In today’s school landscape, cyberbullying replaces the old-school modes of bullying: folded paper notes shared in class or messages written on bathroom stalls. With prevention strategies in mind, teens and counselors from eight area school districts met for the “No Place for Hate Youth Summit” Nov. 8.

The event, spearheaded by the Anti-Defamation League held at University of Houston Central Law School, was funded in part by the federally funded STOP School Violence grant provided by Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) Center for Safe and Secure Schools (CSSS).

“The primary goal of the grant is to reduce school violence by creating a positive school culture and climate through various adult and student training sessions, and the Youth Summit is focused on the same outcome—reducing school violence through anti-bullying awareness training. The synergy couldn’t have been better,” said Dennis Calloway, grant manager for the CSSS.

Jason Brown, seventh-grade counselor at McAuliffe Middle School in Fort Bend Independent School District, said the use of social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram for cyberbullying has increased 100 percent in recent years.

“What the Internet and social media allows is for someone to hide behind their computers and not face the person who they are negatively impacting,” said Brown.

He credits David’s Law, Texas Senate Bill 179, making it a crime to cyberbully during and after school hours.

“Cyberbullying is not just wrong morally, but it’s also now criminally wrong,” said the counselor who praised his district for being proactive in reducing cyberbullying.

Julia Andrew is director for HCDE’s CSSS and says the summit helps support positive school climates. Besides providing services such as safety audits for school districts, the CSSS promotes trainings which help build healthy relationships on school campuses, part of a larger initiative called social-emotional learning.

“Students sometimes feel there is no place to go and just accept cyberbullying,” said Andrews. “There are 261 students here today who are saying that it is not okay.”
Students Macian Fussell and Emilia Strother attended the summit to gain strategies to take back to McAuliffe Middle School. Proactive tactics include taking screen shots of bullying on social media and sharing the proof with teachers and administrators at the school.

“We are learning how to deal with cyberbullying, but it’s difficult,” said Strother.
“I tell my friends to ignore it (cyberbullying) and don’t let it get you off-track. You can go to an adult and talk all your problems away.”

As students who can connect to classmates in several different social circles, the two girls are what Counselor Brown calls “influencers.”

Julia Andrews, Jason Brown, Janice Owalabi

“We are looking for workable solutions that the kids will take back into their schools and spread to their friends,” said Brown. “That’s our goal.”

One idea the teen influencers invent is “Free Compliments Monday,” a day to build relations versus eroding them. Another is “Blue Shirt Day,” a suicide awareness day to bring awareness to the results of bully.

At day’s end, students and teachers have cultivated some good ideas—concrete solutions to combat the negativity of social media and cyberbullying. They know what they can do to stop bullying when they see it, but they also have ideas about building a positive school community.

(This project was supported by Grant No. 2018-YS-BX-0153 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Program, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U. S. Department of Justice.)

