online education

Houston-area education platform looking for new schools to help teachers with online tools

Houston-based iEducate is connecting local tutors and mentors to students. Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels

A Houston-based nonprofit mentorship program that matches underperforming second to fifth graders with college student tutors to provide them targeted support has adapted to the online schooling era, by introducing hybrid learning services in partnership with Texas Region 4 Education Service Center.

iEducate engages student mentors from the nearby University of Houston education program and graduating Alief ISD high school students to work alongside teachers to ensure that every child has the academic support needed to achieve their full potential.

"Before the pandemic closed schools, our vision was to have an in-person system mixing public institutions with our local community," says Arun Gir, CEO of iEducate. "Mentors could provide their math, science, and literacy skills to prove targeted support to students, encouraging teachers to differentiate learning by identifying groups that could benefit the most from our help."

Gir says the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent school closings have forced iEducate to adapt, just like many other teachers and educators. For the first time, they are offering a needs assessment to any school that is interested in working with them.

"We are building on our unique range of educational support services that we have provided over the past to help schools advance student learning in these uncertain times," says Gir.

With their recently announced partnership with the Texas Region 4 Education Service Center, they will be able to train mentors on instructional tools and strategies to support any type of instruction including in-person, remote, and hybrid instruction.

"We are excited to collaborate with iEducate," says Pam Wells, executive director of Region 4 Education Service Center. "Their transformational work confirms the value that iEducate brings along with their ability to adapt and respond to our evolving educational needs."

The nonprofit, which was founded in 2013, started off as a hobby with Gir and volunteers working directly with individual schools, but after a few years, he left his job to work on building iEducate.

"Our focus is definitely on closing that achievement gap," says Gir. "One of our biggest issues is the literacy gap because that's a precursor to any type of student achievement beyond the early years. Personalized instruction focused on getting the portion of the class that is behind has led to growth for the students."

This summer, they conducted a needs assessment and revamped their mentorship program for a virtual classroom's needs, including calling out for more mentors. More than 600 applicants answered the call, ready to support over 7,000 students during the 2020-2021 school year.

"There was an overwhelming need for new types of assistance," says Gir. "From helping parents learn how to use online digital learning platforms to one-on-one tutoring and group tutoring sessions in the evening for students and parents, our mentors are willing and able and they have risen to the challenge."

To learn more about working with iEducate, email contact@iEducateUSA.org.

"We are navigating unexplored waters," says Gir. "We thought about opening up any school in the Houston area because we know that COVID-19 response measures are very decentralized which means we have to go directly to the source."

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Building Houston

 
 

As Houston grows, the city needs more and more construction. However, with this growth comes the need to build responsibly — and that's where technology can come in. Photo via Getty Images

The construction industry has the opportunity to drive positive change through the development and deployment of technologies influencing the way we work and live, ultimately affecting our environment, communities, and personal well-being.

Carbon emissions come from a handful of broad categories, including transportation, electricity production, and industry. According to the International Energy Agency, more than a third of all global greenhouse gases come from the building and construction industry. Concrete production alone contributes an estimated 8 percent of global carbon emissions. As a result, in Houston, we are vulnerable to longer, hotter summers, stronger hurricanes and once-in-a-lifetime storms. But I'm optimistic that there is opportunity for our industry to come together and reverse the current trajectory.

We must continue developing and deploying new technologies and best practices to reduce emissions. By using data to understand the environmental implications of the materials we use, we can make adjustments that are beneficial to both our clients and the environment.

One such example is the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator, known as "EC3." Skanska USA developed the open-source, freely available software in collaboration with Microsoft and C Change Labs. The tool democratizes important building data and allows the construction industry to calculate and evaluate carbon emissions associated with various building materials.

Now hosted and managed by Building Transparency, a new 501c3 organization, the EC3 tool was incubated at the Carbon Leadership Forum with input from nearly 50 industry partners. Like the tech industry, we should promote knowledge-sharing among general contractors to drive innovation and sustainability.

The demand for this tool is growing because it's not only the right thing to do, but it also benefits our communities and drives stakeholder value. Now more than ever, clients want to be responsible global citizens and they know that adopting green building practices is attractive to their prospective workforce and their clients and customers.

In Houston, the current population of 7.1 million will double to 14.2 million by 2050. With that population growth comes the need for more housing, more office space and more transportation options. Last April, Houston enacted a climate action plan that sets goals aligned with those from the Paris accord — carbon neutrality by 2050.

Similar local plans have been and are continually being developed all around the world, a necessary step to address a global issue that impacts all of us. Like others, the Houston plan contemplates how to reduce carbon emissions that are the result of energy consumption which accounts for about half of Houston's greenhouse-gas emissions.

Innovations in energy efficiency can help drive down energy consumption. As conscientious global and local citizens, we also have to consider the emissions that are created by the raw materials that are used in construction. That's become a much easier process with the EC3 tool. Now architects, engineers and others involved in the design process can make data-driven decisions that can have significant impact on the carbon footprint — as much as a 30 percent reduction in embodied carbon — of a structure that are mostly cost-neutral.

Embodied-carbon reductions can be made simply by smartly using data. The EC3 tool is one of many steps toward innovative building practices and complements the important ongoing work done by the U.S. Green Building Council, which oversees LEED certification.

Opting for sustainable building practices is good for the environment, but it's also good for the people who will spend time in these spaces. Green building reduces the use of toxic materials, and studies have found that sustainable structures, such as schools, health care facilities and airports, have positive impacts on cognitive ability, seasonal affective disorder and overall happiness.

We are also seeing an influx of client requests for sustainable and healthy building upgrades, especially since the onset of COVID-19. These upgrades are changing the way we live and work while supporting infection control, from touchless elevators to advanced air filtration systems.

For example, innovation has been instrumental throughout the pandemic for the aviation industry's safe operation. Increased biometrics across airport touchpoints, flexible passenger gathering areas that include modifications to passenger hold rooms and departure lounges, and environmental monitoring and wayfinding technology to alert passengers of airport congestion points are a few new concepts airports are incorporating into builds to keep travelers healthy now and in a post-COVID world.

Overall, the construction sector will play an essential role in how we approach expanding the built environment over the next 30 years. Using data and striving for continual innovation, we have a great opportunity to come together as an industry and create real change that will benefit our collective lives and those of generations to come.

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Dennis Yung is executive vice president and general manager at
Skanska, one of the world's leading project development and construction groups, where he oversees building operations for Houston and North Texas.

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