How HCISD implemented School at Home program
While public schools across the United States closed to protect the health and safety of students, Harlingen CISD educators swiftly began preparing in the event a case of COVID-19 emerged in South Texas.
Although there had been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Texas before Spring Break, HCISD launched an emergency plan and webpage to inform the public about its systems in place.
Harlingen CISD quickly escalated its plan from level one to level two on March 19. The following day, the district implemented level three of the emergency plan to include the closure of campuses, cancelation of school-related and staff travel, and the redesign of instructional and meal distribution programs.
The true spirit of Harlingen CISD was not broken by the news of school closures. Rather, the HCISD Family came together to support its students and community.
HCISD staff from cafeteria personnel to teachers and administrators, each played an essential part in operating its instructional and food programs immediately following Spring Break. Throughout Spring Break, however, staff committed their holiday to prepare for what instruction would look like while schools remained closed.
Responding to change
Alicia Noyola, Ed.D., Chief Academic Officer for Harlingen CISD: “We’re a school district of about 18,000 students and 3,000 staff members. Everybody mobilized within a week to meet the needs of all students. I’m really proud of our staff because it took people rolling up their sleeves and investing long hours to ensure our students would be learning at home. During our 2019-20 school year kickoff, you could feel a sense of unity. It’s developed over time, and we really saw that unity in action as we came together this month. Truly, we’re all facing this crisis together. Our teachers, our students, parents are all impacted. So, it’s been a joint effort, and we are appreciative of everyone responding quickly to support our students. We definitely have great people in our district and our community.”
Joseph Villarreal, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education at Harlingen CISD: “The Office of Secondary Education during the week of Spring Break helped define and set parameters as it pertained to online and offline instruction. Online learning provides students with out-of-school internet connectivity the ability to access schoolwork uploaded onto a learning management system. Offline learning provides students with printed assignments that are exact or similar to the assignments available through online learning. Teachers worked to create two assignments per subject per week for two weeks. Within 5 days, 317 courses were created and designed at the secondary level. Twenty-nine courses were created at the middle schools, while 288 courses were created across the three high schools, including Cano Freshman Academy. Also, 160 elective courses were created in Microsoft One Drive across both high schools. It’s pretty impressive what all stakeholders in our schools were able to do in a limited amount of time. Aside from the academic component, our district’s guidance and counseling department is also working to address the social-emotional needs of our students. We’ve seen physical education and athletics coaches utilizing our platforms to motivate students to work out and exercise at home. All these components are vital to the success of our students. We’re going to improve our program along the way, so it continuously gets better for all.”
Lori Romero, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education: “Our main focus was to make sure our students continued learning even though they are not inside our classrooms. It’s been a learning experience for us all, and with the support of staff and parents, we were able to accommodate students with offline and online learning options. The kids are familiar with the programs and tools they’re using at home because they also utilized them in our classrooms. In April, we will move into a new program, which will allow our elementary students to be assessed academically. This will allow them to embark on an individualized path of learning to best meet their needs in all subjects including in math and reading. We’ve really seen our teachers step up to the plate to continue making connections with their students. These bonds are so important to our children, and it’s been great to see the videos of teachers interacting with students. The kids know we’re there for them no matter what.”
Veronica Kortan, Administrator for Organizational Development at HCISD: “Before we launched our HCISD offline and online learning program, we assessed the technology needs of our families. In one week, we transitioned about 2,500 families to utilize the online learning platform. Additionally, we have issued about 800 technology devices to students as of March 27. That’s a huge success. I’m also in awe of our campus technicians who have come together to do incredible work. The district set-up a call center where technicians and staff answer technology questions called in by students, parents, and staff. They’re doing incredible work. We could not accomplish all this in such a short amount of time with the support of everyone involved. We’ve had an overwhelming amount of support from our school community as well as parents reaching out to say they are impressed with how we have been handling the situation has been heartwarming. It’s great to work for a district that also takes care of its internal staff and our community.”
Shane Strubhart, Administrator for Public Relations and Community Engagement at HCISD: “Before Spring Break, our district began preparing to educate the community about our emergency response plan. At the beginning of March, while students were in school, Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos began communicating with parents and staff about our systems in place. We continuously monitored and worked closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Texas Department of State Health Services, and the Cameron County Health Department to ensure the health and well-being of our students and staff. As soon as we became aware of a case of COVID-19 in our region, we notified parents and the community about our plans and systems in place through emails, text messages, phone calls, and social media. Additionally, we launched a webpage, hcisd.org/health, to provide around-the-clock and the most up-to-date information for our HCISD families. We understand that communication between our school district and HCISD families is of great importance. We always strive to thoroughly and accurately update the entire HCISD community about our plans. It’s been truly special to see the outpouring support from parents and staff. We are so grateful for all the videos and photos of students learning at home that have been shared with us on our Harlingen CISD social media channels. We look forward to continuing open communication between the district and the community and are appreciative of everyone’s support during this time.”
Launching School@Home Program
Superintendent Art Cavazos, Ph.D., posted video messages, visited campuses while practicing social-distancing, met virtually with principals, and made behind the scenes and collaborative decisions for the best interest of all HCISD students.
One of those collaborative decisions included the launch of HCISD’s School@Home program. All courses, including core and electives, are offered through the program.
“I want to thank the countless people that have worked around-the-clock to make today a reality,” Dr. Cavazos said during the launch last week. “This week’s transitions have not been easy, but we know that this must be done to keep our students and staff safe. As your superintendent of schools, I want to let you know that we miss our students and staff dearly. I can assure you that as we move into this new platform of learning, we are excited to once again get to the core of what we do – instruction and education for students.”
During the first two days of the Good to Go meals program, the child nutrition staff and other essential staff members served 15,000 meals for students.
“Our hallways may be empty, but our hearts are full,” Dr. Cavazos said.
Harlingen CISD will continue to provide communication and guidance through the online and offline learning process.
“Together we are making this work, and together we will get through this,” Dr. Cavazos said. “I am confident that HCISD will emerge from this more united and stronger than ever. Thank you HCISD Family for your trust and your patience.”