Our Academic and Behavior School West opened this year during the pandemic. Because we couldn’t have a ribbon-cutting ceremony or open house, we’re sharing this virtual tour with our community.

Source: HCDE

Area educators gained valuable training for active shooter scenarios with Harris County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jeff McGowen on Nov. 12. The two-hour, online training was hosted through the Center for Safe and Secure Schools. “Civilian Response to Active Shooters Events (CRASE)” was free and allowed teachers and administrators to “think through” various school crime scenarios.

Some takeaways from CRASE:

When you find yourself in an open area with active shooter:

  • Seek immediate protection. Find a safe area and secure it the best you can.
  • Put something between you and the shooter.
  • Think it through: Is escape the option? Do you know where shooter is? Is escape immediately available.
  • Know your building’s floor plans.

When reporting the shooting to authorities:

  • State your specific location: building name, office and classroom number.
  • Report number of people at your specific location.
  • Let authorities know number of people injured and type of injuries.

When law enforcement officer enters room:

  • Do not present a threat to officers.
  • Do not point at officers or the shooter.
  • Do not make quick movements.
  • Do not run towards them or attempt to hug them.
  • Do not scream or yell.


Source: HCDE

Messages of hand-crafted joy sealed in envelopes are on their way to young patients at Texas Children’s Hospital.

Head Start students at Harris County Department of Education’s Head Start Center at Barrett Station participated in the “Holiday Cheer Cards” project through a collaborative with community partner Triose, Inc. and the Texas Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Triose is a national healthcare solutions company which helps medical institutions. The company’s Houston regional office provided individual art kits for students to create the cards.

Several of the Triose employees mentor children at the Head Start center through a program called SuperMENtors Read, a male, role-model volunteer initiative supported through HCDE Head Start.

“Being a SuperMENtor has been extremely rewarding,” said Antonio Lozano
district manager of field operations for Triose. “I enjoy being a part of something bigger than myself and giving back in a way that is meaningful to me.”

Equipped with markers, crayons and stickers the 3-year olds added personal touches to the holiday cards. Many of their older siblings created their own greetings at home to contribute to the project.

“Parents became inspired and started to bring us Christmas cards made by Head Start siblings who also wanted to be a part of the ‘spirit of giving’,” said Sylvia Davis, HCDE Head Start family services provider at the center.

“We believe that children hold the key to the future,” Davis said. “Research studies show that children who start early in childhood the spirit of giving through community service become responsible adults. This project fits in nicely within our Head Start curriculum that promotes community service.”

Lozano said he usually goes into the center once a month with a book and reads to a classroom of students at the center in Crosby, but the pandemic has put a halt on outside visitors. Sending in the holiday card kits give his mentees a little holiday spirit as they share their artwork with children in the hospital.

“I am fortunate to have the opportunity to give back to my community, and even more so to be able to partner with organizations like Head Start who we’re willing to take on this project with us while teaching the values of giving back and creating a sense of community with the students,” he said.

View the photo album from the event: https://tinyurl.com/y4hzaek5



Source: HCDE
For a second consecutive year, Harris County Department of Education gains notoriety as one of Houston’s Top large workplaces through the Houston Chronicle’s Top Workplaces 2020 program. View photos: https://tinyurl.com/y5aqnolb The Top Workplace program is unique because employees weigh in on their employer through a survey where participants remain anonymous. Topics include leadership, work-life balance, training, cooperation and pay/benefits. Companies are judged in three categories: small, medium and large companies. Top Workplaces rankings are determined by a scientific employee survey provided by Energage, an independent research company partnering with the Chronicle for the past 11 years. This year, 130 employers earned recognition as Top Workplaces in the three categories as 3,000 companies applied for the award. Eight-five percent of HCDE’s employees responded to the survey. HCDE was ranked no. 13 in the large company category, a 46 percent improvement over last year’s ranking of no. 24. “This honor shows that HCDE has a family culture and spirit which is valued by our employees,” HCDE Superintendent James Colbert Jr. said. “During this past year, adversity has come our way here and there, but that has done nithing but bring our employees closer together as a family. We are proud we have been able to support our families during the pandemic as we continue to provide high-quality education services to our clients. “HCDE is one of the best places I have worked in my career as a leader in education.”

