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EPISD Q&A: Djuana Hurtado, Park Elementary GT Teacher

Djuana Hurtado

(PARK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL -- Sept. 1, 2020) — Virtual learning has afforded students the opportunity to tap into their digital brains to continue their education. But for Park gifted-and-talented teacher Djuana Hurtado few things are as impressionable as reading a book in the good ol’ traditional way: by holding paper on your hands.

That’s why she took it upon herself to drive to each of the homes of her 30 students to safely drop off books so they can stay engaged and connected to the GT curriculum she’s working on from home. 

We sat down with Hurtado to talk about her 16-year career as a teacher at Park and what it means to her to teach talented fourth- and fifth-graders. 

EPISD: What made you want to become a teacher?

DJUANA HURTADO: Since I was a little girl, I had always wanted to be a teacher because I had such amazing role models in my elementary school.  My kinder to third-grade teachers at Lincoln (back when the now middle school was a kinder through sixth-grade school) were so loving, caring, and always pushed me to do my best.  I saw how much they enjoyed their jobs and I longed to be able to have a relationship like that with my students.


EPISD: Describe your transition to virtual teaching.

DH: Virtual teaching has been very difficult because I am a very animated teacher, some may even say a bit crazy.  I try to make learning fun and interesting for my students, but at the same time making sure that they learn as much as they can from my class to be prepared for middle school.  I can’t jump around like I do in my portable because then I am off camera, so I have learned how to sit and wave my hands around to get my point across. I miss my students so much and cannot wait to get back into the classroom.


EPISD: How do you ensure engagement in a virtual classroom?

DH: I continue to teach and push my students to reach their goals even from the comfort of our homes.  I give my students plenty of breaks and working time so that they do not feel the pressures of at-home school.  We play a lot of quiz type games together with me challenging them and they even beat me sometimes because they are much quicker than I am.


EPISD What advice would you give parents who have children struggling with virtual learning?

DH: I would tell parents to keep in communication with their child’s teacher.  We do not have all the answers right now, but sometimes two heads are better than one.  If we work together, we will all get through this.


EPISD: How has the first weeks of virtual learning gone?

DH: Surprisingly, the first two weeks have gone very well.  I am exhausted at the end of the day, but my students have been amazing.  I have to thank my students’ parents for raising such well-mannered children because I know if I had to deal with behavior problems during virtual learning, we wouldn’t be able to learn as much as we have so far.


EPISD: What made you want to take books to your students?

DH: I wanted to try and make sure that my students continued to get the same curriculum at home with me as they would have at school.  Even though my GT curriculum changed this year, I wanted to keep my students engaged with our reading novels from the past GT curriculum.  My past students loved the novels we read and they always said they would never have chosen those books had they seen the covers in our library.  I decided that the best way to ensure that all 30 of my students received their novels was for me to take a Sunday and deliver to everyone’s house because I understand that parents are working and it is hard for them to come to school and pick up materials.  I went to each student’s home and just dropped books off at their doors. 


EPISD: What's the first thing you want to do after the pandemic as a teacher?

DH: I can’t wait to see my students in person and tell them how very proud I am of them and let them know that I truly believe in them and we will all get through this together. 


EPISD: What are your expectations for your students?

DH: I have the same expectations for my students during virtual learning that I do during in class learning.  I will have them prepared for middle school so that they will slide right in and not have to worry about academics as much because they will already be accustomed to time management skills which is what I stress very much in my class.  I believe that this is a very hard skill that we must all be taught how to handle because even some adults struggle with this and cause unnecessary stress on themselves and I do not want that for my students.  Middle school is hard enough socially than for them to have to deal with this, too.


EPISD: Anything you'd like to add?

DH: I am very proud of my students and all that they have achieved thus far and I can’t wait to see their smiling faces when we get back to class.  I would like to thank Ms. Dwyer, my principal, Mrs. Vasquez, my assistant principal, and all my fellow colleagues for all their help and support because without them I wouldn’t be able to make virtual learning a success.

Interview by Reneé de Santos