With return to face-to-face instruction, Sanctuaries of Learning program comes to a close

The Houston Independent School District partnered with several churches throughout the city for the Sanctuaries of Learning program, which offered hundreds of students a safe place to participate in virtual learning.

Now, as the district returns to face-to-face instruction this week, the program is ending, but not before having served an important purpose for HISD students and staff alike.

The program served students who had a device but were not old enough to stay home alone or lacked internet access. Participating students spent their school days in the church buildings, supervised by HISD staff and church volunteers and receiving breakfast, lunch, and snacks.

Jones Memorial United Methodist Executive Pastor Enid Henderson said her congregation is grateful for the opportunity to open their doors and serve the community.

“It’s a blessing to be able to provide a viable solution for working parents,” Henderson said. “And it was such a beautiful sight to see the students going home, feeling happy, after a successful day of learning.”

With much of the district shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, HISD found new ways to maximize resources.

Innovative Projects Senior Manager William Solomon said there was a great need for HISD employees to support the Sanctuaries of Learning program.

“We are fortunate that these employees were able to pivot from their regularly assigned duties so quickly and efficiently,” Solomon said.

HISD Community Relations Director Najah Callander said this is a great example of Team HISD embracing HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan’s theme for the 2020-2021 school year: The Year of Flexibility.

“We want to celebrate the staff that has shown up for the students,” Callander said. “We have some real stars. There are some unsung heroes.”

More than 50 HISD employees, primarily from Transportation and Nutrition Services and Strategy and Innovation, were assigned to Sanctuaries of Learning sites. They performed daily health screenings; took attendance; monitored learning and breaks throughout the day; ensured proper handwashing, mask-wearing, and physical distancing; and managed the student pick-up process.

Food Service Attendant Quiroza “Nita” Grimes said she enjoyed getting to know the group of students at Boynton Chapel.

“I’m normally in the kitchen, so it was nice to have more interaction with students,” Grimes said. “I hate to see the program end, but I know the kids are so excited to go back to school. I hope they keep up the good work they were doing here.”