RISING TO THE CHALLENGE

Scenes of Resilience from Texas School Reopenings

Educators show us what agile, responsive public schools look like.

*Video footage above provided by: Amarillo ISD, Edinburgh ISD, Katy ISD, Laredo ISD, Mansfield ISD

Despite the unique challenges and uncertainties going into the 2020-21 school year, districts across Texas welcomed their students and staff back to school with the same warmth, enthusiasm, and compassion they bring to the start of any school year. While school looks different from years past, the essential element that makes a school a community – human connection – remains strong. And educators across the state are showing us what it means to be conscientious, creative, and courageous. 

Explore this collection of back-to-school vignettes to see how districts are providing safe, personalized, and adaptive instructional opportunities for all students.

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Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD

On August 14, Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD orchestrated a warm welcome back for district staff, with a Rise and Shine drive-through celebration outside of Pennington Stadium. The welcoming crowd included school mascots, cheerleaders, drill teams, board members, administrators, local law enforcement, Adopt-A-School community partners, student ambassadors, and more. This back-to-school event saw a high turnout, with over 1,000 drive-through participants, and set the stage for the HEB ISD’s district-wide theme for the 2020-21 school year, “It Takes All of Us.” 

“Students, staff, and the larger school community came out with abundant cheer and support for the HEB ISD family,” says Abby Cloud, public relations and marketing specialist for HEB ISD. “We are so proud of the support and unity portrayed by our district community.”

“Thank you community and staff for such an uplifting welcome back! You are appreciated!”

Julia Harris, Licensed Specialist in School Psychology, Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD

Edgewood ISD

The Edgewood ISD school board voted to extend remote-only learning for the first eight weeks of school, August 17 – October 9. Dr. Eduardo Hernández, superintendent of schools for Edgewood ISD, said in a public statement, “While school may be unconventional this year, safety is top priority for students and staff, and the extension will allow a safe and effective back-to-school transition.”

Edgewood staff are implementing new health and safety measures to prepare for a safe return for in-person learning. “We’ve installed hand sanitizer stations throughout our campuses, placed plexiglass in our front offices, put in social distancing signage on our buses, hallways, and classrooms, and are ready to provide our students and staff with PPE,” officials say.

The Edgewood ISD Department of Operations shared new cleaning and social distancing protocols for school buses to demonstrate the district’s heightened precautions. “Limited amounts of students are allowed on a bus with every other seat blocked off to ensure proper social distancing. After students are dropped off at their local school every high-touch area is thoroughly sanitized, including doors, rails, and the front and back of seats.”

PALESTINE ISD

Many rural districts, like Palestine ISD, returned to school in early August. For this town of 18,000 in East Texas, the majority of students – roughly 80% – are back on campus and classes are in full swing. Campus administrative teams met daily the first two weeks of phased reentry to discuss feedback from teachers and parents about what was working and what could be improved to ensure a safe, smooth start.  

Wildcat Nation extracurriculars are also underway following the guidance of University Interscholastic League (UIL) and Palestine ISD safety protocols, which include regular COVID-19 screenings, sanitizing all equipment and facilities, and limited crowd size at games and competitions. In a community where Friday night lights is a way of life, a return to football, band, and cheerleading is the first step in creating some semblance of normalcy. 

“There’s been so much uncertainty and every time we can layer back a little bit of what was the old norm. It helped to steady the ship a little bit I think in the community,” says Larissa Loveless, public relations director for Palestine ISD.

“Wildcat Nation football is bringing back a little bit of normal to the Wildcat Nation.”

NORTHSIDE ISD

Northside ISD began initiating a tiered transition to in-person learning following Labor Day. The plan allows for students who are considered most academically in-need to return first, in small numbers. The first wave on September 8, allowed special education students and English as a Second Language learners to return to campus if their family selected in-person learning on their district survey. 

Karen Pumphrey, the special education department coordinator at Clark High School in Northside ISD, was excited to welcome back to campus a handful of her students, who she says benefit tremendously from in-person access to support services and care.

In the photograph above, Pumphrey shares a smile with a student named Aubrey. “For her to come back into the classroom has just been really exciting for the family and for Aubrey herself because it’s the change in scenery that she needed. It’s the socialization opportunities that she didn’t have during the quarantine.”

“I think it’s been an opportunity for us to learn and be brand-new teachers, to have fresh eyes and ask, What can I do differently to make sure I’m meeting the needs of students? What new applications can I learn to teach students? If I can’t teach them hands-on and physically in the classroom, what can I do that will work for them?

