do no double park; it blocks visibility for other children and vehicles. • Do not load and unload children across the street from the school. • Carpool to reduce the number of vehicles at the school. Sharing the Road with Young Pedestrians • Do not block the crosswalk when stopped at a red light or waiting to make a turn, forcing pedestrians to go around you; this could put them in the path of moving traffic. • In a school zone when flashers are blinking, stop and yield to pedestrians crossing the crosswalk or intersection. • Always stop for a school patrol officer or crossing guard holding up a stop sign. • Take extra care to look out for children in school zones, near playgrounds and parks, and in all residential areas. • Do not honk or rev your engine to scare a pedestrian, even if you have the right of way. • Never pass a vehicle stopped for pedestrians wherever they may be, no matter who has the right of way. Sharing the Road with School Buses • Never pass a bus from behind or from either direction if you are on an undivided road- if it is stopped to load or unload children. • If the yellow or red lights are flashing and the stop arm is extended, traffic must stop. • The area 10 feet around a school bus is the most dangerous for children; stop far enough back to allow them space to safely enter and exit the bus. • Be alert; children often are unpredictable, and they tend to ignore hazards and take risks. According to the American School Bus Council, passing vehicles cause an estimated two-thirds of school bus loading and unloading fatalities. “By exercising a little extra care and caution, drivers and pedestrians can co-exist safely in school zones,” Andrews said. Source: HCDE
Post-summer “brain drain” or summer learning loss for students is real, according to Harris County Department of Education Center for Afterschool, Summer and Enrichment for Kids (CASE for Kids) Director Lisa Thompson-Caruthers. Most teachers spend at least three weeks re-teaching last year’s lessons at the beginning of each school year, she said. Research outlined by the National Summer Learning Association reveals that most students lose two months of math skills every summer, and low-income students lose another two-to-three months in reading. “Summer camps and activities for children are important for a number of reasons,” said Caruthers. “During the summer it’s important to keep kids engaged, maintain regular sleep routines, provide social interaction with other kids and practice following rules.” Regardless, gaining a healthy transition back to school can be achieved, Caruthers said. Here are some tips for getting kids back into their academic routines: 1. Jumpstart a healthy family routine. Get back to normal sleeping schedules. 2. Identify a child’s interests in books. While school ramps up the academics, it’s important for kids to access books based on their interest areas. Visit the library to check out books that compliment school-day learning. 3. Prime the mental pump. Museums are abundant in the greater Houston area, and many have free or discounted hours or days. Mix in educational apps to the games your kids play. along with their favorites. Have them watch educational YouTube videos and report back what they learn. 4. Get homework help and enroll in afterschool. When homework is completed inside an afterschool program, family stress is reduced, leaving more quality time at home for family time. Afterschool provides a variety of activities that reinforce school-day learning, encourage social interaction and help youth develop skills. 5. Add incentives to your child’s learning with quality family time. After homework is over, play a family game. After six weeks of school, let your child plan a weekend excursion. Make a wish list of places your child wanted to visit this summer, but time ran out. CASE for Kids provides resources, trainings and funding for afterschool programs, serving students in grades pre-k through 12 in afterschool programs in schools, childcare facilities and community centers throughout Harris County. For more information go to http://www.hcde-texas.org/after-school . For research about summer learning loss, go to http://www.summerlearning.org/at-a-glance. Source: HCDE
Students are heading back to school starting this week and physical and occupational therapists at Harris County Department of Education offer tips for backpack safety. Five tips you can practice to help prevent backpack strain with your child: • The bottom of the backpack should rest in the curve of the back and be no more than four inches below your child’s waist • Have padded and adjustable shoulder straps. Make sure your child uses both shoulder straps when wearing the backpack to evenly distribute the weight of the pack. • Have a padded back that will provide cushioning against your child’s spine. • Have compartments to secure items in place and pack heavier items closest to the child’s back. • Weigh less than 10 percent of your child’s weight when fully packed. “Make sure only necessary items are inside your child’s backpack and that it is adjusted and worn correctly to prevent back strain and long-term effects on posture and the developing spine,” said Carie Crabb, senior director of HCDE School-Based Therapy Services. HCDE’s therapy specialists work with students in school districts and charter schools throughout greater Harris County. Specialists include physical therapists and assistants, occupational therapists and assistants, and music therapists. For questions about backpack safety or HCDE School-Based Therapy Services, contact Crabb at ccrabb@hcde-texas.org. Source: HCDE