Source: HCDE
Harris County Department of Education Head Start is hosting a pre-school equipment and materials community sale on Saturday, Nov. 16, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 709 Melbourne St., Houston, TX 77009. Items included in the sale include child size furnishings such as: cubbies, tables, chairs, shelves, pretend-play furniture, Letter People early childhood curriculum, books and more. Only cash will be accepted the day of the sale and items must be taken away immediately. Source: HCDE
An estimated 80 percent of humans trafficked in our country are American, disputing the notion that most are immigrants. Former U.S. Rep. Ted Poe shared statistics and his passion for helping human trafficking victims in an event hosted by Children At Risk and the Center for Safe and Secure Schools held Nov. 5 at Harris County Department of Education. Presenters included Children At Risk staff, Love People Not Pixels organization, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office for Sex Crimes and Trafficking, human trafficking survivor Sandy Storm and Poe, an ardent supporter of victims’ rights. Survivor Storm shared her personal story as a victim of human trafficking. American born, Storm was raised by her single mother who was influenced by a businessman who victimized both mother and daughter. Later, Storm turned to drugs to numb her life experiences. She was awakened by a human trafficking awareness event where she realized that she was a victim. Today she is writing her third books about the experience and presents throughout the nation to raise awareness.
“All it took was a man with power and money and me being vulnerable,” Storm said.
Storm explains human trafficking as being a buying and selling of bodies and souls and differentiates porn as the renting and leasing of bodies and souls. Storm recognizes technological advances for enabling and proliferating pornography and human trafficking. Children at Risk attorney Jamie Caruthers urged educators to look for red flags with children and teens Those include dramatic changes in behavior, talking about sexual activities that exceed age-group norms, barcode or ownership tattoos and physical signs of abuse or reluctance to explain injuries. In Texas, approximately 900,000 children attend school within one mile of illegal massage businesses acting as fronts for human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
“It is important that educators, parents and community members are aware of this growing epidemic of Human Trafficking across the country, but specifically in Harris County,” said Center for Safe and Secure Schools Director Julia Andrews. “Our young students are being trafficked and raising the awareness of what to look for can literally be a life-or-death situation. HCDE’s Center continues to provide the Human Trafficking Summit and awareness trainings throughout the year to put a stop to this horrible crime in our city.”
Johna Stallings from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office of Sex Crimes and trafficking discussed Project 180, a local program that helps female victims ages 18-24. About 90 percent of the women helped have backgrounds of child sexual abuse, she said. “Almost every single one of these women have been victimized,” she said. “There is an escalation of risky behavior, and after that their self-worth diminishes.” Project 180 helps the women get away from their pimps and connects them with social services. Stalling also shared the district attorney office’s aggressive campaign to expose and prosecute sex buyers and sellers. In closing the summit, Poe urged attendees to contact their legislators to support victims of human trafficking. “A 13-year old girl that is trafficked is not a prostitute,” he said. “They can’t consent. “Treat these people like victim of crimes. They need help.” For more information about human trafficking—the problems and possible solutions—go to, or Source: HCDE
