Parent Engagement Liaison
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 Hernandez 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 HCDE'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.
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-area 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 more than 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,” Ihejirikah said. "I believe all students can learn."
Meilssa James is a Behavioral Specialist for Harris County Department of Education’s Schools Division. While it’s a challenge to understand and redirect the behavior of multiple special needs students, Harris County Department of Education behavioral specialist Melissa James considers it the perfect job. Each student at ABS East and West has an individualized education program within HCDE’s small class setting. James observes student behavior and works one-on-one with students and teachers to identify behavioral solutions and to support and eliminate inappropriate student behavior. James has extensive experience as a counselor and holds master’s degrees in psychology and education administration. She is a certified special education administrator and spent numerous years educating children with behavioral challenges at public, private and nonprofit institutions, including Avondale House, which specializes in autism services and resources. When evaluating each student in meetings called the admission, review and dismissal (ARD) process, James looks for triggers or antecedents that will lead to inappropriate behavior. What works with one student won’t work with another. Sharing behavior strategies and coaching teachers is part of James’ daily routine. “My goal is to help students learn to assess their own behaviors and understand how their actions affect their own learning and safety, as well as the safety of those around them,” James said. In shaping student behavior, the behavior specialist knows that young futures are charted as well.