Exploring the factors influencing Houston’s famed entrepreneurial spirit
Houston’s business culture is unique — both distinctly global and local, it owes its evolution as much to every hardworking Houstonian as it does to the frontier mentality from which its industry grew. Entrepreneurship is an essential part of what it means to live in Houston, and whether you’re buying new business software or a cup of coffee, small businesses and the Houston entrepreneurs who run them likely play a role in your purchase.
Industry is in our history
Houston owes its existence to brothers John Kirby and Augustus Chapman Allen, two entrepreneurs who saw opportunity in the unrest following the bloody Battle of San Jacinto. They bought their initial spit of 6,600 acres for just $10,000, successfully lobbied the Texas Congress for capital status, and put some ads in the paper claiming glory for Sam Houston and the Republic — all with about a dozen citizens sitting on a muddy bayou in land that wasn’t considered particularly desirable.
First, they built a railway (that would go on to join the Union Pacific Railroad) and advertised the city as the place “where 17 railroads meet the sea,” despite the fifty miles in between Houston and the Gulf of Mexico. Once the railroad was underway, the city spent the next 50+ years bringing the sea to its borders, dredging Buffalo Bayou and Galveston Bay incrementally to accommodate larger and larger ships.1 They eventually turned that muddy stream into the second largest port in the United States, beginning the project before oil was ever even found in the state.
Oil did, however, change everything. It made Houston the unofficial capital of the energy industry, combining the maverick spirit of its founders with the industry boom of many in the country chasing down the valuable resource, and contributing significantly to the growth of our region.
Houston’s origins tell a story not just of the quality of the human spirit, but of the inherent balance and imbalance of economic opportunity. To continue improving our great city through years of its exponential growth, it is necessary to look unceasingly into how our entrepreneurial nature can better serve every single Houstonian.
Small business is big in Houston
Houston is certainly a huge, global city, but it just wouldn’t be the same without Mom and Pop.
Houston is famous for its maverick founders, its tycoons, for the big business and even bigger briskets — but the reality is that business in Houston isn’t always so “big.”
Small businesses employed about 14% of our region’s workforce in 2019 — nearly 400,000 people. In addition, 81% of entrepreneurial firms in the Houston Metropolitan Area have fewer than 20 employees. According to estimates from the Greater Houston Partnership, the Metropolitan Area had 663,800 “non-employee businesses” in 2018; these are most often consultants or freelancers — the entrepreneurial spirit exemplified.
While real estate is Houston’s number one industry for small businesses, with 95% of firms employing fewer than 20 , industries like retail and administrative services are right on their heels, and smaller companies exist in all sectors (even energy!). These small businesses benefit our local economy in important ways. In particular, creation of small businesses among communities of color — sometimes a necessity to overcome employment barriers, challenges in building personal wealth, and discrimination — can help increase economic opportunity..
Continued intentional support of local small businesses, especially among communities that disproportionately face challenges like lack of credit access, social capital and accumulation of generational wealth, is what the path toward a healthier and more vibrant local economy looks like.
81% of Houston-area firms have fewer than 20 employees.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2020 Annual Business Survey, data year 2019
Diversity and disparities
As well as its reputation for entrepreneurship, Houston is also a city known for its diversity. Its cultural diversity today mirrors what demographers predict the U.S. population will look like in half a century. Houston’s reputation for entrepreneurship is inextricably linked to the city’s diversity. The growing populations of Houstonians from diverse backgrounds, namely immigrants and people of color, are not only the economic and cultural driving force for the evolution of our city, but also the future of our country.
Houston ranks fourth in the nation for start-ups owned by Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC), with 35% of start-ups in the Houston Metropolitan Area being BIPOC-owned. While 35% is high enough to outpace most major metros in the United States, it obviously falls short of true representation; the BIPOC population share of Houston Metro is far greater, at about 65%, according to 2020 Census data. Black and female residents remain particularly underrepresented in the small business community, with only 25% of small businesses in the Houston area being solely woman-owned, and only 3% being Black-owned, according to the 2020 Annual Business Survey.
These trends underline the fact that simply being diverse is not enough, and that disparity will edge out prosperity if not given the proper attention and resources.
Only 35% of new Houston businesses are BIPOC-owned
By contrast, these residents represent 65% of our region’s population.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2020 Annual Business Survey, data year 2019
A region filled with allies in entrepreneurship
Despite common perceptions, the entrepreneurial spirit is not solely an individual cause. Houston’s penchant for entrepreneurship is aided in great part by our philanthropic, academic and nonprofit communities, which work to cultivate and support aspiring business owners from all walks of life.
These are just a few of the organizations whose work empowers entrepreneurs throughout Greater Houston.
This new initiative led by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and some of Houston’s top community leaders is working to fund and drive strategic progress for Black-owned businesses and nonprofits throughout Greater Houston.
With their Black Marketing Initiative, Impact Hub Houston is raising funds and offering training programs to elevate and support Houston’s Black entrepreneurs as they recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The beauty of entrepreneurship is that its benefits are open to all — even those currently behind bars. The people at the Prison Entrepreneurship Program work directly with those currently incarcerated to foster and encourage their entrepreneurial spirits, so that they might find and create new opportunities for themselves and their communities once released.
The Wolf Center for Entrepreneurship at UH’s Bauer College of Business has been ranked the number one or two entrepreneurship program in the country, including a number one ranking in 2021 for the third consecutive year. Over the past decade, more than 1,400 businesses have been started by Wolff Center students, earning a collective $399 million in funding.
Entrepreneurship matters to Houston
Ensuring that Houston-area entrepreneurs have access to the tools and resources they need in order to thrive is vital to the continued success of our region. By understanding the challenges and barriers current and aspiring entrepreneurs face in Greater Houston, we can better equip our region with the tools it needs to foster an even healthier small business community that positively impacts us all.
As important as they are to our region’s health and prosperity, entrepreneurs are also a reflection of other truths about life in Greater Houston. Be sure to follow along on social media and in our newsletter to keep up with the “Houston Is …” series all year long.
1Understanding Houston utilizes the U.S. Census term, “Hispanic,” “Latino” or “Hispanic/Latino” when referring to the overall population. For the purposes of this article, we will use these terms interchangeably depending on the nomenclature used in our cited sources.
Reflecting on two years of community connections and informed action.
When we began work on Understanding Houston a few years ago, we set out to create a relevant, accessible platform that would connect community leaders and changemakers with the information they need to take targeted, informed action where our region needs it most. This November, Understanding Houston is celebrating its two-year anniversary of our launch in 2019. Since then, Understanding Houston — an initiative of the Greater Houston Community Foundation — has grown significantly, and we would like to thank everyone who has supported our mission to build a more vibrant Houston with opportunity for all.
Here are just a few of the things that made year two such a success.
The addition of our ninth topic: Disaster
Between hurricanes, floods and even freezes, residents in Houston’s three-county region are no stranger to weather-related disasters. Layer on the COVID-19 pandemic and its many devastating impacts, and the need for a source to find data on regional disasters was greater than ever.
At the beginning of 2021, Understanding Houston added a Disaster topic page along with four subtopic pages to share key findings and provide insights into how disasters affect residents differently. Our hope is that this information helps residents understand the varied risks of disasters, who is the most vulnerable to disaster impacts and in what ways, and shows how uneven disaster response can widen pre-existing inequities. In order for our region to bounce back after a disaster, everyone in our community — especially the most vulnerable — must receive the help they need to not only recover but also be made stronger to weather the next disaster.
The Disaster topic page allows us to take an in-depth look into these areas of disaster and identify opportunities and obstacles to help our residents prepare for and withstand the various impacts of disasters. But we have also started catalyzing collaborative action in the area of disaster recovery and resiliency in more proactive and intentional ways. Following the release of Understanding Hoston’s new disaster data, the Greater Houston Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Houston announced their Disaster Resilience partnership to streamline disaster funding, combine resources, and provide a streamlined response for the entire region whether recovering from a pandemic or a winter storm.
Understanding Houston helped with reliable data to provide a basis for discussion on problems facing Greater Houston. Using this information with others allows us to determine root causes and first steps to developing an action plan to address a basic issue.
– Shelia Thorne, GardenKids of Kemah
Understanding Houston’s community continues to grow
Understanding Houston’s community has grown substantially in the last year. More people use and engage with the site, subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on social media, and have joined us at a data briefing, data workshop, or a visioning session as we seek to continually evolve and improve.
New audiences through data briefings
Despite the need for social distancing, Understanding Houston was able to continue to engage the community in our data through programming. In the summer, we held three Data Dives + Workshops in partnership with United Way of Greater Houston (UWGH) where nearly 300 members of Houston’s nonprofit community attended. In addition to reviewing the new data around disasters, we sought feedback from local nonprofit organizations on what they want to see as we build disaster-ready philanthropic partnerships to improve our collective disaster preparedness and response. We asked how the data would be useful and how it could be more helpful to regional leaders who activate during disasters. Read our findings here.
