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We are living through unprecedented times – times of fear, loss, and uncertainty. We are also experiencing moments of beauty and triumph as neighbors help neighbors and communities help communities. Here are user-submitted stories about Texans showing how they are handling the COVID-19 outbreak in their schools and communities.

Family of Educators Embraces Togetherness

Elmer G. Bondy Intermediate
Pasadena ISD

When I read that Raise Your Hand Texas wanted to spotlight teachers around Texas for their Rising to the Challenge blog series, I immediately thought of the Denhams. As a family, Roselyn, Jason, and their son, Charles, embody the morals, values, work ethic, tenacity, and perseverance that our students need and crave at a time such as this with COVID-19. This is a difficult time for everyone, and the Denhams have chosen to embrace their roles as educators, mentors, and students. The Denhams are part of a team of exceptional educators that have embraced Bondy’s theme: #Together.

Roselyn Denham has 11 years of teaching experience with two years in personalized learning. Through her experiences with personalized learning, she has embraced different learning modalities that best fit the students’ needs and has stretched herself and her professional practice.

As a personalized learning teacher, Mrs. Denham is accustomed to having students work in Connect to access their curriculum, work on projects, and take content assessments. Then, COVID-19 began to affect the world, and Pasadena ISD implemented distance learning to protect their students, families, and employees in hopes of slowing the impact of the virus. With the implementation of distance learning, Mrs. Denham, like many educators, immediately thought of how it would influence her students. Distance learning was a new norm and is in a state of constant evolution. Mrs. Denham stated that it was, “overwhelming [at first].” However, as time progressed, she felt more and more confident. “I am evolving,” she shared and continued, “I am listening to my students’ needs and meeting them where they are.”

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In listening to the individual needs of her students, Mrs. Denham is ensuring that she is able to adapt her virtual classroom to be a successful experience for her students. “Some of my kids are flourishing in distance learning. Some of my kids need modifications. Maybe some of my kids didn’t need modifications before but now they do. Some just need something in between,” she said when describing her approach. She quickly learned that she needed to differentiate her personalized learning strategies she implemented before COVID-19 changed her classroom and began offering feedback in various ways such as calling students individually to explain feedback and providing several one-on-one sessions that fit the student’s individual schedule. “I need to listen more than I ever did before, reach out further than I did before, open up more to my students than I ever did before,” she said. Therefore, her motto is “whatever is necessary!” Mrs. Denham has set office hours anytime students need her, working on average 9 hours a day and up to 11 hours at times. She believes that it is important for her students to see their successes, big or small, to help them through their curriculum and this situation. 

Mrs. Denham contacts her students through phone calls, emails, or texts to share that she is thinking of them often. She takes the time to relate to her students and their current situations, fears, and emotions. She explained to her students: “At times, I have felt many of the same emotions you have felt. I want you to know you are not alone.” Her heart motivates her to go above and beyond. “I am here for you. I always have been and I always will be,” she wrote in an email to them. Mrs. Denham continued to inform her students that she truly believes that this situation will help them prevail. To close that same email she wrote: “You are doing an amazing job! I hope you never forget this experience because in the end it’ll only make you a stronger student; and with that, I am proud to teach each and everyone one of you.”

Jason Denham is one of Bondy’s athletic coaches who has taken on the role as a mentor to 64 students. Each week, Coach Denham connects with students by setting up a weekly schedule to speak with them. At first, he just checked to make sure students and their families were doing okay and if they needed anything. The mentoring quickly shifted to making connections with the students and providing them with an outlet outside of school. Students enjoy talking about topics other than school. “The biggest challenge is to keep the students positive,” Coach Denham shared. He noted that distance learning has been very difficult for some students with comprehension and concept skills, whereas other students have been able to excel from home. His main goal is to build a solid relationship with students and reassure them that what they are doing is meaningful.

Working from home has its benefits and challenges for the Denhams. Mrs. Denham shared that they get to “see” and “hear” each other but are extremely focused on helping students.  Sometimes they will collaborate in between Zoom classes on ideas about content, communication, and students that they teach and mentor. “The biggest difficulty,” Coach Denham shared, “has been finding a quiet Zoom location for all of us.” They also have a son who is in 7th grade at Bondy who also attends Zoom classes. “It has been awesome seeing Charles work with his teachers and knowing that I work with some exceptional educators,” said Coach Denham.

