The Virtual Provider Fair set for Oct. 29 and 30 from 10-11:30 a.m. will allow the afterschool community to network with 40 service providers or vendors offering activities ranging from character development to theatre to academic activities, sports and more. View the flyer. The free event is an annual event provided by the Center for Afterschool, Summer and Enrichment for Kids, or CASE for Kids, a division of Harris County Department of Education. The event pairs vendors (service providers) with afterschool programs. “The fair is an opportunity for vendors to speak directly to the afterschool community,” CASE for Kids Director Dr. Lisa Thompson-Caruthers said. “Each provider has a few minutes to present and share their services through PowerPoint or video and interact with attendees through Zoom.” The pandemic has provided opportunities for vendors to expand their services to virtual platforms, in addition to traditional in-person. “Afterschool programs have many different needs, and this event helps match providers with various afterschool programs,” said Thompson-Caruthers. “It’s also a networking opportunity for both vendors and attendees. Samples of vendors attending the virtual event include Mad Science of Houston, Science of Sports, Ensemble Theatre and many more. The event has been split into two days to allow vendors and programs ample time to connect. Register for Oct. 29 Day 1 and Oct. 30 Day 2 for the optimal opportunity to visit with all vendors. Questions may be sent to . Source: HCDE
A detailed orientation for back-to-school made the first day of in-person school smooth-sailing for HCDE Head Start Compton Center Manager Merevonna Daniel, her staff, students and their families. “We only had one crier,” Daniel said. View video: Children at all the HCDE Head Start and Early Head Start centers and childcare partnerships are now attending school in person. All centers are following CDC protocols. Students and staff are met at the door and checked for temperatures. An emailed questionnaire checks for COVID-19 symptoms prior to class. Personal protection equipment such as masks, sanitizer and gloves are used. Classrooms are split in two with a divider with two teachers to accommodate small class sizes. “We are also practicing social distancing in the classroom,” Daniel said. HCDE Head Start staff were working with their students and parents virtually beginning in September. Parents chose one of three daily time slots for virtual classes with their children. Families picked up student work packets along with drive-by meals for their children. “The process for back-to-school in person was easier because they were able to see us online prior to coming into the building,” Daniel said. Staff at Channelview Head Start provided a “soft launch” last week as several classrooms of students returned and practiced the new safety protocols. The experience provided valuable feedback as staff worked out minor kinks. Daniel said most Compton Head Start Center parents and children are excited about returning, especially after receiving information about detailed safety procedures being used. “We look forward to an outstanding school year and we hope everyone remains safe,” said Daniel. Head Start is now recruiting students for enrollment. Go to to learn more. Source: HCDE
As the School Safety Forum went virtual for a first time this Oct. 16, more than 250 participants throughout the nation took advantage of the opportunity to network, collaborate and gain new information about safety initiatives for public schools. Sessions targeted topics ranging from racial equity to human trafficking to mental health to cybersecurity. The significance of “overcommunicating” during COVID-19 was a repeated topic of four school district police chiefs who served as panelists in a “Chat with the Chiefs” preconference session Oct. 15. Messages from the chiefs also emphasized nurturing relationships with students, staff and families and proactive steps to address community-police relations. “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” said Chief David Kimberly of Klein Independent School District. The summit was hosted by Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Superintendent James Colbert Jr. gave a Texas welcome to virtual attendees, many of whom logged in from out-of-state locations like New Jersey and Virginia. Colbert touched on cultural responsiveness as schools are back in session this fall. “Race relations in our country went dormant,” he said. “We need to address them—formalize strategies through honesty for improvements in order to meet student needs.” Popular keynote Michael Dorn of Safe Havens International discussed emerging school safety concerns which include cyber threats, increased calls for accountability and conflicting perspectives relating to the role of police in schools and restorative practices. Dorn also presented real-life school violence scenarios to help attendees brainstorm possible outcomes and solutions. Afternoon keynote Carly Posey shared her story as the mother