More recently, this fall we held an intensive Visioning Lab in which we engaged 50 users in a conversation about what they liked best about the Understanding Houston website and how they would improve it. We will hold another Visioning Lab in January and publish our findings the following month. Stay tuned as we share where we are headed next.
New users and increased awareness
The Understanding Houston website allows visitors to access impartial data through high-level topic pages, deeper subtopic pages, informative articles, downloadable reports and interactive charts. Our website also allows visitors to vote on the type of content that we should focus on moving forward so that we can reflect our residents’ interests and concerns.
Here’s how the community has been utilizing Understanding Houston website in year two:
40,038 site users: More than 40,000 people have come to Understanding Houston through search engines, social media, or direct referrals in the past year.
99,008 page views: These users have explored more than 99,000 collective pages of Understanding Houston content.
1,937 report downloads: Nearly 2,000 reports have been downloaded by users for later use and reference.
786 chart exports: Close to 800 charts have been exported by users to include in presentations, share on social media or feature on their website.
336 topic votes: Users have voted for the topics that matter most to them 336 times in the past year.
Understanding Houston utilizes multiple platforms to reach different audiences, including social media and a monthly newsletter. Across all social media platforms, Understanding Houston gained more than 2,000 followers in our second year. This means that more individuals are engaging with Understanding Houston’s data and becoming more informed and aware of issues and current events that are taking place in our region.
Here’s how we have continued to grow and engage our Houston audience in our second year.
2,106 total newsletter subscribers (23.8% ↑ from last year)
5,514 total social media followers (61%↑ from last year)
Understanding Houston has provided information about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in discussions around the region’s population. This bolstered our organization’s response by hiring a DEI consultant to assist in a two-year initiative to improve processes where needed and better serve our clients. We are finding more funders’ attention to this subject important in grant making.
– Jenetha Jones, Child Advocates of Fort Bend
Amplifying community voices
At its core, Understanding Houston aims to inspire and inform and action. Not only by providing robust data over time on key quality of life indicators but also by illuminating and contextualizing that data into insights through research articles and amplifying Community Voices with regional leader profiles and personal stories. In the past year, we have collaborated with a number of community leaders and organizations including the Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC), Arts Connect Houston, Urban Harvest, FuelEd, and many more!
These collaborations resulted in 21 total in-depth articles, including six pieces authored by leaders and changemakers from Houston’s nonprofit community. Through data and testimonies, these pieces helped us paint a more detailed picture of issues affecting our communities.
How Understanding Houston is making an impact: Survey responses
In October 2021, Understanding Houston sent out a Feedback & Impact Survey –– an opportunity for those in Houston’s three county region to share how Understanding Houston can improve its website’s tools and programming in the upcoming update.
The survey was conducted from August 26 to October 25 and garnered 170 responses. When asked to rate Understanding Houston’s usefulness for learning about the quality of life in our region, 96% of respondents rated our website as very or mostly useful, indicating respondents are very satisfied, and more than four out of five respondents took some action based on learning something new through the website or data briefing, and 99% said they were extremely likely to refer a friend or colleague to the site.
Through the responses, it became clear that most participants value a user-friendly website with relevant data and clear content –– most agreed that the Understanding Houston website caters to these preferences. As we move into year three with plans for a site-wide refresh, these responses will help us make our website a more inviting and useful tool for all who need it.
As a concerned Houstonian, the resources available through this initiative have a direct impact on where and how I can direct my resources to have the most impact in my own city.
– GHCF Donor
How we’re planning for the future of Understanding Houston
Evolution is core to the Understanding Houston initiative. So even though the first two years of Understanding Houston have been successful, our work is not done yet. Using the responses from the Feedback & Impact Survey, we are working to improve our user experience and better our website’s resources by implementing a sitewide data update.
As we update hundreds of indicators on our website, we hope these updates better reflect and serve our community’s needs so that Understanding Houston can be as useful as possible. The first phase of updates will be launching soon, and we cannot wait for you to see what we have in store!
Thank you, Houston!
We would not be able to celebrate our second anniversary without thanking everyone who made this success possible! We owe many thanks to those who have helped to make Understanding Houston the compelling resource it is today. To all the donors, partners, guest bloggers, researchers, analysts, developers, designers, writers and followers who keep us moving forward, we are endlessly grateful.
Thanks to you, our second year was successful, and we plan to continue that success in years to come. If you’d like to wish us a Happy Second Anniversary on our social media accounts, give us a follow on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn!
As we look toward our third year in 2022 and beyond, no one knows what Mother Nature, COVID-19, or even life, has planned for our region, but you can count on Understanding Houston to help you find the facts, deliver insights, and amplify community voices.
A data-driven look at what 2021 meant for Houston’s three-county area
No year in recent memory has simultaneously had so much and so little to live up to as 2021. Coming on the heels of a tumultuous 2020 mired in an ongoing pandemic and a contentious political landscape, the arrival of 2021 represented hope and the chance to return to normalcy — or at least something like it. And while 2021 certainly gave us more to celebrate than its predecessor, it also came with its share of challenges and surprises.
From big freeze blackouts to vaccine rollouts, an Astros World Series to an Astroworld tragedy, the greater Houston area was at the center of some of 2021’s most talked about events. And with so much clogging our newsfeeds on any given day of 2021, it wasn’t always easy to keep up with the finer details, especially with one event often overtaking another before the dust could even settle.
That’s why we’re closing out the year by taking a look at the numbers and unpacking the things that defined life in Greater Houston during 2021.
Winter Storm Uri
Greater Houston may be no stranger to natural disasters, but freezing weather has not historically been our region’s burden to bear. Then came Winter Storm Uri. Uri blew into Texas barely a month and a half into the new year, bringing with it temperatures as low as 13℉ in Houston and leaving about 1.4 million Houstonians waking up to freezing cold temperatures and no electricity.
Hours turned to days as people desperately waited for their power to come back on. The surprise of an extended power outage left many without food, water and other essential supplies needed to endure such conditions –– including highly vulnerable communities, who are less likely to have the emergency supplies or funds on-hand to endure unexpected emergencies.
Here’s how Winter Storm Uri impacted Greater Houston/Texas, by the numbers:
Despite what many had hoped, the COVID-19 pandemic continued to shape Houston life in 2021, impacting our region, its residents and its healthcare systems. However, thanks in significant part to the effectiveness of available COVID-19 vaccines, residents and businesses have found new ways to carry on in the face of the ongoing pandemic.
As one of the largest and most diverse major metropolitan areas in the country, the greater Houston region played a significant role in setting the tone for vaccine rollouts across the nation. Despite some early challenges regarding inequity in access, vaccines have had a mostly successful rollout throughout our region, albeit at inconsistent rates.
Even after all Texas adults became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on March 29, 2021, hesitancy and accessibility remained barriers for many. According to survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Houston-area residents have expressed a variety of reasons for not getting vaccinated.
Of those surveyed, 51% of those not yet vaccinated cited concern about side effects as the driving factor behind their hesitancy. While the vaccine has proven to be safe over the past 12 months, trust issues remain a concern. A third of those surveyed said they did not trust the COVID-19 vaccine, and possibly more concerning, more than a quarter of respondents cited distrust of the government as a driving force in their decision not to get vaccinated. As the vaccine is arguably our most critical tool in our battle against the deadly impact of COVID-19, consistent communication about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine remains vital.
Amidst a protracted vaccine rollout that was even more challenging overseas, two COVID-19 variants — Delta and Omicron — have emerged, presenting new challenges for public health officials and medical professionals. While the impact Omicron could have in our region remains to be seen, Delta represented significant challenges at its peak, overwhelming area hospitals and medical facilities – with COVID-19 patients occupying 21.3% of area hospital beds the week of August 22, 2021, a significant increase from just 5.9% the month before, and just 2.3% the month before that.
85% of COVID-19 deaths in Texas were among the unvaccinated.
The Summer surge also contributed to a sobering death toll. As of December 8, 2020, 3,890 people had died of COVID-19 throughout the three-county region. A year later, that number tripled to 11,721. According to a study conducted by the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, 85% of people ages 12+ who died of complications from COVID-19 between January 15 and October 1, 2021 were not vaccinated.
Houston’s population keeps growing and changing
The results of the 2020 census were released this year and confirmed what many residents could already feel: Our region — and our state — has grown significantly over the past decade. In fact, population growth in Greater Houston accounted for a quarter of the total population growth in the state of Texas.
Between 2010 and 2020, the three-county area population grew by 1,040,787 people, a 20% increase. While Harris County added the most residents total, Fort Bend County experienced the highest growth rate at 40.6% over the last decade.
Non-white people made up 95% of all of Texas’ growth in the past 10 years –– and Hispanics alone accounted for half of that growth.
Growing populations and pandemic-impacted markets have had a significant impact on both the availability and affordability of housing in Greater Houston. Though the greater Houston region has historically had a reputation for affordability, that trend has been gradually reversing for years, reaching a boiling point alongside similar markets nationwide.