Embracing the #Together theme, the Denhams have embodied the values of what makes educators exceptional during COVID-19.[/read]

Music Teacher at Williams Elementary School Writes Special COVID Song for Her Students

Barbara Birkhead
Elementary Music Teacher
Williams Elementary School
Pasadena ISD

I raise caterpillars and butterflies in my music classroom every year. This year, I added a new twist by writing a COVID-19 butterfly song. I taught the song to our students on a live Zoom call. The next day we went into my backyard and had a Zoom butterfly release while singing the butterfly song. We didn’t let COVID-19 put a damper on our butterfly project.

Lyrics:
Butterfly flutterby

Flutter low, flutter high

Spread your wings up to the sky

As we watch and wave goodbye

Go find some butterfly friends

Goodbye butterfly

Seventh Grade Teacher: Relationships Are the Reason I Teach

Brianna Archer
Seventh Grade Language Arts Teacher
Tegeler Career Center
Pasadena ISD

I love reading and writing and sharing my passion with students, but that is not the main reason why I teach. I teach because of the relationships. I know what it’s like to be a kid who struggles to succeed in the classroom and feels like the world is crashing down around her at times. I always made honor roll, but it was HARD. Even in college it always took me at least twice as long to do my work as other students, so I sympathize with students when they struggle, regardless of their grades. I especially empathize with them when it comes to their personal struggles outside of school. I can’t even express how much I miss my 7th graders during this unprecedented time right now.

Teachers make a difference every day, and oftentimes we have no idea that we even made a difference in a kid’s life unless we hear from them years later. We make a difference by loving them, accepting them, and being more than willing to help them with anything. We notice even the most subtle signs that something is wrong, which we can’t do as easily right now. We celebrate their successes with them, and no achievement is small. I work in a school that recruits students who need extra support because those are the kids that need me the most, and I understand them better based on my own experiences at their age.

I have been able to uphold my relationships with students during this time through email, Google Voice, and Zoom. I get daily emails, texts, and phone calls from students who have questions about their work. I also reach out to them when I have concerns or want to tell them how well they are doing and to keep up the good work. I also express my concerns and praises to parents. My relationships with many parents have soared during this time when regular communication is crucial; students really appreciate it when I not only praise them when they do well but inform their parents as well. When communicating with students, I always ask them how they’re doing in addition to discussing questions or concerns about their online coursework.

I have weekly Zoom meetings during which students can join to boost their grades by participating in online discussions about academic content. They know that they can always count on me to be on Zoom every Wednesday at noon, and they can schedule additional or different times if they want. Zoom is a fun way to maintain relationships because we can actually see each other and I make it entertaining by doing such things as showing our pets to one another, using funny voices, and making silly faces. We all miss the classroom so much, but we try to fill the void as best we can with a variety of virtual tools. I will always have a special bond with this group of students because we have gone through this unusual hardship together.

Poem by Jay L. Barrett: Into the Room (A COVID-19 Spring)

Jay L. Barrett
Principal, Amarillo Area Center for Advanced Learning (AACAL)
Raising School Leaders Alumnus

You walk into the room with measured steps of trepidation and longing.
This is your first time back.

Lights flicker and catch to reveal a bodiless void that is
your theater, your stadium, your arena.

When you left, you didn’t know what leaving meant;
Now you do.

You have never felt more alone.

The tear catches you by surprise,
rims the eye and courses down the cheek.
One meaningful drop.
Then others, impatient, like students lining up for recess.

You were made for more than an empty room.
Your entire essence has become a source of inspiration,
An electric stream of nuclear energy,
a power beyond explanation, beyond reason,
….A force from which others draw life.

Regret storms your soul for the inability to say goodbye,
To experience with them, at once
a communal closure and a bidding of good luck
for their next bold but tremulous step
on their journey into the world.
A goodbye that beckons a return
and a remembrance
and a look back at
where you’ve been
and at the ones who’ve shaped your life.

A goodbye that says “I’ve taught you, but you have taught me more.”

You want to tell them with,
….a look
….a gesture
….a handshake
….a hug–
….something:

“I’ve learned from you
….about life, about joy,
….about pain, about hope,
….about the inexplicable wonder that comes from engaging another human soul
….in a common experience that moves us both
….beyond ourselves and into the stream
….….of all humanity,

Together–
….Unique and quite the same.

Yes, we have taught each other, but you have taught me more.

I have laughed with you.
I have cried with you.
I have nurtured you, and
I have loved you more than my heart can hold.

And I have learned why I exist.”

