November is officially the big month for school-shopping in HISD, with our School Choice Fair and application period opening on Nov. 1, Magnet Awareness Week Nov. 3-7, and open houses and other activities throughout the month.
Something important happened this week that helps ensure the integrity of those magnet programs. It’s our annual magnet review, which is board policy, and it’s part of the magnet school reform process that we’ve been driving for the past five years.
Robert Crowe is a gifted HISD videographer who is ordinarily a man of few words. His memorable images and skillful editing usually do the talking for him, but he gets fired up when discussing how the major perception with which he walked into district headquarters to start work five years ago has changed drastically.
Teaching is only one part of what HISD does, Robert says far more eloquently than I: Our educators must deal with the problems of our nation and the world. We cope daily with hunger, poverty, adult illiteracy, threats to health and safety, global politics, and so much more. He understands that sometimes a passing grade is an achievement, a semester of perfect attendance is a miracle, a parent attending a teacher conference a milestone.
Which brings me back to Robert’s storytelling. We’ve talked and written much about the success of our EMERGE youngsters — promising, hardworking high school students who frequently face the challenges I’ve mentioned, yet persevere to achieve. Through EMERGE, we’ve been able to take dozens of HISD students who ordinarily might have reached a dead-end and sent them to Ivy League and Tier One colleges, often at no cost to their families.
Recently, we released Robert’s “Story of Edgar,” the tale of Edgar Avina, who with the help of teachers who saw his promise and EMERGE mentors who guided him, has made his way from a barrio mobile home to DeBakey HS to Yale University. It’s a tale that shows what happens when we believe every young person is capable of success, and they have the inner drive to meet those high expectations.
Another wonderful EMERGE feature made its official debut this week, too — the EMERGING Voices blog. In their own words, EMERGE college students and current seniors navigating their way through the college application and admissions processes are telling their stories. They’re talking about things like homesickness, networking and organizing, memorable teachers, and the realization that many are spending their last year with their families before moving onto to higher education and careers.
Even U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took note of the blog, which features Edgar’s tale, tweeting Wednesday: “Great that the @HoustonISD EMERGE program is helping underserved students reach top colleges.”
Any young person or adult has something to learn from the stories of Edgar and other EMERGE fellows, who are willing to work hard and dream big — turning obstacles into stepping stones to a future beyond their most vivid imaginations.
There was quite a fuss over the summer when the story broke about tens of thousands of Central American refugee children being detained by the federal government in border states. Briefly, HISD became part of the story when the government representatives scouted one of our facilities to see if it would be a suitable center for these children.
Of course, we were happy to become involved because we do this every day – take in youngsters fleeing terrible situations all over the world.
The government is agreeing now to grant some children refugee status, but largely, the headlines have faded, the furor has died down, and the government’s relocation move to Houston didn’t happen. Still we’re going about our business of making sure refugee children from El Salvador, Honduras, Syria, Bhutan, Ethiopia and dozens of other troubled areas are educated and nurtured.
Last week, HISD was blessed to have Sonia Nazario spend a day in our district. Ms. Nazario is a Pulitzer Prize-winner for her writings about refugee children. Her book, Enrique’s Journey, tells of the harrowing train trip these brave young people make for a better life in the U.S. She has made the trip herself, evading gangsters who steal, rape, and murder.
Ms. Nazario spoke to administrators, to our Hispanic Advisory Committee, and to a student audience at Chávez HS. I was fortunate to tour our Las Americas Newcomer School with her.
Las Americas is one of HISD’s most magical places—because it shows our heart and because of its power to dispel myths about refugees and immigrants, which is what Ms. Nazario does in her writings.
The 350 or so youngsters there are in grades 4 through 8. They are disciplined, hardworking, resourceful, well-groomed, respectful – and grateful for the gift of a high-quality education. They are blind to borders and nationalities – Principal Marie Moreno tells of how youngsters from warring nations become best friends, realizing their common bonds. read more…
Almost every day, I encounter an example of just how much school has changed in my lifetime — and how HISD is at the forefront of embracing new methods to improve the knowledge and well-being of our students.
Here are three ways we’re implementing what my grandpa might have skeptically called “newfangled notions.”
I’m not sure there’s any scientific evidence to support whether a home field advantage improves the overall performance of a sports team — but we know the concept works with youngsters and their education.
If a child is moved more than three times before the eighth grade, research shows that they are four times more likely to drop out of school.
Creating stability is why we’ve enacted the Home Field Advantage program in HISD this year, at 13 of our elementary schools with the most mobile populations. About a third of these children are moved each school year, most of them for the most understandable of reasons: money. Parents take advantage of tantalizing deals that offer free apartment rent, and they don’t always make sure that their new address is zoned to their current school. read more…
Bullying is something we work tirelessly to prevent among our children, in our classrooms, playgrounds and playing fields, and now even in cyberspace. We know the effects: fear, distraction, loss of confidence, depression, and even suicide in the saddest cases.
But the reality is that bullying and its impact is an issue at all ages and places — and we’re proud to have taken a strong stand in HISD last month to eliminate workplace bullying. In fact, as the first school district in the U.S. to adopt an anti-bullying policy for all our employees, we’re receiving national attention this week.
Every day in HISD, there’s evidence of the generosity of the city we live in — community partners who help spruce up our facilities, honor our educators, and provide greatly needed donations of basic items that many of our youngsters simply can’t afford, such as school supplies.
We’re grateful for every kindness, but there’s something truly special about the gift of time — those people who are willing to invest personal attention to make a difference in the lives of our children.
Today, we launched an effort that is calling on the community to change the lives of 4,000 of our first-graders who simply need someone each week to read with them, read to them, and instill in them the love for reading. read more…
The first day of school never ceases to thrill me. There can be a bit of that “Groundhog Day” feel to it, with the same scenes playing over and over again (cue the crying child, clinging to his mother). But there’s always plenty that’s fresh and new.
Monday’s return to school throughout HISD combined both aspects. I was lucky enough to visit five schools on three campuses. No, I haven’t forgotten my math — you read that right.
For the past couple weeks, our web team has been running a “countdown” of the top 10 new programs and initiatives in HISD. The truth is they had to whittle down their list to just 10. There’s a lot happening in the district in 2014-2015 in our classrooms and in cyberspace to personalize learning, emphasize both college and career preparation, and engage families.
Everyone – families, older students, and staff — will be able to take advantage of one of our new communications initiatives. On Sept. 9, if you sign up, you’ll be able to get emergency notifications from HISD on your cell phone. This enables us to tell you immediately about everything from weather warnings and school cancellations to burst pipes and stranger dangers. read more…
“Digital transformation” is one of the keys to HISD’s vision of changing the way we teach and how our children learn in a more personalized way. Last year, as part of our PowerUp one-to-one initiative, we put 18,000 laptop computers in the hands of high school students on 11 campuses, and we’re adding another 21 campuses this year, with the remainder following next year.
But we’re not just teaching youngsters about machines and coding: they’re learning just as much about the responsibility that comes with the freedom that the digital age allows. And we’ve taken a major step in our efforts this week with the launch of a vast cybersafety website, aimed equally at students, parents, and educators. read more…