The median sale price for a single-family home in the Houston area grew by 16% — from $270,000 in November 2020 to $314,000 in November 2021, according to Greater Houston Partnership analysis of data from Houston Association of Realtors. And total sales in November 2021 were up 5.6% from the same time last year.
Home sales increased only for homes valued $250,000 and higher.
Source: Greater Houston Partnership analysis of data from Houston Association of Realtors, November 2020 – November 2021
Even as home prices increased, the demand and competition for buying them remained strong. In November 2020, a given piece of property remained on the market for 46 days on average. A year later, that number was down to 35.
Life in Houston, by the numbers
Amidst a year defined by uncertainty, vaccines and a cautious return to normalcy allowed for some memorable moments to return to our region — many great, one tragic.
The Astros in the World Series
A highlight for many Houstonians was no doubt the return of the Houston Astros to the MLB World Series for the third time in five years. Though the Astros ultimately lost the six-game series, the greater Houston region won in a number of other ways. We’ll let the baseball fanatics focus on the game stats, meanwhile, we’d like to draw your attention to the economic impact the Astros’ championship season had on our communities.
Estimated economic impact: $26 million (Source: Houston First Corporation)
Downtown hotel occupancy rates: 90%+, up from just 11% a year before (Source: Houston First Corporation)
Fans in seats: 128,526 (Source: Baseball Almanac)
The Astroworld Tragedy
When Grammy Award-winning Houston-native Travis Scott announced the return of his popular Astroworld music festival, fans and music-lovers were thrilled at the chance to gather and enjoy live music again after a mostly concert-free 2020. Unfortunately, that joy was short-lived.
While investigations are ongoing amid an ever-growing slew of lawsuits against Scott, promoter Live Nation and others, what we do know paints a tragic picture of loss that our region will mourn and reflect on for years to come.
2021 was filled with ups and downs for our region, and If the last two years serve as any indication, there’s only so much anyone can safely predict about 2022. But whatever trends impact our region in the coming year, Understanding Houston is here to add data-driven insights and context to the issues that matter in our communities.
Early voting for the November 2 election in Texas has begun. The right to vote is an essential cornerstone of the fabric of American democracy. The first article of the U.S. Constitution states that the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are to be determined by popular vote, however voting in the U.S. is not mandatory and is considered both a right and a privilege.
The 2020 presidential election had the highest voter turnout rate in the United States in more than a century, according to the United States Elections Project. Similarly, the three-county Houston area also saw high voter registration rates — among multiple demographic groups — and higher voter turnout in November 2020 than the previous presidential election. However, despite having record high levels of voter registration that typically exceeds the national rate, the three-county area continues to lag the nation in voter turnout.
Almost a quarter of registered voters didn’t vote
Despite the countless disruptions to the “normal” way of life caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Presidential Election saw the highest levels of voter registration and participation in over a decade in the three-county Houston area.
In each presidential election since 2008, the share of voting-age citizens in the three-county area who register to vote has exceeded that in Texas and the U.S. In the 2020 Presidential election, all three counties exceeded voter registration rates by more than ten percentage points compared to Texas and the country as a whole.
However, the percentage of those Houstonians who actually cast their ballot continues to considerably lag the national voter turnout rate.
Nearly 75% of registered voters in Fort Bend and Montgomery counties cast a ballot in 2020, but only 67% did so in Harris County. Voter turnout increased almost 10 percentage points in Fort Bend County between 2016 and 2020, compared to a 7.8-point increase in both Harris and Montgomery counties and a 4.7-point increase in the United States overall.
Voter registration in Greater Houston varies by demographic characteristics
Research shows that voter registration rates vary by demographic characteristics. For example, educational attainment plays a role in the likelihood of registering to vote and is considered one of the strongest indicators of voter turnout.1,2
The voter registration rate in the 2020 Election for residents with at least a bachelor’s degree was 87.3% compared to 62% among those with a high school diploma only — 25 percentage points higher3. This disparity is wider than the 21-point gap between the two groups in the 2016 Election.
Despite naturalized citizens typically being less likely to register to vote than native-born citizens and having a lower percentage of registered voters compared to native-born citizens in the 2016 presidential election, this demographic group saw the largest increase in voter registration rates in the Houston MSA with an over 18 percentage point increase.
Early voting is an increasingly popular approach to casting a ballot
Early voting has been a consistently popular choice with voters in the three-county area. In fact, for every presidential election in the past 12 years, more than 50% of the total votes were cast during the early voting period. Voters in Fort Bend, Harris and Montgomery counties are more likely to vote early compared to both the nation and the state.
For the 2020 election, 88% of voters in the three-county region cast their votes before Election Day.
In Texas, a person may vote early in two ways: by showing up in person during the determined early voting period or by voting by mail. Although voting by mail was more popular in the three-county area during the 2020 election compared to past presidential elections, in-person voting was still used by the vast majority of early voters.
In the three-county area, the number of early voters who cast their ballot by mail instead of in-person nearly doubled compared to the 2016 presidential election.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many states made modifications to their absentee/mail-in voting procedures. Fort Bend County opened up the Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land as a mega-voting site, allowed residents to cast their vote at any voting location in the county, and extended voting hours. Montgomery County encouraged early voting, extended hours at voting locations, and offered curbside voting for eligible voters. Harris County implemented a number of changes such as providing six 24-hour voting sites during election week, 10 drive-thru voting locations, and 12 locations to drop off mail-in ballots. A survey conducted by Bob Stein, along with other professors at Rice University, with Harris County voters found that 7.2% of respondents used drive-thru voting. Drive-thru voting among Black and Hispanic voters was higher, used by 9.7% and 13.1% of voters, respectively, compared to 5.1% of white voters.4
Your Vote Matters
While our region hasn’t seen voter turnout levels for the past three presidential elections like we’ve seen in 2020, they are still significantly lower than the national rate. Research has shown that Americans are more likely to vote if they know and understand the process, if the rules and regulations are easy to navigate, and if they believe their vote “matters.” The potential perceived benefits of voting range from motivators such as the net benefit of one’s preferred candidate winning over the other candidates and psychological motivators such as social pressure, social benefit, and altruism and egocentrism.
The Electoral Integrity Project conducted an expert survey of 800+ scholars of elections, parties, and American state politics about their perceptions of the electoral process across all 50 states and D.C. about the 2020 U.S. Presidential Elections. While the experts overwhelmingly rejected claims of alleged fraud, respondents note previously-cited challenges such as gerrymandering favoring incumbents, news lacking fairness and balance, and social media amplifying misinformation, among other issues, as undermining the electoral process and resulting in waning public confidence in U.S. elections.
No matter who you support or what your belief system is, the act of selecting our representation at the local, state, and federal levels is a fundamental right in the United States and one of the most obvious and basic ways to engage in a civil society. By coming together with an informed perspective on civic participation in our region, we can increase civic engagement in our communities and accountability in the political process.
2Sondheimer, R. M., & Green, D. P. (2010). Using Experiments to Estimate the Effects of Education on Voter Turnout. American Journal of Political Science, 54(1), 174–189. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20647978
3Houston MSA encompasses Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller counties.
4Rice University Post-2020 Election Survey of Harris County Voters, retrieved from Rice University’s OpenRICE program by Matthew Hayes, Ph.D.on August 27, 2021. To request a copy of the full report, contact Amy McCaig, senior media relations specialist at Rice, at 217-417-2901 or email@example.com.
2020 Census data shows how the Houston region has evolved over the last decade
The U.S. Census Bureau has released data from the 2020 Census; however, collecting this data did not come without its challenges. In March 2020, right as households began receiving invitations to participate in the 2020 Census, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the U.S. Census Bureau to cease all in-person operations. Not only did social distancing make it challenging to go door-to-door to follow-up with folks who hadn’t completed the census, but the virus (along with uncertainty around the existence of citizenship-status questions) also hindered Houston’s response rates to the 2020 Census.
In an article with Understanding Houston, Frances Valdez, the Executive Director of Houston in Action, wrote, “The census affects how billions of our tax dollars will come back into our communities through federal budgeting allocations over the next decade.” The lower the response rate, the smaller the budgets for services and programs like public education, public transit, housing, and more. Decennial census data allows us to look at the present to understand what the Houston region may need in the future. This data informs redistricting efforts, alerts county officials to which groups are growing or declining, and helps policymakers’ plans to strengthen our region for the road ahead.
Houston’s three-county region adds one million residents in past decade
The past decade has been a time of growth for both the state of Texas and the Greater Houston region. The population of Texas grew to 29.1 million in 2020 by adding nearly 4 million residents since 2010. Three Houston-area counties — Fort Bend, Harris, Montgomery — accounted for one-fourth of Texas’ population growth.
As for Houston’s three-county region, each one of our three largest counties has also experienced population growth. The population of Harris County — the most populous county in the state — increased to 6.2 million (15.6%) between 2010 and 2020. Fort Bend County is home to 822,800 people and grew 40.6% in the last decade — the fastest growth rate in our three-county region. Montgomery County’s population grew 36.1% since 2010 to 620,400 in 2020.