Human Resources employee Monserrat Witine delivers Top Workplace cupcake to Cecile Porche, Head Start

HCDE provides education services to school districts and the community through a wide array of programs. Five pillar programs include afterschool, Head Start, special schools, school-based therapy services and adult education. Educator Dr. Colina Poullard works as HCDE curriculum director for digital education and innovation. As a teacher trainer, she says she likes working for HCDE because it allows her to serve a large sector of educators.
“Outside of just serving just one district, we get to serve educators in all 25 districts in Harris County, and beyond,” she said.
Employee Amy Thompson works for Educator Certification and Advancement, a HCDE division which trains professionals to become teachers, principals and superintendents.

Amy Thompson

“I value working at HCDE because everyone works as a partner here for the benefit of the students in greater Harris County, and all our hearts are into it,” Thompson said. Head Start employee Gino Kamaya appreciates the benefits programs offered by HCDE, he said. The department contributes to both Teacher Retirement System and Social Security and observes many school holidays, a plus for working parents. “Plus, the leadership team really cares about employees, and that’s the main reason I love working here,” Kamaya said.

Gino Kamaya

Superintendent Colbert said he is humbled that HCDE employees think so highly of the organization they work for.
“I can’t help but think they feel that way because of the trustees and administration and the valuable work in education that all our employees do which has purpose in the community,” Colbert said.
HCDE was founded in 1889 and employees approximately 1,100 employees. Other community programs and services the department provides include a purchasing cooperative, teacher training and records management. Source: HCDE

Four high-profile law professionals found common ground with troubled and recovering teens as the Harris County Department of Education Schools Division sponsored “The Law Society” Nov. 6.

Students from Highpoint Schools, HCDE’s school for adjudicated and troubled youth and Fortis Academy, HCDE’s school for recovering teens joined a virtual meeting with Harris County Judge Jeremy L. Brown, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Loudoun County Schools Certified Psychologist Dr. Charles A. Barrett and Harris County Deputy Sheriff H. Ihejirikah Jr.

During the hour-long Zoom session, guests fielded questions posed by HCDE Schools Division staff Nkechinyere Ihejirikah Washington and Gabriela Hernandez. The panel answered questions about overcoming hardships as teens, family dynamics, inequities in society, perceptions of law enforcement as youth and general advice on getting through adolescence.

At age 6, Gonzalez realized his father couldn’t read or write, and he was determined to get an education and become a lifelong learner.

“You should never stop learning and growing,” the sheriff said.

Judge Brown admitted to teens that he had issues with authority figures telling him what to do as a teen.

“I have to take a step back when people talk to me and take direction from what they are saying,” the judge said.

When asked to define trauma, Barrett said he sees it as any circumstance which makes one feel unsafe and affects you physically or emotional. Examples given included gang violence or living in a violent household.

“Trauma does affect you,” he said. “It affects how much you pay attention in school and can have mental health and behavior effects.”

In Harris County, 90,000 children each year must deal with a parent who is incarcerated, Gonzalez noted. Those children inherit the trauma and often become statistics in the criminal justice system themselves.

For advice on overcoming adversity, Ihejirikah urged teens to be patient in their youth and enjoy the moment.

“Enjoy your experiences, no matter how tumultuous and no matter how joyous those occasions are,” he said. “Experiences add to your character, your life story.”

Gonzalez shared his positive outlook on growing up, suggesting that teens look to mentors and friends for help.

“If you are going through depression, it’s okay to talk to others,” he said. “We’re all vulnerable, but don’t stay in that place.”

Source: HCDE
Celebrating its 35th year, the R.T. Garcia Early Childhood Winter Conference is set for Jan. 30, 2021 from 8 a.m.3:30 p.m. Held virtually this year, the conference provides national presenters Eric Litwin, New York Times bestselling children’s author and guitar-strumming hero. Dual keynote speaker Kenneth Wesson, consultant and child neuroscience expert, provides insight on how young brains work. The conference attracts approximately 1,000 educators of children in grades pre-k through second and includes breakout sessions from local and national presenters. Attendees leave with lessons and ideas which may be used in the classroom immediately.


