“Special” doesn’t begin to describe the magic of “Special Olympics.” More than 2,500 HISD athletes — from preschoolers through high school — are set to compete in three Field Days, April 29, 30, and May 1 at Barnett Stadium.
This is the purest form of sport, done for the sheer joy of participation and for each athlete’s personal sense of accomplishment. Special Olympics athletes are exceptional in their perseverance and inspirational in their ability to create a spirit of inclusion and acceptance for those with intellectual disabilities, instead of limiting them.
This week, I recorded a video greeting for the HISD games with Whitney, an eighth-grader at Hamilton Middle School, who’s training for soccer and basketball competitions — and getting ready for high school at Reagan next fall. Her exuberance is contagious. She’s my new hero, and I told her so.
Tickets for the HISD Field Days are available, and volunteers are still needed. I’m proud that so many HISD staff members are helping, including entire departments. I was going to make my own pitch, but I can’t possibly be more persuasive than the words of the volunteer oath administered at the opening ceremonies.
I promise to give of the time in my life, so that Special Olympics athletes can have the time of their lives. I promise to support Special Olympics not just as an expression of charity, but as a form of respect for my fellow human beings. I promise to spread the word of volunteerism because in giving, I receive so much more in return. – Volunteer Oath
The graduation season began formally last week as we honored our top seniors at HISD’s annual Scholars Banquet, and it was rewarding to see tangible examples of how our work of the past five years is paying off.
The 96 valedictorians and salutatorians — and their classmates, who will stride across stages next month — have been both enriched and challenged by increased rigor, and so their achievements loom especially large. They’ve met the challenge of AP and dual-credit classes and programs such as International Baccalaureate, Early College High Schools, and Futures Academies to become college-ready learners armed with career awareness and skills. read more…
This is a great time of the school year, as we finish our year’s studies and prepare for what next year will bring – whether it’s promotion to a new grade and fresh challenges, a different school, or graduation and higher education or workforce training.
High-stakes testing and anticipating those changes also make this one of the most stressful times of the year, and that’s why it seemed fitting this week that we announced the expansion of a program that is helping thousands of our students cope with anxiety and challenges.
This health and wellness program uses yoga poses and breath-control exercises along with group discussions and nutrition and character education to help students reduce stress, sharpen their focus, and stay calm. In partnership with the Sonima Foundation, 14,000 HISD students at 26 schools are now improving their health — both physical and mental. We started the program this year at 12 schools.
Athletics and purely physical activity still have their place to teach healthy competition, perspective, and teamwork. But we’re excited about this new program that promotes the connection between a healthy body and healthy mind through lifelong wellness and a balanced life.
Wow, do our magnets attract! The figures are impressive — nearly 21,000 students (and their parents) filed 65,000 applications to HISD magnet programs last December, most of them online. This past Friday, they learned the results through a designated website and via email notification.
This exemplifies several leaps that we’ve taken in HISD. When I first arrived here more than five years ago, magnet reform was a high priority. We’ve taken steps toward accountability and equalizing funding — and the growing response and success of our online application and lottery process is a sign that we’ve become more equitable about getting the word out about our school choices and how to take advantage of them.
The magnet process doesn’t end here. Many of the schools will be staging “Magnet Signing Day” events to celebrate acceptances and commitments, and from 9 a.m. until noon on April 25, we’ll be holding a School Choice Fair at district headquarters, 4400 W. 18th St., to highlight programs at the many wonderful campuses which still have openings.
With the variety of offerings from kindergarten through high school — encompassing academic and career focus, international and language interests, arts, STEM, Montessori, and more — we’re proud to be able to match students’ interests and aptitudes to programs that will help them relate what they’re learning to their futures.
HISD is in the middle of creating a profile highlighting the qualities and skills our graduates should possess to be competitively “global” – ready to function in this increasingly complex world. Among others, the characteristics we’ve identified are leadership, communications, and critical thinking skills.
Our HISD Student Congress — of students, by students, for students — has a jump on meeting that profile. The congress blossomed from senior Zaakir Tameez’s project last spring at Carnegie Vanguard HS, with an initial group of high school juniors and seniors from Bellaire, Carnegie, Lamar, and Yates high schools, to a districtwide group today representing more than 30 of our high schools.
Through our multi-pronged PowerUp initiative, HISD has become a national leader in digital learning, and it’s exciting to be sharing what we’ve implemented about anytime-anywhere, personalized education.