Pumphrey’s team works with about 55 students with special needs. She says only 17 have returned to campus. “Our vision, our hope is that we can make this work so that the families start to feel comfortable and say, ‘I’m ready for my son or daughter to go back.’”

MIDLAND ISD

On August 29, South Elementary School in Midland ISD celebrated a distinguished teacher and living legacy alongside the start of the school year. Campus staff at South Elementary hosted a socially distant parade to honor Barbara Yarbrough’s 85th birthday. Ms. Yarbrough, as she’s lovingly called by all in the community, joined Midland ISD in 1959 as a teacher. She currently serves as a parent liaison at South Elementary and continues to be a mentor for all in the district. 

“Ms. Yarbrough is a stalwart of the Midland community, and her impact on students over her six decades with the district is immeasurable,” says Trevor Hawes, Communications Specialist for Midland ISD. 

In 2015, Barbara Yarbrough Elementary opened in her honor. 

“She has been with the district for six decades, and we can’t thank her enough for the continued support of our entire Midland ISD family!”

SPRING ISD

On September 14, thousands of Spring ISD’s early childhood learners, pre-K through second grade, were welcomed back to campus as part of the district’s phased return to in-person learning. 

“We are very excited to see our pre-K through second-graders as well as our students with special needs as we kick off our three-week plan to bring back all the students who have selected Safety-First In-Person learning,” says Rodney E. Watson the superintendent of schools for Spring ISD (shown in the middle photo below, visiting students on the first day of school).

About 50% of Spring ISD families have opted for in-person learning this first quarter. District officials say the phased approach will allow time to assess safety protocols and continue to look for ways to improve and make adjustments. Grades 1st through 10th returned on September 21, and the remaining three grades, 8th through 12th, return this week.

All Spring ISD students receive access to free lunch. Families who have selected remote learning options are eligible to pick up one breakfast and one hot lunch per child free through curbside meal services. 

“We are very excited to see our pre-K through second-graders as well as our students with special needs as we kick off our three-week plan to bring back all the students who have selected Safety-First In-Person learning.”

“Rodney E. Watson, Superintendent, Spring ISD

BROWNSVILLE ISD

For Brownsville ISD, remaining connected at a distance has been of top priority.  Throughout August, the district hosted a series of curbside pickups of school supplies, including the distribution of books and laptops for all students. Rivera Early College High School alone distributed over 1,500 student backpacks with supplies to students. 

On August 21, Hudson Elementary School organized a meet-the-teacher drive-through to give students and families a chance to meet their new teacher at a safe distance. The city of Brownsville donated bags of goodies, school supplies, and information on COVID-19 and the 2020 Census for El Jardin Elementary School to send home with each family.

On September 3, district administration hosted a Teacher Appreciation Day parade to thank all teachers and staff for their hard work preparing for the new school year. 

Curbside meal distributions will continue at all elementary and early college high schools Monday through Friday for the foreseeable future. 

September 23, the district started to phase a limited number of students back to campus, prioritizing learners without internet or access to learning technology to receive in-person instruction.

HAYS CISD

Hays CISD pushed the start of the school year to September 8, and began with a three-week full-remote learning period. The district welcomed a small group of students, who didn’t have access to remote learning at home and/or would be left at home all day by themselves, back to campus early. These students participated in online learning alongside their peers, but were provided a quiet and structured space to access virtual learning from a district facility. 

On September 28, all other students whose families selected in-person learning will return to campus. The district anticipates going from roughly 10% of students on campus to 46% in schools. Tim Savoy, chief communication officer of Hays CISD, says starting with a limited group of students allowed the district time to test the flow of students in the buildings and enact proper social distancing protocols.

Savoy describes the school district as a family: “We celebrate the good times and we work through the challenges. That’s what we’ve always done. We haven’t had a challenge this large. This is a brand new challenge for us, and it’s not just a challenge for our district. It’s a challenge for students worldwide.”

Savoy points out Texas educators have a history of rallying together in the face of regional crises – hurricanes in the gulf coast, the fire in Bastrop, the fertilizer plant explosion in West, mass shootings in various communities. “Those are regional or local crisis situations and everybody gathers around and helps that district or those districts that are affected, recover. This is different in the sense that it is a daunting challenge … We look to other districts to see what they’re doing on how to solve problems. They look to us to see what we’re doing to solve problems. I think that in that marketplace of solutions, the best solutions do rise to the top.”

“Our philosophy has been, number one, keep everyone safe. Number two, keep everyone learning, and number three, give everyone as much choice and flexibility as possible, so that they’re able to make the decision that best fits their unique situation.”

Tim Savoy, Chief Communication Officer, Hays CISD

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