Litwin is the author of Pete the Cat series; The Nuts; and Groovy Joe. He is also a musician-storyteller as he sings and performs on the guitar and harmonica.


Wesson’s presentation is entitled: “Early Brain Research and Dealing with Today’s New Normal in Early Learning.” The neuroscience researcher often poses the question: “If it’s your job to develop the mind, shouldn’t you know how the brain works?” Conference breakout sessions supplied by local and national presenters include child growth and development; diversity and dual-language learners; family and community relationships; learning environments; planning framework; and curriculum and standards. A virtual vendor section provides educational materials and products. The largest early childhood conference in Texas is named after former HCDE Board President R.T. Garcia, a longtime supporter of early childhood education. Cost of the conference is $75. Attend the live sessions and pose questions and comments through a virtual platform or view the sessions post-conference. Register today: https://tinyurl.com/ECWC21. Source: HCDE

Ninety computers found their way into the laps of Head Start teachers and family service providers as families returned to Head Start classes virtually this fall. The successful transition would not have been possible without the $1.2 million supplied by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act 2020.

The act provided $750 million for Head Start programs throughout the nation, and funding was distributed by formula based on each Head Start grantee’s funded enrollment.

Children at HCDE’s 14 Head Start/Early Head Start centers and five childcare partnerships in northeast Houston were able to return to school virtually because of the funding.

The CARES Act also funded software to support training and professional development for teachers and staff.

Finally, the funding provided personal protection equipment such as masks, gloves and cleaning supplies to 300 staff members, benefitting 1,060 children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old in northeast Harris County.

“During the pandemic, we had to go to remote learning to meet the needs of our families,” HCDE Senior Head Start Director Venetia Peacock said. “When technology issues arose from having older computers which slowed by the new software, we knew we had a problem.”

Between Zoom, Microsoft Teams, a classroom management software called Dojo and other software and application downloads, the old laptops were strained. The laptops also supplied convenience so that desktop computers didn’t have to be transported to-and-from home to office.

“CARES Act funding couldn’t have arrived at a better time,” Peacock said.

Now that staff and students are back in the classroom in person, the laptops still provide flexibility in the event numbers rise and its necessary to go back to virtual instruction.

“The laptops allow us to move fluidly between in-person and virtual learning as classrooms or campuses are affected by COVID-19,” the senior director said.

Staff use their newfound technology skills to promote social distancing as they communicate with parents and other staff via Zoom and Teams.

“It’s a blessing to have our students and staff back, but we are now empowered to stay engaged with our families through virtual instruction if the numbers rise,” Peacock said.




Source: HCDE

Writers in the Schools (WITS) teams with the Harris County Department of Education Teaching and Learning Center to present “Teachers, WRITE!” The 4th annual workshop will be held virtually this year on Dec. 15 and focuses on boosting teaching abilities in our new and changing educational landscape.

The two-part workshop begins with “Diving In: Incorporating Empathy in Social and Emotional Learning” and “The Writer’s Way,” designed to deepen the practice of teachers as writers and offer useful ways to cultivate the habits of a writer.

“Teachers WRITE!” is led by two authors who work within WITS and is designed for teachers in all grade levels and content areas. The workshop uses writing as a tool to connect and build community with students.

Cost is $75 for in-county educators and $88 for out-of-county. Registration: https://tinyurl.com/y4a5k9z6

Source: HCDE

Families struggling with the financial backlash of the pandemic will benefit from a $5,400 award in school supplies donated through the Assistance League of Houston’s signature philanthropic program called Operation School Bell. Students at Harris County Department of Education’s Compton, Fonwood and Pugh Head Start centers gain the school supplies made available through a school supply list on Amazon.

“We want to do everything we can to help children succeed in school,” said Stella Evensen, Operation School Bell co-chair. “We are so proud we could do this and come together for the community.”

Pre-k teachers and center managers ordered items including reading books, games, arts and crafts, backpacks and play dough for the classroom. Funds also went to purchase face masks and shields.