Population growth consists of two main components: natural increase and net migration. Natural increase refers to the number of births minus deaths in a population, and tends to remain relatively steady over time. Whereas, net migration — the total of the number of individuals who moved into an area minus those who moved out — can have more frequent fluctuations.
Domestic and international migration drives population growth in Houston’s three-county region
The U.S. Census Bureau distinguishes between domestic and international migration in its migration estimates — domestic migration is any movement within the nation while international migration refers to movement across international borders.
For example, between 2010 and 2020, about 81,900 more residents left Harris County to live somewhere else in the U.S. than moved into Harris County from another U.S. county. (This is the second consecutive decade in which Harris County had negative net domestic migration. Between 2000 and 2010, 72,100 more residents left Harris County to live somewhere else in the country.)
However, Harris County net-gained 289,400 residents to its population between 2010 and 2020 from more people from overseas moving into the area than leaving it for another country. Much of Fort Bend and Montgomery counties’ population growth comes from domestic migration — historically, people from Harris County moving to a neighboring one.
Population projections for Houston’s three-county region hit the mark
In 2014, the Texas Demographic Center (previously known as State Data Center) made population projections for three different migration scenarios: one, assuming zero net migration (the number of people who move in equals the number of people moving out), another assuming a net migration rate equal to one-half of the rate seen between 2000 and 2010 (0.5 Scenario), and a final scenario assuming the net migration rate will be equal to the rate seen between 2000 and 2010 (1.0 Scenario).
The 2020 population of Texas is not very different from the projections the Texas Demographic Center made in 2014. Under the 0.5 scenario, they projected that the population of Texas would reach 28.8 million by 2020. Under the 1.0 Scenario, they projected Fort Bend’s population would reach 888,600; under the 0.5 Scenario, they projected Harris County’s population would reach 4,683,874; and Montgomery’s 2020 population is closest to the 1.0 Scenario estimate.
According to their most recent projections made in 2018, the Texas Demographic Center estimates that by 2030, Fort Bend’s population will nearly double to 1.2 million, Harris County’s will exceed 5.9 million, and Montgomery County’s will reach 831,450.
More than two-thirds of Houston’s three-county region is comprised of People of Color
The past 40 years has been one of transformative change for the three-county Houston region. Not only has our region grown to one of the most populous in the nation, but also the racial/ethnic composition of our residents has diversified. Between 1980 and 2020, each of the four largest racial/ethnic groups increased, however the growth rate of Hispanics and Asian Americans outpaced that of non-Hispanic whites and Black Houstonians, creating a demographic shift in our region from being majority-white to majority-people-of-color. While this mirrors a similar trend happening across the nation and the state of Texas, no other major metropolitan area has witnessed this change more acutely and quickly as Houston, according to Stephen Klineberg, principal investigator of the Houston Area Survey and sociologist at Rice University. Interact with the chart below to see how racial/ethnic composition has changed in our region and Texas by selecting different geographies in the drop-down menu.
In 2020, there were nearly 2.4 million Hispanics/Latinos in Houston’s three-county region (nearly 39% of the region), with 2 million in Harris County alone. In 1980, just 40 years ago, Hispanics comprised 15% of the region’s population. The weight of these figures typically does not faze most Houstonians who have witnessed this significant shift, but to most Americans, these changes are unique. For example, among the 100 most populous counties in the nation, only 12 have a higher percentage of Hispanics than Harris County. More recently, Houston’s Hispanic/Latino community has grown considerably in the last decade. Between 2010 and 2020, the Hispanic/Latino population in the three-county region grew by 26% alone. The number of Latinos grew by 43% in Fort Bend County, 22% in Harris County, and 73% in Montgomery County during the same time period.
More broadly, in Texas, the Hispanic/Latino population grew by nearly 2 million people between 2010 and 2020, increasing its share of the state population from 37.6% to 39.3%. In fact, non-white people made up 95% of all of Texas’ growth in the past 10 years –– and Hispanics alone accounted for half of that growth.
According to recent Census data, the three-county region’s Asian-American population grew by 53% — from 358,000 in 2010 to 548,000 in 2020 — the fastest growth rate in our region. In 2020, Asian Americans comprised 8.9% of the three-county region population compared to 7.0% in 2010 and only 1.8% in 1980. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of Asian Americans grew 84% in Fort Bend County, 38% in Harris County, and 129% in Montgomery County — though Asian Americans comprise less than 4% of Montgomery’s total population.
Fort Bend County has the highest proportion of Asian-American residents in Texas (22%). In Sugar Land, nearly 39% of the population identifies as Asian American. Asian Indians comprise 41% of the Asian-American population in Fort Bend, while Vietnamese Americans account for the largest share in the rest of our region. Read more about the fastest-growing ethnic group in our region here.
Of course, it is difficult to talk about population growth without considering how certain groups are typically displaced from their communities due to changing economic and demographic conditions. For example, the Houston Chronicle reports that historically Black Third Ward has changed significantly in the last decade. In 2020, Black people comprised 45% of the neighborhood — a decline from 71% in 2010. Acres Homes in North Houston saw its Black population fall 12% and its Latino population grow by 65%. Second Ward saw its Latino population decline by 25% while its white population increased 50%. Learn more about the history of these communities in the Chronicle’s report.
Trends today inform Houston’s future
Census data allows us to recognize the trends of the past and plan for the population of the future. The data also represents an opportunity for us to strengthen our region in the places where change and evolution will be necessary. These shifts in our population have implications for our community context, economic opportunity in our region, our education system, and much more, including the process of adding a congressional district to our region and redistricting, which is currently underway.
As Houston’s three-county region continues to grow, we will continue to analyze and report on the data that affects our communities. Given the pandemic, the Census Bureau is expected to release its first-that-we-know of “experimental” data set that will allow us to delve deeper into the latest trends on a broader range of quality of life issues. Stay tuned for data updates coming in November and early 2022! We invite you to get to know the data, keep up with our mission on social media and discover how you can get involved to help Understanding Houston continue exploring what matters to the Houston area.
The 2021–22 school year has reamplified public concerns regarding COVID-19’s continued impact on our children, including its toll on their mental and emotional wellbeing as well as lost learning opportunities. Addressing these needs will necessitate holistic, comprehensive approaches that require our community to reexamine children’s educational priorities, needs and resources. While many of these strategies will require further investigation and experimentation, the arts have proven to be remarkably valuable in addressing and strengthening students’ social and emotional learning needs.
Defining Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is complicated because the phrase is often employed differently by various stakeholder groups. A classroom teacher may use SEL to refer to social emotional skills like empathy and perseverance. Meanwhile, a parent may think of SEL as a means for promoting positive relationships amongst their children’s peers.
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as the process through which people (both young and old) acquire knowledge and skills to manage their emotions and feelings, achieve goals, display compassion and empathy for others, cultivate and maintain relationships, make better decisions, and ultimately develop a healthy self-image.
Policymakers have come to recognize the importance of SEL in schools. In the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, i.e., The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Congress added legislation requiring states to broaden their measures of school quality and effectiveness. The vast majority of states have since responded by adopting measures that assess students’ school engagement, school culture and climate, and SEL. While the emphasis on SEL had been gaining steam, the COVID-19 pandemic made its importance all the more apparent.
About one-third of adults in the Houston Metro Area have reported feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge for at least more than half the days of a week since the start of the pandemic, with some groups faring worse than others. As students across Houston continue to experience high rates of anxiety, trauma and depression in light of the pandemic, it is important to address these mental health challenges directly. Latinos for Education recently shared that 46% of Spanish-speaking parents in Houston have seen their children experience mental health struggles and decreased socialization.
SEL development combats these issues head on. A 2017 study showed that students who received SEL programming tended to handle emotional distress better and experienced less drug usage. Research also shows strong correlations between mental health and academic performance — the same study found that students who received SEL programming averaged 13 percentage points higher than non-SEL peers on academic performance metrics.
These benefits go beyond the individual. A separate 2015 cost-benefit analysis on SEL interventions reported an average of an $11 return on investment for every dollar spent on SEL programming. This type of return on investment can be utilized by the Houston community-at-large to increase economic opportunities, reduce poverty, and improve other outcomes for students.
The Arts Opportunity
There is little consistency in how schools approach teaching SEL concepts to their students. Some campuses integrate SEL into their school improvement and/or strategic plans directly and encourage their teachers to incorporate SEL concepts into existing lesson plans, while others teach SEL concepts entirely separate. Regardless of what approach an individual campus may choose, there is one scientifically proven, yet historically overlooked (and underfunded) avenue for increasing these skills: arts education.
Children grow their skills and behaviors through developmental experiences that allow them to participate in daily life and reflect on how their participation impacts them. These experiences also tend to be the most impactful when they occur in “strong, supportive, and sustained developmental relationships with important adults and peers.” Put another way, students develop skills, habits and behaviors most effectively when they are actively involved in the “doing” of learning, and when they are surrounded by people they care about, like teachers and classmates.
