A strong partnership among parents, students, and teachers is needed in order to provide a successful education. To achieve this goal, it is important to increase the knowledge and preparedness not only of students and teachers, but of parents, too. Harlingen CISD had exactly this in mind when they created the HCISD Virtual Academy.
District staff worked tirelessly throughout the summer months to prepare the platform that would provide professional learning for multiple layers of the district — including students, staff, and parents.
On Aug. 10, Harlingen CISD launched the HCISD Virtual Academy. This platform included parent, student, and staff portals that provided live and pre-recorded sessions with information about academics, health, and wellness.
An essential part of this new website was the parent portal, which housed a variety of short but comprehensive courses and videos that families could sign up for or view as they prepared for the virtual learning that would take place the following school year.
“We are putting together some sessions specifically for parents on how they can support the virtual learning of their children from home,” said Beulah Rangel, coordinator of federal programs. “We are going to have a menu of sessions that parents can choose from. A majority of the presenters are district staff, but there might be a few others that will be from out of the district.”
The goal of adding a parent component to the virtual academy was to keep parents and families informed with the latest information, allow them an opportunity to ask questions about specific topics, and let them have the chance to review important concepts before the start of the 2020-21 school year.
Some of these courses focused on assisting parents in setting up a learning environment from home. Others covered how to log in and track student academic progress. Additional options discussed plans and updates for the reopening of the school district.
“We want parents to know that they are partners in education with us, and so this is going to be a portal specifically to maximize that partnership,” said Veronica Kortan, administrator for organizational development. “There are a lot of questions regarding health and safety in our schools, and we want our parents to be confident in the fact that their kids are going to be safe when they come back if they choose to do face-to-face learning.”
Different sessions were available for parents every week from Aug. 10 to Aug. 28. Courses within this portal offered a variety of academic and enrichment topics for the families of students at the primary and secondary levels. Classes included titles such as: Getting Ready to Write for Pre-K, College 101, Intro to Seesaw, and Social Media Gaming and Mental Health.
“This is all enrichment to empower parents and to keep them in the loop,” said Dr. Jose Luis Cavazos, director of parental involvement/dropout prevention. “Even though students are not in school right now, we are continuing to provide services. All of our departments will share information through these courses. We want parents to know about important topics like how we are still going to be taking attendance even though some students will not be learning from the classrooms.”
The topics presented in these courses came from various departments such as special education, athletics, health services, federal programs, parental involvement, multi-language, child nutrition, early childhood/dyslexia, guidance & counseling, advanced academics, and career and technical education, among others.
While some classes were very informative, others were a little more interactive and shared ideas on exercise, nutrition, or other activities that could be done from home. These courses also covered topics about living through and dealing with the pandemic.
“This will be like an HCISD virtual conference, but it is going to be happening for several weeks given the plethora of opportunities our parents have to choose from,” said Norma Garcia, director of the multi-language department. “We want to make sure our parents know they are not alone in this season. More than ever, we must work together to impact our students’ futures.”
The specific needs and interests of parents and their busy schedules were kept in mind when courses were created. Sessions were offered in English and in Spanish. Each course was designed to be between 30 to 45 minutes long. The classes were spread out into morning and evening sessions with times ranging from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Courses were recorded and linked on the website for future reference for those who might have missed a class of interest.
All three portals — the students, parents, and staff components — became available at the same time in the second week of August. Each portal varied slightly to meet the specific needs and interests of each audience.