to two children who attended Sandy Hooks Elementary School when an armed intruder made his way into her son’s first-grade classroom, killing his teacher and a classmate. As the shooter stopped to reload, her son and with nine other students, escaped. Her daughter hid in a closet in the school art room. During the mass shooting in 2012, 28 died and two were injured. Posey is now a national advocate for school safety and travels the country to address preparedness. Co-host Harris County Sheriff’s Office supplied the session “Online Predators” with Gary Spurger, high tech crimes manager. Spurger gave an overview of online safety for students, focusing on protecting them from predators. Unbound Houston’s Christa Mayfield presented startling statistics on sex trafficking in teenagers in Texas as 79,000 students are victims of trafficking each year. Social media opens additional avenues for human trafficking, Mayfield explained. Large cities like Houston allow for trafficking opportunists because of our large population and ease of mobility because of multiple interstates. For more information about upcoming workshops offered by the CSSS, go to Source: HCDE
As communities across the nation take time out to “thank a principal” this month, HCDE produced a video as testament to our four principals’ hard work, commitment and care they put into their jobs. View video on YouTube:   Featured in the video are Dr. Anthony Moten, Fortis Academy(for recovering youth); Marion Cooksey Highpoint School (for adjudicated or troubled youth) ; Donna-Trevino Jones, Academic and Behavior School (ABS) East and Dr. Victor Keys, ABS West (schools for students with intellectual and emotional disabilities). “Our principals are on call long after the school day is over, and they are committed and connected to the special populations of students they serve,” said Superintendent James Colbert Jr. “We are thankful; these presentations serve as a small token of our appreciation.” Source: HCDE
View the new video produced about Academic and Behavior School West. The video is now available through HCDE’s YouTube channel (HCDEtv) and promotes the new school through social media and the news blog. The school opened this fall and welcomes both in-person and virtual student populations. Source: HCDE
Assistance League of Houston Head Start Readers Chairperson Marilyn Brooks delivered 234 children’s books this week to Venetia Peacock, senior Head Start director and Armando Rodriguez, community partnership manager. Through Operation School Bell, the League provides books and volunteers to read at the Pugh center. This year volunteers plan to read virtually to children due to COVID-19 precautionary measures. League volunteer Brooks, a former teacher, says the League and Head Start longtime partnership is a good match because both organizations share a mission to help children in need in school. Source: HCDE
At 47, Charissa Nealey found the long hours she worked to make ends meet at minimum wage jobs were taking time away from her children. As she applied for medical assistant positions, most employers wanted to see a certification. She enrolled in a free, virtual, six-week medical assistant certification course which is a collaborative between Harris County Department of Education Adult Education and Dean’s Professional Services. She had taken the exam and failed four times in the past. Within six weeks, Nealey gained her certification after studying for the rigorous exam. Salary ranges for her new profession will be $12-$28 an hour with the certification. She can work in hospitals, doctors’ offices or specialty clinics.
“As a woman who has learned a lot within these last couple of years of life, the only way for you to fail is when you don’t try,” she said. “Your children see what you do, not what you say.”
Lakisha Hunter is the HCDE Adult Education teacher who coteaches the Medical Assistant Certification course with a licensed vocational nurse. As instructor, Hunter works with students on test-taking skills, resume writing, interviewing, and reviewing the 17 modules required to pass the test. HCDE Adult Education provides classes in GED preparation, English as a second language and other workforce development programs in construction and medical fields throughout Harris County. Programs are supported through the Texas Workforce Commission. The medical assistant certification class is now virtual and is offered online in the evenings, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday so that students may still work while preparing for their certification. “You get the flexibility of being home, but because you are in your personal environment, it’s important for students to stay focused,” Hunter said. Projected growth in the medical assistant profession is fueled by the aging baby-boomer population. From 2019-2029, it’s estimated that there will be a 19 percent demand in growth for the profession. Deans Staffing Education Director Josh Allen says the three-hour exam is rigorous and has an average national pass rate of 76 