Helping others help themselves is a life vocation for 30-year Harris County Department of Education GED teacher Jackie Livingston. Her commanding presence is mesmerizing, and her class is a theatrical performance of exaggerated movement and knowledge. Today her community classroom in Spring Branch is abuzz with inferences. Is a truck or a car better? Students orally share their preferences. “Kiss your brains because you have it going on,” their teacher exclaims. Now, the moment of truth is at hand. “Did anyone do their homework assignment?” she asks. It’s so quiet you can hear the air.
“What is that you say?” asks Livingston. “The dog ate it?  Okay now.”
It’s only week three into class, and her adult learners are building confidence. Slowly, two students turn over their thesis statements. Teacher “Jackie” likes challenge and urges others to follow. Over the years, she remembers the toughest tests. The student who battled cancer came to class with her life-thread supply of oxygen. An immigrant who knew not one word of English faithfully attended GED class for almost two years before he got his high school equivalency degree. All the while, his family discouraged him. “Perfect attendance,” Jackie said, smiling at the memory. Math hater Chris De La Cruz is returning to school after a decade to get his GED for a work promotion as a pipe cutter. “She’s really patient,” said De La Cruz, 29. “When I find things are difficult, she explains.” In Ms. Jackie’s class, students work together to solve equations and answer reading passages. She encourages collaboration. That’s the way of the workforce, she says. HCDE Adult Education Manager May O’Brien said Livingston has never complained about completing the tedious, mandatory attendance reports. She also calls students to encourage regular attendance. Livingston goes above-and-beyond by encouraging students to become members of the Texas Association of Literacy and Adult Education, where they can earn GED scholarships for test registration. Although GED classes are free on a first-come, first-served basis, tests can prove costly to students if they are taken repeatedly. Livingston encourages students to take practice tests to prove they’re ready. That’s just half the battle. She must follow up and encourage hesitant students to take the test plunge. Over the years, she’s tried to retire. Retirement just doesn’t stick. “I’m just passionate about helping others,” she said. “When you get that ah-ha moment, it’s rewarding to the students and to me as well. I can do something to help someone else, and that’s all I know.” HCDE Adult Education Adult Education is the largest, no-cost adult education program in Texas, with a variety of health care and construction career training options in Harris and Liberty counties. Students may also take English as a second language classes and high school equivalency degree classes simultaneously in a traditional classroom setting or online. For more information, go to Source: HCDE
Longtime Choice Partners vendor Facility Sources likes to use a Hurricane Harvey story to illustrate why school district and municipality members of the Choice Partners national purchasing cooperative benefit from easy-to-use, legal contracts for their facilities solutions. At the 2019 Annual Vendor Exhibit “Catch the Procurement Wave” held in southeast Houston, the company’s project manager Wayne Bryant took a few minutes to reflect on the past two busy-yet-productive years. Rewind back to August 2017 when Humble ISD’s Kingwood High School took in six feet of water. District officials estimated a full year for repairs in order to get students back onto campus from the neighboring Summer Creek High School where they had to share space. “They had called a couple of job order contractors and one had backed out because they didn’t know if they could handle the task,” Bryant recalled. “We were able to expedite the project and get the kids back into school by Spring Break 2018,” he said. The 700-plus vendors in Choice Partners co-op offer services ranging from construction JOC to consulting services to food supplies and equipment. Some approximate 1,500 members benefit from time-and- money saved, plus legally bid contracts.

