HCDE Special Schools prepare students for success beyond the classroom


September 28, 2021 by HCDE Communications

A defining characteristic of educators is the innate drive to exceed expectations, and the educators of Harris County Department of Education’s (HCDE) Special Schools division are no exception. Fortis Academy Educational Aide Esteban Ibarra shares what this principle looks like in action at Harris County’s first public recovery high school. 

Esteban Ibarra (center) poses for a photograph with a Fortis Academy student.

Tell me about your role with Fortis Academy and your experience as an educator. 

EI: “I have been [an educator] for almost 30 years. I spent 22 years teaching English at the middle school, high school, and college levels, three years as an academic counselor, and two years as a high school assistant principal in Venezuela. I began working at Fortis as a substitute teacher in 2018. Now, I am an aide in the Edgenuity Lab where students earn credits through a leading in K-12 provider in online courses in order to graduate on track with their peers. I try to participate in all the activities that I can and become integrated with the students because you learn more about them the more you work with them.” 

Why did you choose a role at a recovery high school? 

EI: “I chose this school because I love working with young people. I love challenges, and I always see hope where others may not. Working with young people, I have [learned] that you bring excellent results when you do anything with passion and love, especially if it is something you really like. I enjoy working with [the students] because every student has a different life. Through talking with them, [I see] that everyone has different stories and trauma, and I take that experience and help them confront each situation. They often see you as a [parental figure] or as a friend because they see that you listen to them and try to [help them] solve their problems. It is special. It makes me want to be better every day.” 

What are some of the positives or victories you’ve witnessed at Fortis? 

EI: “There are many positive aspects. And it makes me a person who wishes the best for others. I have seen real changes in young people who arrived here from bad situations with negative attitudes. Through the teamwork and support that Fortis Academy provides, they change. They begin to arrive each day and say, ‘Good morning, Mr. Ibarra.’ You can see that change. Many even graduated from their home school[s]. One of the greatest challenges is getting our older students to graduation. For me, that certificate is nothing compared to the support and the tools we give them to succeed throughout life. I have heard students say that they love how Fortis loves them and how we treat them and that they like coming here because they feel good in this place. We have a lot to give. It’s not only [about] teaching them a particular subject, it’s about providing them with support and friendship.” 

How does it make you feel to be a part of Fortis’ mission and HCDE? 

EI: “It makes me proud of the work I am doing. The profession of teaching is one of the most important in the world, and it [feels] good when somebody sees something in you. I applied to be a substitute, but [HCDE] saw my work and trusted me to do this job. It is so important to feel good in the place you work and to be able to work together. For that reason, I feel fortunate to be a part of the Fortis and HCDE team.”  

What are your hopes for this year? 

EI: “I have many hopes for this year. Among them is the hope that the current students keep working in a positive way throughout the school year. If they stay and work hard, three of our students will graduate this year. I would [also] like for more young people, schools, districts, to know about Fortis Academy. We have a lot of tools to help them be successful, including good teachers, a good team, and a good principal. I think that with the excellent staff we have and with Ms. Godfrey [leading us], many good things are going to happen in Fortis Academy.”  

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

One thought on “HCDE Special Schools prepare students for success beyond the classroom

  1. Maritza Urdaneta says:


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