HARLINGEN — Nathan Paz remembers vividly the challenge of attending classes last year through remote learning.

“It was difficult because we only have one room and my brothers and sisters were also doing Zoom,” said Nathan, 10, who attended Thursday’s Innovative Day.

Nathan and five other classmates at Travis Elementary STEM Academy listened attentively as Alma Gonzalez explained the proper placement of decimals.

Math and Reading were the day’s subjects. The reality of the COVID-19 lockdown had dealt a blow to kids like Nathan and his fellow fourth graders. While remote learning served a purpose in unique circumstances, student performance and test scores fell across the nation.

Harlingen students felt the effects as well.

That’s why Superintendent Alicia Noyola sent a letter to parents explaining the Harlingen school district’s implementation of “Innovative Days.” The initiative consists of three sets of Innovative Days consisting of two days each. The first set took place Thursday and Friday at every campus in the Harlingen district.

Noyola explained in the letter that the district’s academic calendar consists of the traditional number of educational days as mandated by the state. The six Innovative Days are in addition to the standard academic year.

“Innovative Days were added into the calendar as a way of going above and beyond to meet the needs of our students,” Noyola said. “These additional days will offer small group instruction that will provide additional support and enrichment opportunities to them.”

That’s exactly what Gonzalez wanted to give her six kids Thursday at Travis. With a large group of students, the time required to grade papers doesn’t always allow for specifics. In other words, why an answer is wrong.

With six students working to improve their performance, she can pinpoint specific problem areas.

“If they get a wrong answer, now they know why,” she said.

Students in the district were selected for the small group sessions through input from teachers, said Mindy Sanchez, principal at Travis.

“We determined who would attend Innovative Days by the data we collected from teachers as per performance in class, in daily assessments, quizzes, tests, etc.,” Sanchez said.

In addition, some students were selected because of prolonged absences imposed by COVID infections in students, classmates, or relatives outside of class.

About 48 percent of the student population at Travis were chosen for Innovative Days.

Each campus was given the flexibility and responsibility to tailor its Innovative Days according to the needs of its students.

While Travis’s primary focus is math and reading, the students were also given enrichment activities due to the school’s recent designation as a STEM campus.

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