Communal active learning is at the core of arts education. Any art form, whether it be music, theatre, visual arts, dance, etc., provides students the chance to actively explore new concepts, new skills and new behaviors with their peers. Arts education programming affords students an opportunity to mimic or interpret experts and leaders in an art form, participate as much or as little as they feel comfortable, develop self-discipline through practice and contribute to a collective effort. For instance, a classroom of third graders may mimic their art teacher’s still-life painting and attempt to produce something similar. This act forces the student to think critically about how to produce a similar piece, what materials they may need, and how to move their hands. They may look around and engage nearby students for advice or learn by what others are doing. The process of creating art builds focus and endured concentration, while empowering students to express themselves in ways they normally would not be able to articulate.
A 2019 Rice University study examined the impacts of arts educational experiences on Houston students and also found considerable impacts on their social and emotional outcomes. Students who received access to these arts educational experiences saw substantial increases in their writing achievement, compassion for others, and a reduction in school disciplinary issues. Among elementary school students, this same study saw significant increases in school engagement levels, aspirations for college, and empathy.
Funders and decision-makers often point to a lack of empirical evidence as the reasoning behind not investing in the arts. This study is tangible proof that right here in Houston, arts education is a lever for improving SEL outcomes. Our region has already developed a strong, vibrant and growing infrastructure for supporting this work. The creation of the Houston ISD Fine Arts Department in 2017 has seen the Fine Arts student-teacher ratio drop by over 100 students per teacher and has eliminated 30 Fine Arts deserts at elementary schools across the city. Arts Connect Houston, a collective-impact organization of over 80 partners, including arts and cultural organizations, Houston ISD, funders, and city/government leaders exists to increase equitable access to the arts in schools across Houston. Since 2019, we have seen partnerships between schools and cultural organizations grow 17% — demonstrating an increase in understanding the impact the arts can have in supporting students, particularly amid an ongoing pandemic. Imagine what that growth could look like, and the subsequent SEL outcomes, if the arts were sufficiently supported.
An arts-rich education in Houston
Margo Hickman, a theatre teacher in Houston noted that when she looks at her students, “so many of them are frustrated. They are angry. The arts allow them to release those feelings.” Margo incorporates Social Emotional Learning through theatre games and meditation. When asked how the arts have impacted her student’s social-emotional learning, she simply added, “The arts have saved people’s lives.”
“So many of the [students] are frustrated. They are angry. The arts allow them to release those feelings.”
– Margo Hickman, Theatre Teacher in Houston
Social Emotional Learning is an important aspect of a child’s development, and the arts provide a proven pathway to grow those skills, but students lack equitable access to these valuable educational experiences. As of 2021, it is estimated that nearly 9,000 elementary school students within Houston ISD do not have access to a full-time certified fine arts teacher at their school. Last year, nearly 40 schools reported no partnerships with any arts and cultural organizations, while others worked with as many as six. Moreover, past studies have shown that students from historically underserved communities are much less likely to engage in arts learning experiences outside of school (while affluent students are twice as likely!), meaning that investments from schools and districts are critical for ensuring that these students have these opportunities. Shaela Sageth, a Houston ISD student planning on pursuing an arts-related degree next fall highlights the disparity in access saying “Being low-income, school was my only chance to access arts classes and creative tools while growing up. I would have liked to have had these kinds of diverse arts opportunities in my schools.”
As our community continues to discuss the best way forward, administrators will face incredible challenges for determining how best to spend scarce resources. As a community, we need to consider holistic, comprehensive approaches that employ the vast resources available in our city to provide all students no matter their neighborhood or school, with the tools they need to successfully navigate the trauma of a global health crisis and prepare them for lifelong success. Arts education is a tried-and-true means for addressing these challenges.
It is up to all of us, now more than ever, to ensure that every child has access to the benefits of an arts-rich education. Our city has already cultivated the necessary tools to implement meaningful change. Despite the horrible crisis we have found ourselves in for the past year and a half, we have also been afforded an incredible opportunity to reevaluate how we educate our students. It is time to invest in the “arts opportunity” and grow and nurture our children’s humanity, sense of community, and perseverance. Doing so will ensure that Houston remains a vibrant and thriving community for years to come.
By Michael Sheehy, Deborah Lugo, and Daniel H. Bowen, PhD
Michael Sheehy is the Data + Advocacy manager for Arts Connect Houston. He holds a degree in theatre from the University of Kentucky and an M.P.P. from the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. Before coming to Houston, Michael worked as a researcher measuring audience response to COVID-19 and social impact for WolfBrown and El Sistema USA respectively.
Deborah Lugo is the Executive Director for Arts Connect Houston. Through her work, she facilitates strategic alignments and opportunities in order to expand access to arts education for students throughout the Houston ISD. Deborah, originally from Puerto Rico, holds a Master in Public Policy from Princeton University and a Bachelor in Violin Performance from Florida International University. Before her time at Arts Connect, she was the Executive Director of Mercury Chamber Orchestra.
Daniel Bowen, Ph.D. is an associate professor with Texas A&M University’s Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development, a research affiliate of Rice University’s Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC), and the co-director of the National Endowment for the Arts-sponsored Arts, Humanities, and Civic Engagement Lab. Dr. Bowen primarily investigates the educational impacts of arts, humanities, and civic engagement learning experiences through experimental and quasi-experimental research methods.
As the largest ethnic group in the region, Houston’s Hispanic community has left an indelible impression in our communities — both past and present. From indigenous roots spanning the Americas and those with African ancestry, to early Spanish-speaking settlers and present-day community pillars, Houstonians who identify as Hispanic/Latino have shaped our region in fundamental and invaluable ways.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we’ll explore Houston’s multifaceted Hispanic/Latino community through data, history and what current leaders are doing to keep the community’s legacy thriving throughout our region.
“To me, Houston is the most dynamic city for Latinos in Texas. Not only have they been present since the city’s founding, but the community is constantly being strengthened by new arrivals who bring fresh energy, skills and perspectives. Hispanics in Houston introduce vibrant foods, music and cultural scenes. They integrate quickly into the economy and interact daily with other racial and ethnic groups. While many inequalities and challenges persist, this is a place where Latinos come to set roots, to grow, and to thrive.“
– Dr. Cecilia Ballí, an anthropologist and Visiting Scholar at the University of Houston’s Center for Mexican American Studies
The Hispanic/Latino population in Houston
Greater Houston is home to one of the nation’s largest Hispanic populations, numbering more than 2.3 million people (38%) throughout the region.
Hispanics are most likely to live in Harris County, where they comprise 42% of the population. In 1980, only 41 years ago, Hispanics made up only 15% of the county’s population. Both in Greater Houston and throughout the state, the Hispanic population is projected to continue growing. According to the Texas Demographic Center, the Hispanic/Latino1 population in Texas is projected to reach 12.3 million by 2022 — becoming the largest ethnic group in the state. By 2030, the population is expected to reach 14.5 million. Let’s take a look at how the Hispanic/Latino community has shaped —and will continue to shape — the Houston we know and love.
Houston’s Latino community is diverse
Because the general terms “Hispanic” or ”Latino” are used to describe a group of people who originate from a wide variety of Spanish-speaking or Latin American countries, and who understand their identity in different ways, the diversity within that broad group can often go unnoticed. Houston’s Hispanic/Latino population is not a monolith and can trace its heritage to many different countries and indigenous tribes.
Moreover, many people whose ancestors identified as Hispanic/Latino, may not describe themselves that way. According to the Pew Research Center, Hispanic self-identification varies across immigrant generations. Among people who report Hispanic ancestry, almost all the foreign born identify as Hispanic, whereas only half of those who are fourth generation Hispanic/Latino Americans or higher do.
While a majority of Houston’s Hispanic population originates from Mexico, we find incredible diversity among all residents of Hispanic/Latino origin as well as among those with Mexican and Indigenous ancestry. As such, Mexican Texans, also known as “Tejanos,” have a long history in the state and in our region.
The end of the Texas Revolution in the mid-1830s marked a significant turning point in Mexican-American settlement in Houston and the booming economy and culture we celebrate today. Areas of early settlement, including Segundo Barrio in the Second Ward and Magnolia Park Neighborhood in the East End, quickly became hotspots for the community to grow.
Magnolia Park in particular –– named after the beautiful magnolia trees that line the neighborhood –– became the city’s largest Mexican-American community and was given the nickname “Little Mexico.” Mexican-American residents of the Magnolia Barrio, as it was called, worked on dredging the Houston Ship Channel in the early 1910’s. The important role Mexican Americans played in deepening the Channel allowed larger cargo ships to enter the port, which is why the Port of Houston is consistently the largest in the nation (measured by domestic and foreign waterborne tonnage) and contributes an estimated $339 billion in economic value to the state of Texas.
