Successful ‘Students Within Reach’ walk encourages students to return to school

Kashmere High School sophomore Floyd Young dreams of becoming a professional football player one day, but before he can play in the NFL, he knows he must return to school. Young had not been in a classroom due to the threat of COVID-19, but his mindset changed on Saturday when HISD Superintendent Millard House personally came to his home to check on him.

Along with staff, administrators, and community members, House walked door-to-door as part of the “Students Within Reach Walk” effort to reconnect with students who had not returned to school this fall.

“COVID has really taken its toll on many students across America who haven’t been engaged in public education,” House said. “We are not here to judge; we are here to support. As we knock on doors, we are here to ensure that we get these students back in classrooms so they can get the kind of support they need.”

Volunteers from 17 HISD high schools spent Saturday morning knocking on doors across Houston encouraging students who have not returned to school this academic year to re-enroll. The outreach effort led to 82 HISD students deciding to return to school immediately, and many more promising to give school another try.

Young cited the pandemic as the reason he had been wary of coming to class. With the safety protocols put in place by HISD’s Ready, Set, Go plan, Young said he would return to campus. Young was able to connect with House, a former high school athlete in his own right. House and Kashmere principal Brandon Dickerson warmly greeted the student with a fist bump.

“Feels real good- I appreciate that,” Young said after meeting House.

The event is part of an ongoing, comprehensive, student re-engagement strategy. HISD conducts extensive outreach for students in grades 7-12 who are at risk of dropping out of school for a variety of reasons and have not returned to their campuses. After phone calls, mailers sent to homes, and individual visits, the last step is a home visit during the “Students Within Reach” walk, where the HISD team provides answers to questions, assists with re-enrolling, and offers support for families. High schools that participated were Kashmere, Austin, Chavez, Furr, Heights, Liberty, Long Academy, Middle College Gulfton, Milby, Northside, Sam Houston, Scarborough, Sharpstown, Sterling, Waltrip, Westbury, Westside, and Wisdom. The day started with a press conference at Kashmere High School with remarks from Principal Dickerson, Superintendent House, HISD Trustees and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee.

The caring caravan of community members also visited Kashmere junior Salwa Az Zahra and her family. The Az Zahra family were excited to meet the superintendent and encouraged by the Kashmere administration’s participation as well. Az Zahra is excited to return to class and see her friends again.

As of Sept.15, of the 5,440 high school students who needed to be re-engaged, 1,036 have returned to HISD. Outside of re-enrollment, HISD is seeing daily increases in new student enrollment in grades 9-12. Parents and students seeking to reconnect with their schools are reminded they may contact their campus principal, teachers, or call the HISD H.O.M.E. hotline at 713-556-4636.

As for Young, meeting the superintendent and hearing his encouraging words made all the difference in his path to follow his dream.