“During this annual vendor exhibit event, our members and vendors are able to exchange valuable information face-to-face,” said Jeff Drury, Choice Partners director.

More than 100 members networked with the 119 attending vendors at the event held at Bayou City Events Center. One of the newest vendors showcasing services at the expo was Versa Creative, who joined the co-op to offer a variety of marketing and advertising services to Choice Partners members. Founder Mary Shekari and client services specialist Karaline Harrell staffed the booth in Hawaiian attire, providing detailed information about the types of service Versa Creative offers. “We’ve been in business for 10 years but have recently become a Choice Partners vendor and are honored to have been awarded a contract with Choice,” Harrell said. “We’re excited to partner with all the members because we have a special place in our hearts for nonprofits and educational entities.” For more information on how to become a Choice Partners vendor or a member, go to Source: HCDE
Educators hear about how to protect children from human trafficking at the Human Trafficking Summit Nov. 5 from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. at Harris County Department of Education, 6300 Irvington, Houston. View video: From thoughts from Congressman Ted Poe to stories from human trafficking survivor Sandy Storm, the collaborative between Children at Risk and HCDE’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools supplies wrap-around prevention approaches to the widespread problem of human trafficking. Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against their will. “In order to break the cycle, we must understand the magnitude and how Houston families fall victim to human trafficking,” said Julia Andrews, director for the Center for Safe and Secure Schools. The center supports school safety best practices, safety audits and restorative discipline for area schools and districts. “The I-10 corridor is a huge hub for trafficking, and we must realize the threat and act to protect our children,” said Andrews. Cost to attend is $20. Register: Summit Agenda: Demand and Data, Jamey Caruthers, senior staff attorney, Children at Risk (8-9 a.m.) What Parents Need to Know, Joe Madison, executive director, Children at Risk (9-10 a.m.) Protecting Kids in the Porn Age, Sandy Storm, survivor, author, speaker and human trafficking abolitionist (10:15-11:15 a.m.) Lunch and Networking  (11:15 a.m.-12 p.m.) Project 180, a wraparound approach between multiple Houston agencies, including the Harris County District Attorney’s Office (Noon-1:30 p.m.) Congressman Ted Poe discusses human trafficking initiatives (1:30-2 p.m.) Source: HCDE
Harris County Department of Education named five media representatives to the 2019 Media Honor Roll for 2019.   Representatives being honored this year by HCDE are Rose-Ann Aragon, KPRC 2; Kaitlin Monte, KRIV 26; Gilbert Hoffman, North Channel Star, Highlands Star and Crosby Courier (Grafikpress Corporation); Juan Beltran, KTRK 13; and Chris McDonald, formerly with KIAH 39. The Media Honor Roll, sponsored by the Texas Association of School Boards, honors media representatives statewide who deserve recognition for fair, accurate and balanced reporting of news about public schools. Plaques and a media release provide recognition. Each year HCDE selects local media representatives for recognition of their outstanding contributions to education.  Criteria for HCDE’s selection process include the media representative’s efforts to report school news in a fair, accurate and balanced manner and give a high profile to positive news about education. Multimedia journalist and education reporter Aragon is honored for a feature story she reported on regarding a car giveaway to a needy Head Start mother. Fox co-anchor Monte served as emcee for a ceremony recognizing afterschool providers for the Center for Afterschool, Summer and Enrichment for Kids, or Case for Kids. Publisher Hoffman is celebrated for his continued support in publishing information about HCDE education events which benefit the community. Multimedia journalist Beltran shared a story about teens recovering from addiction who attend the county’s first public recovery high school called Fortis Academy. Videographer/reporter McDonald provided coverage of a fine arts summer program which helps disadvantaged children. “We believe it’s important to single out individuals who deserve recognition for their outstanding contributions to education and celebrate them,” said HCDE Superintendent James Colbert Jr.  “We are grateful for these talented professionals.” This year’s honorees appear on the Texas Association of School Board’s website at as more than 300 representatives from Texas newspapers, radio and television stations and online publications representatives are honored statewide. Source: HCDE
After being diagnosed with breast cancer a second time, school-based occupational therapist Meredith Miller considers herself a “thriver” versus a survivor. Like many of the students with disabilities she serves, Miller knows how difficult it can be to navigate the medical or therapy world to get the services you need. She feels the pith of anxiety that goes with tending to family, work and fighting cancer–twice. “My journey has taught me the importance of extending grace to others, and how to do it,” said the HCDE therapist, who works in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. As a school-based occupational therapist, the 12-year HCDE employee supports students’ academic achievement and social participation in all school routines, including recess, classroom, and cafeteria time. Her boss, Amy Collins, calls Meredith a “tremendous asset to Cy-Fair ISD and HCDE.” She is talented as a therapist and committed to students and schools she serves, says her manager. The Scary Ride: In 2012 at age 34, Miller was diagnosed with stage 0 breast cancer. It had not spread to other cells in the breast or to other organs. Similar to actress Angelina Jolie who has the BRCA1 mutation gene, Miller had the BRCA2 mutation gene, causing an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. She opted for a double mastectomy followed by immediate reconstruction of the tissue. As she neared her five-year mark of being cancer-free, Miller was doing a self-check exam and felt a lump as small