Houston’s Mexican-American population established a variety of social, cultural, religious, and political organizations that advocated for the community and paved the way for its residents to thrive. From the Second Ward came Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, the first Mexican-American church in Houston and the first religious institution to offer services in Spanish. This church also ran one of the earliest schools for Mexican-American children in the region and provided food and shelter to those in the community.
From even before Houston’s founding to today, Mexican Americans have been and continue to be the largest Hispanic group in our region, and cultural staples such as civil rights organizations, theatre companies, and art exhibits that were established around the 1980s still exist and thrive in present-day Houston.
“Houston is so blessed with the richness of our Hispanic Heritage and our multifaceted cultures. This vast Texas city of opportunity coupled with warm Texas hospitality, kindness and charm make Houston, in my opinion, the greatest city in the world. Our fusion of flavor, color, music, and art are the spice that makes Houston so desirable and unique. In one family gathering, which because of our heritage are quite often, we easily represented Cuban, Mexican, Panamanian, Nicaraguan, Argentinean, Costa Rican, Dutch and Spanish cultures—and this is just the beginning. Our people, history, warmth and love are the greatest assets to our city and to our future.”
– Mayte Sera Weitzman, 2021 President and Board Chair, Institute of Hispanic Culture of Houston
Houston’s Latino community has supported our economy for decades
The passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 established a new immigration policy based on reuniting immigrant families and attracting skilled labor to the United States. This policy change enabled thousands of people from Latin American, Asian, and African countries to move into the Houston region, causing a population boom that has propelled our economy into one of the largest in the nation today. As sociologist Stephen Klineberg has written, “No city has benefited more from immigration than Houston, Texas.” This population boom also paved the way for our metropolitan area to be one of the most ethnically diverse places in the nation and one of only four with a Latino plurality.2
“As a life-long resident of the greater Houston area, I have seen a tremendous amount of impact from our Latino population. But it hasn’t always been easy for Latinos. Everything I do today, including in my community work around housing and education, is in remembrance of the role models my parents were. They were extremely humble but extremely loving. They worked hard to instill a strong work ethic and to provide for our family and my education. They loved life despite the hardships. My parents are my inspiration, but so many successful Houston Latinos continue to lead the way as well and should absolutely be celebrated. I’m proud of my heritage and culture and aspire to relay that to the younger generation.”
– Laura Jaramillo, Greater Houston Community Foundation Board Member
While immigration is central to the story of Houston, some make the mistake of believing that most people of Hispanic origin are recent immigrants or newcomers. In fact, as of 2019, the majority of Hispanic/Latino residents in our region were born in the U.S. (61%). And, about half of Hispanic residents that were born outside the U.S. have been in the country since before the year 2000. Only about 20-26% entered the U.S. in 2010 or after.
Hispanic/Latino workers are integral to Houston’s workforce and economic growth. In addition to participating in the labor force at higher rates than the overall region3, Hispanic workers continue to fill critical workforce gaps in labor-short industries such as agriculture, construction, and healthcare, according to bipartisan research from New American Economy.
Latinos comprise 35% of the Houston metro-area labor force, but hold 62% of jobs in construction, extraction and maintenance, 47% in service, and 45% in production and transportation, according to research from the University of Houston’s Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS). These jobs tend to pay less than the regional average and were among the sectors hit the hardest during the pandemic. It is not surprising then that Hispanic households have experienced the highest rates of job and income loss since COVID-19 forced shutdowns.
Educating the region’s future workforce
Educational attainment rates for Latinos as a whole tend to lag that of other groups, despite recent improvements. The share of Latino adults in the region with at least a high school diploma has increased from 44% in 2000 to 63% in 2017. More recent data shows that nearly two-thirds of Latino adults have at least a high school diploma or equivalent in 2019.
There are differences in the levels of education between Latinos who are foreign born versus native born, and even among the foreign born as well. For example, 12% of Hispanic immigrants in the three-county region have a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 20% of Hispanic adults born in the U.S. 4 Research from CMAS found that recent Latino immigrants are more likely to be better educated than those who arrived before them. For example, 27% of immigrants who have arrived in the last five years have a bachelor’s degree or higher. For those who have been here for at least 11 years, that drops to less than 10%.
Access to quality education is critical to maintaining a skilled workforce in our knowledge-based economy. However, nationally and locally, Hispanic students are five times more likely to attend a high-poverty school than white students, resulting in very unequal educational experiences. Given the fact that more than 575,000 Hispanic students are enrolled in the three-county region’s public schools (52%), our collective future success depends on the investments we make today.
The civic and cultural contributions of Houston’s Hispanic/Latino community
Full citizenship is something one possesses as well as what one does. And, they are not mutually exclusive. While certainly not the only way, one of the most fundamental ways to exercise one’s citizenship is to vote. Hispanic voters are increasingly making up a larger share of the Texas electorate. Nearly 17 million adults in Texas were registered to vote in 2020, and the Census Bureau estimates about 30% of those are Hispanic/Latino. About 60% of Hispanic citizens in the Houston Metro Area were registered to vote in the 2020 Presidential election.
“Voting is learned through example, in the family and the community, and as larger numbers of Hispanics feel empowered to go to the polls, our share of the electorate will grow to properly represent our demographic size.”
– Dr. Cecilia Ballí, an anthropologist and Visiting Scholar at the University of Houston’s Center for Mexican American Studies
Hispanic Houstonians have a strong history in civic leadership, whether leading the third-most-populous county in the nation, working toward educational equity, fighting for social and political justice, to promoting cultural food, music, and arts, their contributions enrich our community. Read about eleven Hispanic community leaders who are making a difference by visiting our Hispanic Heritage Month 2020 blog.
One notable Hispanic leader in the Greater Houston area is Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, a native Colombian who moved to Houston at the age of 15. Judge Hidalgo is the first woman and the first Latina to be elected County Judge and the second to be elected to the Commissioners Court. For some time in 2019 and part of 2020, the Harris County Judge (Lina Hidalgo), Houston Police Chief (Art Acevedo), and Harris County Sheriff (Ed Gonzalez) were all Latino.
“In 1955, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Council 60-members purchased a building on an odd-shaped parcel of land that became their “clubhouse” and the de facto national headquarters for LULAC until 1996. This clubhouse served as a launchpad for creating transformational social programs for Houston’s Hispanic community in education, workforce development and housing.”
– Jesus Davila, Founder at Landing Advisors
Latinos have also played an instrumental part in building Houston’s strong reputation for incredible food and culture. The Original Ninfa’s was started as a small taco stand by Maria Ninfa Rodríguez Laurenzo, a Mexican-American woman, in 1973. “Mama Ninfa” is widely credited with popularizing fajitas among Houstonians. Chefs and restaurateurs, David and Michael Cordúa elevated the profile of Latin American cuisine in Houston through famous establishments like Américas and Churrascos. Irma Galvan and Hugo Ortega, helped put Houston on the culinary map with Irma’s and Hugo’s, Caracol and Xochi. On the art scene, Colombian-American, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, became Houston’s first Latino music director for the Houston Symphony in 2014, and Venezuelan Karina Gonzalez is Houston’s first Latina Principal Ballerina.
In addition to notable leaders, incredible organizations in the region work to preserve the culture, history and language of Hispanic communities, particularly the collaborative effort to establish a major Latino cultural center in our region.
The Institute of Hispanic Culture of Houston is a local nonprofit organization that serves the Hispanic community through educational, cultural, and networking activities in collaboration with other Houston organizations and universities to keep the vibrant culture alive. Located in the East End, Talento Bilingüe de Houston is a bilingual, non-profit cultural center that strives to enhance Houston’s Latino arts experience through collaboration, education. and preservation. Not only do they provide workshops and exhibits to enrich the Hispanic/Latino community, but they aim to spread their passions with the rest of the Greater Houston area.
One of the largest cultural organizations in Houston, the Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts, or MECA, still exists today thanks to the vision, passion, and dedication to community and youth of Alice Valdez. Read more about her decades of impact.
Casa Ramirez Folkart Gallery is not just a gallery. This vibrant shop on 19th Street showcases Mexican and Latin folk and art works, sells books on cooking, culture, and language for children, and is a community pillar for teaching cultural traditions.
Finally, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston showcases the Latin American Art collection that hosts a vast collection of modern and contemporary art with more than 550 works from Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and works by Latino artists in the United States.
Celebrating a rich past, present, and future
In no uncertain terms, the greater Houston region would not be where it is today without the presence, perspectives and contributions of members from our Hispanic/Latino community. As a vital part of our region’s history and future, Latinos in Houston continue to enrich and better our region in countless ways that we celebrate today.
1Understanding Houston utilizes the U.S. Census term, “Hispanic,” “Latino” or “Hispanic/Latino” when referring to the overall population. For the purposes of this article, we will use these terms interchangeably depending on the nomenclature used in our cited sources.