Tears ungracefully hit the tiled floor with a splat
in the quiet emptiness of the lifeless room.

Like a soldier on reconnaissance, you search this battlefield for clues,
remembering life in it’s prior form.
Echoes of voices, active and full of life, delightfully haunt you
as you stare into the room.

Is this truly memento mori or could it be memento vitae, memento vivere!

Resolve gathers in you,
and the faces you see in the miasma of before
now bolster you, not to say goodbye but to say
“I am a part of you. Don’t forget.
I will always remember you.”

You take your place on the stage in this theater that is your home.

Into the room, you stride with purposeful steps
as you realize, not for the first time, but now with the maturity of knowing
That you are not merely a player strutting and fretting,
That what you do matters, what you do is important,
That this signifies

Everything.

Nothing is more important than this very moment you walk into the room.

A teacher creates “Flat Mr. Reséndiz” at Ridgetop Elementary in Austin ISD, Austin, TX

Luis Reséndiz, a first-grade teacher at Ridgetop Elementary in Austin ISD, who had been missing his students terribly found a sweet way to do what he missed most: making memories with his students.

Inspired by the story of Flat Stanley and the way it connects kids to the world around them, Mr. Reséndiz sent each of his students a flat version of himself that they could take pictures with while doing their favorite things.

Flat Mr. Reséndiz showed up on students’ doorsteps on April 30 to celebrate Día de los Niños. He had a few requests. Watch the video to hear about how Flat Mr. Reséndiz plans to be a part of his students’ daily lives!

Principal leads storytime at Red Bluff Elementary in Pasadena ISD, Pasadena, TX

Mrs. Hinton, principal of Red Bluff Elementary, was a guest reader recently during a Zoom call that was hosted by the pre-k teacher, Mr. Nance, for his students. The students come dressed for bed in their pajamas every night at 8:00 p.m. to hear a bedtime story. Mrs. Hinton dressed the part wearing her blue robe and pink rollers in her hair to read “I Know An Old Teacher.”

One book was just not enough for this group of eager listeners. “One more … One more …” they begged. Mrs. Hinton was prepared and had more books at her fingertips. It was a three-book night.

District meets remote learning challenges in Weslaco ISD, Weslaco, TX

Weslaco ISD, a South Texas border community, met the remote learning challenge in inspiring ways! The technology department coordinated software systems that make great things happen, sent out two rounds of Google Forms surveys to parents to determine needs, coordinated with librarians and technicians throughout the district to distribute 6,000+ Chromebooks and hotspots, and created and managed a Google Form for a helpdesk — all to make remote learning possible.

The real magic was the evidence of how teachers began to use technology to work more meaningfully with students, and how teachers were using the technology to build capacity with their colleagues. Through our “Lil Sis” management system campus administrators are able to observe remote learning classroom behaviors. This is where one of our principals shared a dynamic, student-centered Google Classroom experience back to the Technology Department. Technology can help administrators work more meaningfully with their teachers.

Music teachers make a special video for students at Woodgate Intermediate in Midway ISD, McLennan County, TX

Woodgate teachers miss their students so much they made a virtual video to send home on social media and in our newsletter!

Blended learning campus shares COVID-19 experiences at East Pointe Elementary School in Ysleta ISD, El Paso, TX

We are a blended learning campus and have found that we have been able to use personalized learning with our students during COVID19. Teachers have made personalized lessons based on student data and social and emotional needs. Why would we give a one-size-fits-all curriculum to students when that’s what we haven’t been doing? Personalized menus have been created online through Google classroom. We are fortunate to have personalized devices for first through sixth-grade students. Students are now showing their parents about personalized menus. Teachers balance academics and our PE coaches were able to post differentiated PE lessons, too. We are excited and our parents have been very impressed and at ease with the process.

Administration team creates a virtual community at Warren High School in Northside ISD, San Antonio, TX

Valerie Sisk, principal of Warren High School and Raise Your Hand Texas alumni, has posted the best tweets ever during this time; they bring a smile to students, staff, and community members.

Thank you for the opportunity to shine the light on an administration team that carries students in their hearts and can put a smile on students’ faces, even while social distancing!

We'd love to hear from you!

We’re looking for stories from students, teachers, and school leaders about your experiences, challenges, and strategies you think might benefit others. Please share your perspectives and let us know how you’re approaching and responding to the current situation. And know that you are not alone in these struggles. We thank you, we honor you, and we want you to know we are cheering you on.