percent. A two-year partnership with HCDE and Dean’s has resulted in approximately 200 students passing the test, averaging an 86 percent pass rate, well above  the national average, according to Allen. Many candidates in the class already have experience in the medical field, Allen said, who has 11 years of experience in the hospital industry himself. After passing the test, his company helps students gain employment. The pairing between HCDE Adult Education and Dean’s Staffing is a synergy of sorts as the medical instruction teacher and the adult education study skills teacher debrief each day and talk about which students need assistance with material review and learning strategies. “We look for students who are dedicated with a sense of commitment and motivation,” Allen said. “You can have a bad day, but we really need someone with perseverance who will see this to the end.” The medical assistant program can lead to further opportunities as many institutions such as hospitals provide career advancement for their employees. As the latest student to pass the test, Nealey looks at the opportunity as a medical assistant certification as a steppingstone. “I’m a single parent, and with a medical assistant certification I can work in many medical jobs,” Nealey said. “It’s a great accomplishment to be able to learn something within a six-week span and earn a certification. “This certificate has upped the ante on what I needed to do with my life—it really has.” (To inquire about future classes in the medical assistant certification program, go to .) Source: HCDE
Employee Theresa Perez is smitten with all-things sports, especially the Houston Astros. The executive assistant to Harris County Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent for Academic Support Jonathan Parker began her journey with HCDE in 1992 as the front desk receptionist at Irvington. During her 28-year career, Perez worked in staff development (now called the Teaching and Learning Center), Therapy Services (School-Based Therapy Services) and at Highpoint School North (now Fortis). She calls her boss of two years down to earth and very supportive. They tussle over sports teams as Parker likes the Cowboys, and she supports the Texans. Baseball, she says, is the pair’s true sports rivalry as former Dallas resident Parker likes the Rangers and she supports her Astros. He is warming up to the orange-and-blue, she admits. Perez’s love for the Astros led her to volunteer at 153 events last year. For that record, she earned the “Volunteer of the Year Award” from the Astros club. “My most exciting time as volunteer was when we went to the World Series in 2017,” she said, remembering Hurricane Harvey and Houstonians who held their team close to their hearts as the city’s rebuilding began. By working the games, she met players like Jose Altuve, Craig Biggio and her favorite player Jose Cruz. Through the Astros Foundation she volunteered with the Sunshine Kids Foundation. She made innumerable friendships through the 1,400 volunteers who serve the community and helped with community building project with organizations like Habitat for Humanity. Perez grew up in a sports family and remembers attending Houston Oilers games and sporting “Luv Ya Blue” attire. To this day, light blue is her favorite color and she still has a small crush on icon Dan Pastorini. As a little-known fact most fellow employees don’t know, Perez played on a women’s amateur baseball team as a young adult. The team earned its way to the equivalent of the World Series in Phoenix, Arizona. Her boss says she brings that same “team spirit” to her job as executive assistant. “She is a vital part of the Academic Support Division which includes School-Based Therapy Services, the Schools and Head Start,” he said. “We are better because she is on our team.
“She is always courteous and professional and oftentimes humorous.”
In terms of bucket lists of things she hasn’t done, Perez hopes to travel extensively with her newfound fur-baby Gunner, a bulldog she inherited from her son Joseph. “Since COVID, I got a lot closer to him, bought him a new leash and now he’s my best buddy,” she said. In the future, Perez says she plans to continue to live life to the fullest and keep thinking positive. Since 1992, she has seen a lot of folks come and go, including HCDE leaders. “HCDE is heading in the right direction in serving area students,” she said. “I have made my career here, and HCDE is my second family.” Source: HCDE
Poetry and prose are interwoven throughout National Student Poet Ethan Wang’s life. The Katy ISD teen who learned Chinese as his first language remembers memorizing Tang poetry as a toddler, an ancient poetry revered by his scholarly grandparents. By age 6, Wang won a school award for an essay he wrote about a book. Later that year, his mother Hong Qin recounted her son’s first beach trip that prompted an in-the-moment poem which demonstrated rare sensitivity and insightfulness:
“I really like the sea; it can bring something,” he said. “It also takes something.”