2Understanding Houston analysis of the 20 most populous Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) from the U.S. Census Bureau, 2019 American Community Survey data. Other MSAs with a Latino plurality include (in descending order): Riverside MSA, Miami MSA, and Los Angeles MSA. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX (MSA) is a region that includes the following counties: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller.
3Analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 2019 American Community Survey.
4Understanding Houston analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 2019 American Community Survey, 5-year estimates, Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) for the population 25 years and older.
A data-driven look into how the pandemic has affected students in Greater Houston
Since March 2020, the world has been coping with the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many students, the classroom suddenly became the kitchen table. Their teachers were now little squares on a screen. The learning experience that most students were accustomed to had been flipped upside down.
As the 2021-22 school year approaches and students return to the classroom amidst the fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, the pandemic and its effects are still ongoing. We’re analyzing available data on how COVID-19 has affected Houston-area students to shine a light on the challenges students may continue to face in yet another pandemic-affected school year.
The struggle to adapt to online learning
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way students experience their education. As Houston-area school districts and campuses transitioned to 100% online learning at the start of the pandemic, the need for stable internet and consistent access to technological devices like laptops and tablets became a necessity.
However, according to research from the Houston Education Research Consortium and RICE University, 20% of families reported that their child(ren) did not have a personal device such as a computer, laptop or tablet to do their schoolwork. The research also suggests that income played a significant role in setting students up for success in the form of access to the required resources to make online learning possible.
Almost half of the participating households earning less than $20,000 per year reported not having a device or internet for their child(ren) to complete schoolwork, compared to only 4% of families earning over $100,000 per year.
1 in 5 families
in the Houston area lacked internet access or a digital device for their child(ren) to use to do their schoolwork during the early months of the pandemic.
Source: Gulf Coast Coronavirus (COVID-19) Community Impact Survey
Daniel Potter, Associate Director of the Houston Education Research Consortium, notes how research suggests that the pandemic has pushed a larger proportion of Black and Hispanic students online, which can negatively impact learning. According to his organization’s findings, 70% of Black students and 60% of Hispanic students in the Greater Houston area opted into virtual learning in the 2020-21 school year compared to white students (40%). These are the same students who are more likely to attend high-poverty schools that have fewer resources –– including necessary technology –– to engage all students successfully.
Parents show anxiety regarding students’ readiness for school
In the Gulf Coast Coronavirus (COVID-19) Community Impact Survey, a majority of surveyed families reported feeling worried that students would not be ready for the 2020-21 school year. Those without access to WiFi worried more –– 67% of families without access to WiFi/Internet and a device for schoolwork expressed concern that their child would not be ready for the upcoming school year, compared to 49% of families with access to WiFi and devices for schoolwork.
Families that reported having access to WiFi and devices for schoolwork were not as worried about their children being prepared for the school year because they had the necessary resources. In an attempt to close this digital divide, Houston school districts distributed print copies of educational materials to families with limited access to technology to prevent students from falling behind. Additionally, WiFi hotspots purchased by the districts made online learning more accessible to all.
The impacts on student performance
From the cancellation of state standardized testing to the mandatory shift to remote instruction in March 2020, COVID-19 had a huge disruption on students. As schools transitioned into a “hybrid” learning model of virtual and in-person instruction in 2020-21, most campuses and students adapted to the new normal. However, as we begin the second full academic year in the era of COVID-19, the impacts on student learning and performance are beginning to emerge, though there is still much we do not know.
According to the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, in the 2020-21 school year, several districts reported a significant increase in the percentage of students failing at least one course. Their findings also show that failure rates were typically highest for students attending school in the online/virtual setting.
One measurable assessment, the eighth-grade math proficiency exam, is important in assessing student readiness for high school. The results from the Algebra I End-of-Course (EOC) State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) given to students in Spring 2021 show a significant decline in performance compared to 2019. Performance was on an upward trend prior to this decline.
In Spring 2021, 41% of students who took the Algebra I EOC exam met the state standard, compared to 62% in 2019. The proportion of students who met the standard fell 33 percentage points for Hispanic students, 25 points for low-income students, and 21 points for all students combined.
The effects on higher education plans
While the total impact COVID-19 has had on student attrition and graduation rates in the Houston area is still unclear, preliminary research suggests that the pandemic has contributed to students changing their post-secondary education plans. Data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center supports this survey data. The number of students enrolling in undergraduate higher education in Spring 2021 fell by 727,000 students nationally, or 4.9%, from Spring 2020. For comparison, undergraduate enrollment fell 0.5% between Spring 2019 and Spring 2020. More than 65% of the total undergraduate enrollment decline occurred among community colleges, institutions that are more likely to serve low-income students and students of color. Texas is not immune either.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 43% of Houston adults have canceled their higher education plans with 33% of students reporting they will be taking fewer classes in the fall of 2021.
It is impossible to discuss COVID-19 without acknowledging its effects on student mental health. From being cut off from one’s peer group and missing out on important milestones like prom, graduation, college visits, etc., to grieving the death of parents and other loved ones, including breadwinners, adolescents are struggling with much more than school.
Research indicates there is a direct link between mental health and academic achievement. It will be impossible to move on from the educational impacts of the pandemic without acknowledging and repairing student mental health, with an emphasis on supporting Hispanic students who have experienced the worst effects.
Looking ahead to 2021-22 with the lessons we’ve learned
Educating students while trying to keep their teachers, faculty and staff safe during the pandemic is a challenging task that comes with consequences. As we navigate through another COVID school year, we hope to see improvement in overall student performance alongside practices that prioritize the health and well-being of our children and their educators.
The first PRIDE was a riot. No glitter, parades or corporations eager to release their brand-new shiny rainbow collections. The Stonewall uprising was ignited by constant police harassment and discrimination toward LGBTQ folx at the time. June 1969 was a turning point to state that we are here, we are queer, and we are not going to stop fighting for our rights.
In the wise words of Marsha P. Johnson, “No pride for some of us, without liberation for all of us.” Ms. Johnson, a Black transgender woman, and Sylvia Rivera, a Latina trans woman, were among the activists that paved the way back in the late ’70s. Far from seeking recognition from a community that still struggles to embrace and protect trans folx, they used their voice to fight for equity and opened the first shelter to host LGBT youth.
Sadly, protecting trans youth is still a pressing issue more than 50 years after Stonewall. Learning LGBTQ history not only helped me understand our current struggles, but also continues inspiring me on a daily basis. I’m proud to honor Marsha and Sylvia’s legacy with my work as an openly queer Brown immigrant scientist.
Fighting for equity and liberation has always been one of my passions. Pride and visibility is not something you are born with. For some people, like me, the path to self-love and acceptance can be filled with fear and shame. I was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina and attended medical school with a clear goal in mind – to make an impact on a community level by combining medicine and education, fostering love for science and public health and, hopefully, paving the way for other queer professionals to be themselves.
After I finished medical school, I was offered the chance to move to Houston to work on HIV research at UTHealth. In the blink of an eye, I had packed my life into two bags and arrived in Texas. Before my trip, I didn’t know what to expect from Houston other than cowboy hats, cacti and NASA. I was pleasantly surprised to find a diverse city that feels like a small town and a queer community that has embraced me as chosen family. The more involved I got in HIV prevention and treatment, the more I understood there was a lot of work to be done in the South and particularly in my newly adopted city.
Understanding HIV prevalence in Houston
June 5, 2021 marks 40 years since the first five cases describing what later became known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and what is now THIV Stage III in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). As of June 2021, 32 million people have died from HIV worldwide – 700,000 in the United States – since the start of the global epidemic, and 38 million people are currently living with HIV. While we have come a long way and made amazing progress since those first diagnoses, challenges still remain in Greater Houston and beyond.
According to the CDC, of the 37,968 new HIV diagnoses in the United States in 2018, half are in the South. Additionally, eight of the 10 states with the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses are in the South as are nine of the 10 metropolitan areas with the highest rates. Poverty, unemployment and lack of access to medical care are factors that drive the epidemic. Nine out of the 16 states in the South have not expanded Medicaid. Stigma and cultural factors continue playing a key role when it comes to status disclosure, support and access to HIV services. Unfortunately, Houston is no exception to the burden southern urban cities carry. In 2018, there were 27,057 people living with HIV in Houston, and 1,243 Houstonians were newly diagnosed with HIV. Over the past decade, this number has remained steady.
Between 2010 and 2016, a steady increase in HIV prevalence was observed throughout Greater Houston’s three largest counties, with the three-county area registering HIV diagnoses at 1.5 times the national rate. HIV prevalence is highest in Harris County, with rates 2-3 times higher than those in Fort Bend and Montgomery counties.
We need to do far better to bring awareness, education and empowerment to our most affected communities. Bringing community voices to the table is crucial to work together towards the end of the epidemic.
Hope in the form of a daily pill
Though HIV remains prevalent, new effective safe treatments have reduced pill burden to just one small pill a day, and an injectable antiretroviral combination was approved last year. HIV is not a death sentence.
