Rucker Elementary School Principal Eileen Puente knew that her staff would need to rethink how they would engage with students following Spring Break and the closure of HISD campuses due to COVID-19.
So, on Thursday, Puente and over 20 of her teachers and staff convened at Rucker with their vehicles, formed a parade, and drove through nearby streets and neighborhoods to check in with their students from a safe distance.
Like tens of thousands of other elementary school children across HISD, the 400-plus students, who call the southeast neighborhood school home, will not be returning to campus for several weeks due to intensifying precautions around the spread of COVID-19.
Unique challenges aren’t new to the first-year principal, who all year has charged her team to connect with students and families in ways that have never been considered at Rucker.
Yet, she knows that this hurdle is unlike any other for her student population, which is considered 95% economically disadvantaged. The unpredictable circumstances would require unique, outside-of-the-box measures to keep students engaged and thriving not only academically, but also socially and emotionally.
She calls the work behind this shift in focus, “The Rucker Way.”
“When we talk about the Rucker Way, I want the community to recognize that our teachers and staff care greatly about our students, not only academically but also personally,” Puente said. “We prioritize their safety and high levels of learning. We will always go above and beyond for our students.”
As the Rucker staff drove their vehicles, decorated with inspirational messages of encouragement, they also advertised where families can remain engaged with teachers and staff during the closure. They wanted to make it clear to students and parents that, although school may be closed, they care deeply about their families’ well-being.
Puente gave the parade an “A-rating.”
“It brought so much joy to not only our students but also to our teachers,” she said. “We want them to know that their social and emotional needs are our priority.”
This year, Puente has implemented a strong focus on social and emotional learning and meeting the needs of students outside of the classroom.
As far as academic instruction goes, the work won’t stop.
“I want parents to know that we’re working on a plan to continue to engage academically with students, Puente said. “We will continue to build on the momentum we have achieved this year.”