as a grain of rice during a self-check exam. “And so begins the whirlwind of tests,” said the wife and mother. An ultrasound followed, then a mammogram and biopsy. The phone call from the doctor came next. “Are you sitting down?” the doctor asked. “It’s cancer. I’m so sorry.” Two weeks later, there was a plan to do a lumpectomy followed by four-to-six rounds of chemo. Results looked good, but tests showed her silicone implants were leaking. “We go back to surgery, but this time I opt to have both implants removed and will not undergo reconstruction,” she said. “The medical community considers this a second double mastectomy.” Summer of 2017, Miller underwent more chemo and returned during the fall to do daily radiation. On Thanksgiving week, she rang the bill to signify she was cancer-free. Life After Cancer: Cancer is a nasty voice in Miller’s head which is always there. She tries to live in the now and not focus on the trivial. Faith, she says, carries her forward each day.
“After all of this, I don’t think I will ever feel like cancer is behind me,” she said. “It raises its ugly head every time I have a new pain, or something is off in the way I feel. I battle this every day to try to stay positive and focused on the joy in my life.”
It’s important to pull strength from the people who support you, she says, and from God. “I recalled many days I could barely get out of bed and I would call out to God,” she said. Her advice to others includes doing self-exams and yearly mammograms. “Be cognizant of your body and listen to that little voice inside your head,” she said. “I thank God every day that I listened.” About HCDE’s School-Based Therapy Services: We support children with disabilities and their families in the areas of occupational (OT), physical (PT) and music therapy (MT) since 1978. Support comes through assessment, intervention, consultation, training and direct service in the student’s classroom at their neighborhood school and district. We serve more than 7,000 students yearly, providing more than half of OT, PT and MT services to districts/charters in the county. Source: HCDE
Hummus, dill, Names Will Never Hurt Me and Pistol were some of the new foods and books Fortis Academy students tested during a recent class assignment. Fortis Academy teachers Rachel Finley and Ouindetta Thomas wanted to introduce their students to new flavors and peak their interest in different genres of books. “Thus, the food and book tasting was invented,” said Finley. Students sat at an elegantly dressed table and were treated to multiple samples of food. They each tried five samples and wrote a brief description of the taste, texture and whether they liked it or not. Senior Karen Espinoza liked the prosciutto ham after never eaten it before. “I like ham and cheese, but it looked different and didn’t seem appealing,” she said. “It does have a different taste so it was new to me but was good.” The French macaron was a favorite for freshman Elmer Cante. “It had a sweet taste to it and was good,” he said. Next, students experienced a literary dessert. Books were covered at each place setting and walked around the table with music. When the music stopped and the place they were standing at was the book they were going to try. Students were given eight minutes to read the front and back cover and read the first few pages of the book. When time was up, they recorded their thoughts about the book and repeated the exercise for five books. After the teens completed the tasting, they had a table discussion to discuss their favorite foods and books along with their least favorite foods and books. Students filled out a reflection napkin to let Finley and Thomas know what they liked and did not like about the overall tasting. “In doing this tasting, Ms. Thomas wanted to help her students get a better understanding of food flavors for future recipe and culinary projects, and I wanted to get them excited about the Fortis library and help them recognize other literary interest that they did not know they had,” Finley said. Source: HCDE
Concerns over implementing new mental health initiatives in schools and general care for school safety brought approximately 240 educators to Harris County Department of Education Oct. 15 for the School Safety Forum. The event hosted by the Center for Safe and Secure Schools and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) supplied international and local speakers on topics ranging from mental health to gang violence to emergency operations planning. Those included Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, renowned psychologist Scott Poland and emergency preparedness expert Michael Dorn. Many administrators attended to learn more about mental health and compliance with Senate Bill 11, a bill supported by Gov. Greg Abbott as an effort to prevent school violence and protect Texas children. “The bill better prepares and equips schools to handle security threats and provide resources to support the mental health of students and staff,” said CSSS Director Julia Andrews. “The center is committed to helping our area districts with school safety concerns.” Superintendent James Colbert Jr. welcomed the administrators and safety experts as the forum opened:
“I ask you to find something purposeful out of what you learn today so that we can all be proactive at trying to prevent some of these problems,” Colbert said.
Assistant principal Raymond Lowery from Alief ISD said he came to the forum to learn about what the community is doing overall to keep schools safe and what kind of preventative measures are in place to help him gage where his campus stands in terms of school safety enhancements. He left reassured about his campus and district’s social and emotional learning efforts and safety updates. His testimonial: Tina Seamon, Katy ISD assistant principal, complimented the quality of information she took away from the forum. Her testimonial: “Not only were the speakers full of knowledgeable information, we also heard from Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez,” she said. “He shared his passion for wanting to help not only students and their parents, but the entire community.”

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez addresses the School Safety Forum, October 15, 2019.

Michael Dorn addresses the School Safety Forum, October 15, 2019.

Source: HCDE