Before the board of trustees meeting Thursday, students from 41 of our schools will show new ways of learning at a Digital Learning Expo in the lobby of HISD headquarters. We’re one of only four districts in the U.S. invited to present at the national Digital Learning Day Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington, D.C. Friday, to help demonstrate what “future-ready schools” look and feel like. The following week, we’ll be highlighted among Education Week’s “Leaders To Learn From” at that magazine’s national conference in D.C.
The best thing about powering up digitally is that learning doesn’t have to stop because you’ve left the classroom, because there’s ice on the highways, because you have the sniffles — even because it’s spring break.
The STAAR English end-of-course exams will be administered at the end of March, and, they’re among five tests every Texas high school student must pass to graduate. In HISD, thanks to PowerUp and our HUB, students who need that extra boost can take our own district-created multimedia tutorials any time they want.
Creating these tutorials and helping students earn their diplomas is just the latest way we’re showing digital leadership.
Every day, you can find examples in HISD schools of how community partners are enriching our students’ lives. Let me give you two from the past week.
This is National Read Aloud Month, and it’s always kicked off on Dr. Seuss’ birthday with Read Aloud Day, which was widely celebrated around HISD. At Walnut Bend ES, Dr. Seuss’ books came to life for pre-kindergartners and first-graders as Thing 1, the Cat in the Hat, and other characters visited. They were dedicated volunteers from the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and Phillips 66, both major supporters of HISD’s Read Houston Read program which coordinates hundreds of mentors who read with our first-graders every week.
Houston’s diverse cultural life enriches all of us and adds depth and vibrancy to how we educate students in HISD. That doesn’t just happen during Black History Month (which is just ending after a successful array of programs) or Hispanic or Asian Heritage Months or through our relationships with organizations representing these ethnic groups.
Year-round, HISD has a strong partnership with the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, which reminds us of a different sort of cultural roots. Friday is Go Texan Day, when most of us pull on our jeans and boots to mark the day the trail rides slowly roll through the urban landscape into Memorial Park.
Some of those rides will stop and let our students pet the horses, peek into the chuckwagons, and give them a dynamic lesson on the history of our state.
While we enjoy the early Texas culture through the parade, the barbecue cookoff, the entertainment, and creatively deep-fried foods, we in HISD should remember how the HLS&R helps our students through its phenomenal scholarship program, youth livestock auction, art competitions and more.
We’re proud to call them “pardner.”
When I was in elementary school, we laboriously wrote our book reports longhand. Now, students at Herrera Elementary School are creating illustrated book reports on their tablets using programs such as iMovie, Animoto, Prezi, and Roxio. You can see for yourself how engaged these young people are in a story and video posted here.
During the entire month of February, we are asking all of our teachers to try something new in their classrooms using digital resources and to share what they’re doing by posting on social media using the hashtag #HISDdigital. That’s how we discovered that first-graders at Piney Point Elementary are learning coding every Thursday, Davis High School students are creating videos to teach their teachers how to use web tools like Blendspace and EDpuzzle, and Energy Institute High School students are collaborating on a new Touch Table. See pictures of those students and more digital learners here.
I am proud of HISD’s efforts to get students college-ready. We’ve increased availability of rigorous AP classes, offer SAT tests on students’ own campuses and online SAT prep for free, and are continually expanding the EMERGE program that is sending underserved scholars to the nation’s top colleges and universities.
Getting students ready and into colleges is just part of our job, though, and so there’s a comprehensive program at HISD to help families figure out how to afford college. Our new FAFSA/TAFSA website is loaded with information about the federal forms for financial aid that are the basis for the awarding of billions of dollars in scholarships and grants. For Spanish-speakers, we’ve prepared a half-hour financial aid broadcast with our partners at Unimas 67 at 6:30 a.m. on Feb. 15, and Univision 45 is hosting a FAFSA/TAFSA phone bank to answer questions from 5-7 p.m. on Feb. 18.
The biggest push, though, is HISD FAFSA Day on Feb. 19, where each HISD high school will focus on financial aid and offer help for students and parents to complete the FAFSA and TAFSA.
Last year, our seniors received record scholarship and financial aid offers of $255 million, and with all these efforts, we’re hoping the Class of 2015 will be even more successful at both entering and affording college.