At 9, Wang crafted a short novel as a gift to a friend. As an 11th grader, he credits his debate coach and creative writing mentor Mary Sarver for introducing him to contemporary poets and encouraging him to continue his writing. “I can say with confidence I would not be here without her help,” Wang said of his new status as one of the top young poets in the nation. Sarver, who claims poetry as her wheelhouse, points to Wang’s remarkable use of imagery, metaphors and experimental language, calling the young writer “one of the most outstanding poets she has ever worked with.” The 16-year old gained three Gold Keys from regional Scholastic Art & Writing Awards sponsored by Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) last year. His work went on to be judged nationally in New York City and he earned a Gold Medal for his poem called “Cloth Ballad, Leather Trails.” This September, he was home eating lunch and got the call from the Awards which informed him of his new notoriety. Five National Student Poets were selected across the nation from various regions. He garnered the award, making him the top young poet from the Southwest. The National Student Poets Program is a partnership between the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists & Writers which presents the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Scholastic is the longest-running and most prestigious scholarship and recognition program for the country’s young artist and writers. The poets were selected from students in grades 10-11 who submitted more than 20,000 works. Only 35 semi-finalists were chosen by poet jurors. Finalists were asked to submit additional poetry from which the five were named. Wang gained $5,000 and the responsibility of representing the program through numerous literary events. “This is an incredible honor for Ethan Wang and his sponsoring teachers Karen Thompson and Mary Sarver from Cinco Ranch High School,” HCDE Scholastic Art & Writing coordinator Andrea Segraves said. “Since 1993 when we began regional sponsorship of Scholastic Art & Writing, we have never had a National Student Poet named from our region. “Harris County Department of Education celebrates this accomplishment and wishes Ethan the best in his future creative endeavors.” As Wang reflects on the memorized words and their cadences he gleaned while learning to talk as a toddler, he feels the imprint of the experience. “Poetry is about feeling and it’s important because it’s one of the few art forms left to effectively communicate feelings and stories,” he said. Wang encourages his peers to enter Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, even if it’s just to write for fun. “It helps young writers achieve recognition, and more importantly, it lets them be proud of their work,” he said. (HCDE is a regional affiliate of Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Writing and art submissions are currently being accepted through Dec. 4, 2020. For details, go to email Source: HCDE
Problem-solvers, parent-coaches, think-tankers and tech-savvy are terms which describe school-based therapists as they help students with physical and intellectual disabilities be successful through virtual learning. Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) School-Based Therapy Services employs 157 physical, occupational and music therapists and assistant therapists who work in 32 school districts and charter schools. HCDE’s team of highly trained therapists provide support for more than 7,000 students in greater Harris County with autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disabilities and other challenges. At a Glance, School-Based Therapy Services in 2019-2020:
  • 6,668 students served
  • 7,228 teachers/educators served
  • 24 ISDs served, 4 charter schools, 1 special education co-op, 1 nonprofit, 2 HCDE schools
  • Highest percentage population served are children with autism (32.7 percent)
  • Second-highest percentage population served are children with intellectual disabilities (23 percent)
 “Therapy sessions are conducted in a variety of ways, depending on the individual needs of the student,” HCDE School-Based Therapy Services Director Carie Crabb said. “Sometimes therapists are attending a virtual class lesson along with the student they are supporting. At other times, the therapist is providing a virtual session with a student and their parent or caregiver.” As therapists continue to meet a main goal of helping students succeed in the school setting, the biggest adjustment since the pandemic is with technology.  Districts first struggled to get equipment to families. Therapists then had to climb a steep technology learning curve themselves. “We are able to do things now that we never imagined possible before,” said Crabb. A student needs help with handwriting skills or with using a pair of scissors. Distraction-free home workspaces are set up to help students with attention-deficit disorders. Parents are shown how to use writing or typing accommodations such as text-to-speech devices with their children.

Leah Alba

HCDE manager and physical therapist Leah Alba talks about the qualities needed to be an excellent “tele-therapist.” “I think being a ‘tele-therapist,’ one needs to be patient, flexible, innovative and resourceful,” said Alba. When students began learning from home, she recalls challenges including computer connectivity, unfamiliarity with software and learning platforms, schedules and meeting parents’ needs. “But when you start seeing your students on the other end of the computer and how the parents participate during the session, it gave me a sense of purpose,” Alba said. “It was an opportunity for me to share my ideas with parents, problem-solve how their child can participate during instructional lessons, modify their environment, identify alternative strategies and help guide parents through the instructional routine.” Occupational therapist and HCDE manager Traci Gault has worked in school therapy for over a decade. She agrees with Alba about the pandemic making therapists “think outside the box.”

Traci Gault

“Therapists were able to successfully transition from in-person learning to virtual learning since we use a “coaching model,” Gault said. “Teachers and staff are shown and instructed in various strategies to help support students. These strategies are used by teachers and staff when providing support to their students daily.” As many districts return to in-person instruction, therapists are careful to follow strict guidelines set forth by each of those districts, including social distancing, plexiglass barriers and face masks. Manager Alba believes the feeling of being “connected” rings true for both in-person and virtual therapy. “If think the most difficult part about my new role as a manager in the virtual world is making sure everyone feels connected and stays motivated,” she said. “Phone calls, emails and virtual chat are still available, but it can still be difficult to ensure everyone feels connected and supported.” Crabb thinks of her staff of therapists as unsung heroes who have a deep sense of dedication and care for the students with disabilities whom they serve. “These challenging times have brought to light the hard word and selfless sacrifice that they put forth every day,” she said. Source: HCDE