3 Families Share Beginning of Virtual Semester at HCDE School for Students with Learning Disabilities

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August 26, 2020 by HCDE-Texas

Clovis and Ndikumana Ali

Clovis Ali, 11 and his father Ndikumana arrive at school to pick up a computer for the beginning of an online school experience. The vibe is positive as Clovis greets the principal and waits for his father to complete his registration packet.

Clovis attends Harris County Department of Education’s Academic and Behavior School West, a school for children with intellectual and behavioral disabilities. His father feels positive about the 2020-2021 school year, even though there are plenty unknowns.

“I see him moving in the right direction here,” his father said. “A lot of stuff—his writing, his speech, his behavior and his attitude. He has really grown academically.”

ABS West Principal Dr. Victor Keys says only 35-40 percent of students are going to be in-person learners as school kicks off virtually Aug. 24 and in-person on Sept. 8. Seventeen school districts contract with HCDE, sending students with autism and other disabilities to the brand-new campus in southwest Houston this year.

“It’s changing constantly, but we are using the learning model that each district has implemented,” Keys said. “These are challenging times, but I want to say that we use every tool in our toolbox to help our students.”

Next in the line of drive-by student registrants is Dayshun Pickett, 13 and Dennis, his father. Pickett had a sample of virtual learning last spring as the pandemic hit.

“Routine is really hard,” his father said. “That is what he misses most about this school. When his behavior is under control, he can do almost anything you ask him to do.

Dennis Pickett

At home, the Pickett family had six family members sharing two computers for the past four months. Four of them were students. Routine, Dennis said, is important. The family wakes at 6:30 a.m., and kids are ready for virtual school by 7:30 a.m.

“The only thing missing is the bus coming by,” Dayshun’s father said.

A little after noon, mom Claudia Alvarez comes by with son Yusef Perez, 18. Perez has attended ABS West for four years and is treating the occasion like a socially distanced family reunion.

Yusef waves to a teacher assistant who is handing out the computers and takes a quick tour of the new school’s sensory room.

Yusef Perez and Claudia Alvarez

Virtual learning will be hard for her son because he travels to work with her and learns from her office. His attention span is limited, Alvarez says.

“He does understand what is going on with the pandemic,” Alvarez said. “He’s washing his hands and wearing masks all the time. The school staff calls me all the time to see how we are doing.

In addition to teachers and teacher aides, a cadre of counselors, and a behavior specialist work with the Alvarezes and other families.

“We are going to try it (virtual learning),” Mom said. “We will see.”

Principal Keys says his staff continues to be busy in the new virtual learning world as spring turned to summer school and now the fall semester begins. The challenges will be to keep students with emotional and intellectual disabilities engaged in instruction. Frequent breaks are built in because of short attention spans. Behavior must be reinforced, and the counselors will be checking in on the welfare of the students and their families.

“Many parents are having a hard time too,” Keys acknowledged.

Staff are finding solutions for families without Internet. Work packets are being mailed to some families who don’t want to use computers.

“Like I said, these are challenging times, but we’re working as a team and making things happen,” Keys said.

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