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Comprehensive up-to-date news coverage produced and written by the Dickinson ISD Public Information Department.
The Dickinson ISD employee daycare center, Gator Academy, will now be known as the Rosella Scott Gator Academy. The Board of Trustees approved renaming the facility at the September 14 board meeting in honor of the late Rosella Scott, who passed away in July. She had previously served on the Board for 18 years from 1996-2014.
Gator Academy opened at the start of the 2013-2014 school year as a convenient and affordable daycare option for young children of Dickinson ISD employees.
“On April 1, 2013, it was a motion by Rosella Scott that made the hiring of the first daycare director a reality. For seven years, the doors of Gator Academy have been opened and it continues to be a very successful program,” said Superintendent Carla Voelkel. “It stays full from August until the end of the school year with small children ranging in age from six weeks to age five. Many of our young Gators got their start at Gator Academy and I know that after it opened, Rosella spent much time at Gator Academy rocking the babies,” Voelkel added.
Scott had a love of children and daycare centers, as she had owned and served as the director of several day-care centers in Texas City and Clear Lake over the years and used her knowledge and expertise to help others get started in the daycare business.
Scott, who was the longest serving African American on the Dickinson ISD Board of Trustees, was an active member of the community and in her church and was a founder of the first branch of the NAACP in Galveston County. She and her husband, Klimite Scott, were the proud parents of 11 children, 25 grandchildren and 35 great-grandchildren.
“In honor of Rosella Scott’s commitment to children and to Dickinson ISD and because of her love of daycare, I recommend that Gator Academy be renamed in her memory. I am recommending the Board of Trustees approve Rosella Scott Gator Academy as the new name for this district facility dedicated to loving our smallest Gators,” said Voelkel at the board meeting.
The district is ordering new signage for the facility and a dedication ceremony will be held later this school year once COVID-19 precautions allow for the event.
A series of life-changing events in Dickinson ISD over the past few years brought to the forefront the importance and deep need for extensive mental health resources to assist students, employees and their families. The district’s vision came to life in August 2019 with the awarding of a $1.2 million grant from the Rebuild Texas Fund to provide the resources and expertise needed to build a social emotional learning framework which is again changing lives, but this time for the better.
In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey blew through Dickinson ISD dropping more than 50 inches of rain in a matter of hours and devastating families with the loss of homes, vehicles and precious personal belongings. A few months later, the community was rocked as our neighboring school district faced an unimaginable school shooting tragedy. The recent COVID-19 pandemic greatly heightened fears as students, parents and employees faced the unprecedented school closure and quarantine. Each one of these events alone can create mental health challenges for the most stable of individuals, but when combined in a rather short period of time, along with the daily struggles of abuse, domestic violence, death, bullying, and other forms of trauma faced by families, the need for a comprehensive mental health program becomes very apparent.
“The Social Emotional Learning framework is a proactive approach to empower parents to prevent adverse childhood experiences and trauma before they happen and support students, families, staff and the community that have been affected when they happen,” said Dickinson ISD Social Emotional Learning Specialist Amy Cmaidalka.
Cmaidalka, who served as an elementary teacher and school counselor in Dickinson ISD for 15 years, was an instrumental part in writing the grant and took on the role of Social Emotional Learning Specialist upon approval of the grant. She spent the past year building a multi-leveled framework to provide Dickinson ISD schools and the com-munity with a toolbox full of resources that are making a positive impact on the mental health of students and their families. Along with Cmaidalka’s position, Dickinson ISD was also able to hire a licensed professional counselor and a bilingual clerk to assist with translation.
Dickinson ISD is the proud home of the Gator mascot, which is carried throughout the district’s 14 campuses, so Cmaidalka developed the program title “Gator Wellness” as a way to market the mental and behavioral program throughout the district. Whether you are a student, parent, employee or a community member, you are a Gator and your mental health is important.
“Through Gator Wellness, we focus on social emotional learning, resiliency, relationship building, trauma informed practices and overall wellness. We have developed a team that has implemented programs and become a trainer of trainers so that the program is sustained,” said Cmaidalka.
These programs include Character Strong, Second Step, Superheroes Social Skills, Emotional Backpack Project, Journey for Hope, Niroga Dynamic Mindfulness, Youth Mental Health First Aid, Mental Health First Aid, Psychological First Aid, As+K About Suicide to Save a Life, Trauma Informed Care, Equity Cultural Responsiveness, Calm Crusaders anxiety group, Crisis Prevention Institute, Emotional Poverty, Registered Behavior Technician, along with many others. The district is also in the process of creating a family resource center where families can come to check out resources and receive training and a variety of supports.