Evensen said uncertainties like delayed school start dates made online ordering of supplies the perfect solution. Co-chair Aida Ledet assists Evensen as they equip 26 Houston-area schools with supplies, including the three Head Start centers.

Throughout the years, the Assistance League of Houston has donated more than 10,000 uniforms to HCDE Head Start children. This year the pandemic prompted the need for the school supplies instead.

“We are thankful for the Assistance League of Houston as they continue to support our families,” HCDE Head Start Senior Director Venetia Peacock said.

Throughout the years, the Assistance League of Houston has donated more than 10,000 uniforms to HCDE Head Start children. For more information on Operation School Bell, visit http://www.assistanceleague.org/houston.

To enroll your child in HCDE Head Start or Early Head Start, go to http://www.hcde-texas.org/head-start.

Source: HCDE
Music is the voice box in Omar Reyna’s life.  The musician uses seven years of guitar and piano instruction to his advantage as a school-based music therapist, a licensed health professional. He truly identifies with his students at Academic and Behavior School East because he has experienced their struggles. ABS East is a school for children with intellectual and emotional disabilities which serves area school districts through Harris County Department of Education. At age 7, he barely spoke but turned to music to transpose his emotions.  Diagnosed on the autism spectrum, he experienced pervasive development disorder, a delay in development of socialization and communication skills. Through support from his mother, he was mainstreamed into a regular classroom by third grade. Reyna uses his skills in musical performance, lessons, songwriting, and listening as part of an integrative course of therapy in the school setting to improve children’s social, emotional, physical and/or cognitive abilities. A team of nine music therapists work with 150 physical and occupational therapists to serve children through Harris County Department of Education’s School-Based Therapy Services. They provide 54 percent of school-based therapy in the county to area school districts. At ABS East, Reyna works with elementary-aged, life skills students to gain beneficial social skills, focusing on one social skill each week. This week that skill is dealing with anger, and Reyna is working with Blake and John, two fourth graders.
“You’re feeling upset?” Reyna asks the boys. “Show it to me through your playing.”
The students work their emotions on tambourine and drums, and Reyna orchestrates a pause. The music therapist covers other coping devices for dealing with anger, sharing the tools and asking questions. Count to 10 and take a break. Tell an adult about your problem. Talk it out. What else? “My job is to try to meet them in the middle and validate their feelings, because we don’t want those feelings to lead to a negative trajectory,” Reyna said. Since a large sector of students at ABS East is autistic, Reyna will work on social skills like personal greetings or creating personal space.
“Having music as a motivator not only builds rapport but also keeps students more engaged so that I may instill positive ideas,” he said.
Music therapists also use elements like cadence, lyrics and melody to also solicit physical and speech outcomes with students. For Reyna, the idea to become a music therapist clicked at a college fair. He was envisioning becoming a pianist or mariachi guitar player. Then he heard the story about how music therapy helped trauma injury patient Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. After five years at Sam Houston State, Reyna secured an internship with HCDE’s School-Based Therapy Services and was later offered a job. ABS East Principal Dr. Donna Trevino-Jones says her school has used music therapy for two years. She witnessed the benefits firsthand. Recalling a student who was nonverbal, she witnessed him come out of his shell and begin communicating through music therapy. “For our students to be able to find a different outlet to express themselves is very important,” Trevino-Jones said.  “Once I saw what music therapy could do for the students, I thought: ‘We need more of that.’” Reyna now visits ABS East for two hours, five days a week. Deeper emotional connections are made as visits become daily versus weekly. “It has been a gamechanger for students to be able to use their words to express their feelings rather than their actions,” Trevino-Jones said. For Reyna, the music travels with him long after he closes his guitar case and packs up his small, percussion instruments. He carries it forward to motivate himself to work out or relax when he’s stressed out. He knows the music will speak to his students as well.
“Music can break through barriers, and it’s universal,” he said. “Finding what drives someone music-wise can be very powerful.”
For information about HCDE’s School-Based Therapy Services or schools for children with special needs, go to http://www.hcde-texas.org. Source: HCDE