“Through our collaborative partnerships, we offer trainings and coaching to area early childhood centers, have developed a comprehensive counseling model, provided parent and community engagement events, as well as parenting help and trauma and grief support,” said Cmaidalka.
Dickinson ISD works closely with Mental Health America of Greater Houston and has created an amazing relationship that has opened up many networking and training opportunities for the district. In addition, partnerships with the Hackett Center at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, DePelchin Children’s Center, Family Service Center, UTMB and a variety of other mental health agencies are an important part of the overall vision of well-ness. The training received during the 2019-2020 school year will unfold for years to come as school counselors, nurses, social workers, teachers and administrators work to implement the strategies taught to help students overcome mental health challenges.
Prior to the grant, the district began a major initiative with Restorative Practices. This program, which is endorsed by the Texas Association of School Boards, is a differentiated approach to building and sustaining relationships and managing behavior in a proactive manner instead of responding reactively. The Restorative Practices approach fosters a sense of belonging over exclusion, social engagement over control and meaningful accountability over punishment. It builds positive inter-actions and creates environments of trust and empathy, whether in the classroom, on the practice field or on the school bus.
Restorative Practices was launched with extensive training opportunities during 2019-2020 back to school professional development for not only teachers and administrators, but also bus drivers, cafeteria workers and sup-port personnel. Parent training was also included through an informational meeting at the beginning of the year. Throughout the school year, implementation support and extra training were provided to help ensure this approach becomes systemic throughout the district. Combined with the learning and resources from our SEL grant, counselors and teachers have additional tools to meet the needs of students so that they can face life’s challenges and be successful.
In August, all staff received Character Strong training that focused on social emotional learning and character development. All teachers will be implementing the curriculum that addresses Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, Responsible Decision-Making, Patience, Kindness, Honesty, Respect, Selflessness, Forgiveness, Commitment, and Humility.
Going forward, our goal is to make sure everything that has been set in motion continues to grow and with additional time, training and practice, becomes part of our district and campus culture. Cmaidalka is working on writing grant proposals to sustain all of the programs that are now in place. The district now has a team of highly trained educators ready to use the skills and resources that have been provided to effectively respond to the needs of our students and families.
Because of Rebuild Texas, “we have a social emotional learning framework in place that is proactive and preventative and it has allowed us to be better prepared during the COVID-19 pandemic to implement a Mental Health Wellness Support system during the quarantine,” said Cmaidalka. “When a crisis occurs, we are prepared and we can respond quickly.”
The first day of school this year was one for the history books as all Dickinson ISD students started the 2020-2021 school year working remotely from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic precautions, while teachers provided Remote Instruction from their classrooms.
Parents were asked to choose either Face-to-Face Instruction or Remote Instruction for their students and those choosing Face-to-Face Instruction were phased back into the school building in phases. Self-contained Special Education classes, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students returned the week of August 31, followed by all other Face-to-Face Instruction students on September 14. In total, the split was nearly equal with approximately half of the district’s students returning to Face-to-Face Instruction while the other half continued with Remote Instruction. Going forward, parents can only move their students from one instructional method to the other at the change in the nine week grading periods, as long as they have followed the procedures for letting the campus know beforehand.
Several months and hundreds of hours of planning went into the start of the new school year. Teachers were provided several days of Google Classroom training to make sure they were prepared to provide remote instruction from their classrooms. The Technology Department worked to make sure as many devices as possible were distributed to students in need. In addition, they helped coordinate the purchase or additional devices after the Board of Trustees approved more than $2 million in Chromebooks, laptops and hotspots through a combination of Dickinson ISD funds and Texas Education Agency Operation Connectivity funds. The Chromebooks and hotspots will assist with student technology needs, while the laptops will be distributed to teachers to use in providing remote instruction. Operation Connectivity is a joint effort among Governor Greg Abbott, the Texas Legislature and the Texas Education Agency to assist with providing $200 million in devices and reliable internet connections to Texas students. The program provides matching funds for districts to use to purchase devices and hotspots.
While the school district had hoped that by the end of the summer, the COVID-19 pandemic would have been under control and school could have resumed as normal, that was unfortunately not the case. However, as Gator Nation has shown numerous times before, employees, students and parents are Gator Strong and will come together to be successful despite the challenging circumstances.
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