Moreover, when it comes to HIV prevention, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) was a game changer to stop HIV transmission. Studies have shown that when taken once daily as directed, PrEP can reduce the risk of HIV transmission from sex by 99%. PrEP is readily available at no cost for people with and without insurance. Raising awareness and uptake among Houston’s at-risk populations is pivotal to end the HIV epidemic.
As PrEP efficacy decreases if not taken daily, novel interventions are on the pipeline to tackle the issue of medication adherence. I had the honor to implement a groundbreaking study in Houston which compared the efficacy of a long-acting injectable agent given every other month to the current daily oral medication for PrEP. The study enrolled 4,570 cisgender men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women (TGW) who have sex with men at 43 sites in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, United States, South Africa, Thailand and Vietnam.
The results of the trial were very promising — the regimen containing long-acting cabotegravir was found to be statistically superior to daily oral medication for PrEP. This medication will hopefully be approved soon and will help those people who find it challenging to take a pill every day. New medications in the works also include subcutaneous injections given every six months, a monthly pill, a transdermal implant and vaginal rings.
It is also important to mention Treatment as Prevention (TasP). One of the most important breakthroughs in the HIV field were the results of various studies that determined that someone who is living with HIV while on medication for more than six months and virally suppressed cannot pass on the virus to others through sex. This concept is known as U=U (Undetectable=Untransmittable). Not only is this a huge step towards establishing a link between HIV treatment and HIV prevention, but also a strong public health message that aims to fight the stigma surrounding HIV.
Proud to work toward a better future
Today, HIV is a manageable chronic disease. People living with HIV can live long, healthy lives thanks to improved antiretroviral treatment. Our HIV prevention toolkit is constantly expanding, fueled by research and community working together. Effective tools like PrEP can prevent HIV transmission when taken as directed. HIV treatment is prevention because U=U (Undetectable=Untransmittable). New, exciting breakthrough prevention and treatment medicines and strategies are in the pipeline. An HIV vaccine no longer sounds fictitious. We are living in an exciting time as we can be the generation that will end the HIV epidemic.
Although much has been accomplished since the first brick flew at Stonewall, we will not be truly victorious until we properly address the underlying systemic health disparities that leave some people behind. We need to do our work to tackle the roots of racism, poverty, stigma, homophobia, transphobia, homelessness and health inequity. We need to continue involving our communities as there is nothing for them without them. We need to do better, be better. At the end of day, repeat Marsha’s words as a mantra, “No pride for some of us, without liberation for all of us.”
After a year of teaching and living through a pandemic, educator mental health is at risk and yet, at the same time, we desperately need to avoid further school disruptions. Teacher burnout and turnover — already cause for concern long before pandemic life — have increased. An additional 11 percent of teachers say they may leave the classroom even though they weren’t planning to do so before. As it is, 40-50% of teachers leave the classroom within their first five years, and 40% of teachers in Houston’s three-county region have fewer than five years of experience, which affects student achievement.
Teachers are often told to put their own oxygen masks on first. They’re encouraged to “take care of themselves,” get more sleep, take deep breaths. Mindfulness training and toolkits have recently gained attention as promising school-based interventions to address the burnout cascade, but most mindfulness approaches reflect a primarily solitary practice aimed at individual growth. These strategies, while well-intended, can feel dismissive to teachers. It’s as if we are telling a sick person to just “get better.” Educators’ burnout symptoms are due to much larger, systemic and cultural problems.
Many teachers talk to us about the relational gaps they experience in schools: the stress of loneliness, isolation, and toxic adult cultures. Relationship problems cannot be solved by any individual’s actions alone. It requires comprehensive approaches that involve every adult.
FuelEd is a non-profit organization deeply devoted to educator social-emotional skills and wellbeing. But we rarely use the term “educator self-care” — because it’s kind of a misnomer. On a neurobiological level, what society traditionally thinks of as self-care simply isn’t possible without first receiving care in relationships. Over the course of our development as social creatures, humans go on a journey from being almost completely regulated by others, as is the case with a hungry, crying infant who needs the constant care of an adult; to being co-regulated, where we get help from another person as we attempt to regulate ourselves. Over time, through repeated experiences of being calmed and cared for through relationships, we humans develop the brain structures and skills for self-regulation, self-care, and resilience in the face of stress.
Care from others precedes self-care. So, solving the teacher stress crisis is less a matter of asking teachers to put on their own oxygen masks, but rather ensuring every teacher has someone who can help put an oxygen mask on with them.
Our vision? The whole educator
FuelEd is a professional learning organization that provides teachers, principals and district leaders with training in the science of relationships as well as support to grow their own social and emotional competencies. We assist educators in doing the “inner work” of exploring their triggers, attachment styles and early childhood experiences, while also learning the science of attachment and trauma, and key skills to build secure relationships.
This therapeutic deep dive into self-awareness is most poignantly represented by our “mindful storytelling” circle, where small groups of educators share their “attachment stories.” Educators take turns recounting memories from early childhood relationships, exploring the hurt caused by parents/caregivers who didn’t meet their needs, and unpacking how these formative experiences influence their relationships today, in school and out. You can hear a pin drop as educators take the risk to share, and listen, with sincere intent and deep respect for one anothers’ stories.
At the conclusion of the training, educators learn to build a peer-support network: a protocol we call “stewardship” where educators are paired and instructed to meet weekly for an hour. Week after week, one educator shows up ready to listen deeply, and the other shows up ready to share real problems from their professional or personal lives, with honesty and vulnerability. The relationship skills from the training provides the foundational building blocks needed to support, and receive support, from fellow educators. Educators’ newfound self-awareness serves as a starting point to go deeper into themselves. What results is a mutually beneficial giving-and-receiving of care. It’s a repeated and reliable experience of co-regulation: helping educators move from stress to calm with the support of a caring relationship.
One year later, our educators were asked, “Since engaging with FuelEd, have you experienced an increase in the following [self-care] behaviors?” Here is what we’ve found.
Educators’ self-care, self-regulation and resilience grew through relationships that took them deeper into self-awareness through being known, seen and loved. Reaching out helps us reach in. This is especially true in times of crisis and transition. Researcher Dr. Liesel Ebersohn believes “flocking”—huddling up and sticking together, like a flock of birds — might be a way of coping with stress that is more adaptive than the other more commonly known stress responses of flight, fight or freeze. This is exactly what educators in our studies have done: used relationships as self-care, as a way to regulate themselves.
“There’s no other time in my week where I have an hour to speak uninterrupted about something of emotional weight. It’s a pressure release valve. It’s good for my mental health and makes me more conscious in my relationships—particularly with my kids. This inspired me to go to therapy …. to move away from survival, to look at myself as a human being, not just a teacher. This helped me to take care of myself.” -Educator
Without an emphasis on restoring educator resilience through relationship, isolation and “flight” from the field may occur.
Caring for teachers is caring for students
Being cared for by others helps educators care for themselves, but being seen by others also helps educators change how they see themselves and their students. Our intervention grows educators’ theory of mind, an important social-cognitive skill that involves the ability to think about thoughts, emotions and beliefs — both your own and others — and to plan social responses based on the internal worlds of others. Theory of mind involves thinking about thinking, but it also refers to the ability to understand that other people’s thoughts and beliefs may be different from your own and to consider the factors that led to those mental states.
It appears that the experience of unpacking their own history and trauma may enable educators to develop compassion, sensitivity, and responsiveness to students and their trauma. When educators understand that their past shapes and influences who they are, they begin to understand that others’ pasts similarly shape who they are and how they show up. The research team at FuelEd developed the term “storysight” to describe this capacity to understand others through the lens of their own story.
“Reflecting on my own background and life …has helped me understand myself and be more empathetic with others. I’ve been nice with myself and gentler with myself. I feel like I have more of a handle on that [so now] I’ve been doing that with my own students. Giving them a break. Letting them mess up. Now, I feel like I react to what the child needs, not what I need. I have a greater rapport with the kids this year. You’re seeing more to a child than what you normally would see.”
When asked what, if any, changes educators experienced in the following areas, one year after their training, here is what we found.
These changes to teachers’ relationship behaviors are significant, as multitudes of studies have shown the ways strong teacher-student relationships promote higher academic achievement, greater social competence, and fewer behavioral problems in students. Clearly, taking care of teachers is taking care of students.
In 2015, Principal Sarah Guererro was charged by the superintendent of Spring Branch Independent School District to turn her school around, academically. After she and her leadership team at Northbrook Middle School attended a FuelEd training, they committed to setting up an essential practice that would create more time and space for listening to staff. They already had weekly teacher meetings for discussing student progress, but additional check-ins were set in motion to help leadership gain awareness of teachers’ feelings, needs and perspectives. Educators were invited to share whatever they wished — be it an issue with classroom management or personal issues at home. According to Brian Jaffe, the school’s Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Support Specialist, “Because I had that safe space to feel valued by my principal, I was able to provide that for my teachers, and the teachers were then able to create the same safety for students. We saw this ripple out to create an entire ecosystem of support.”
As Northbrook Middle School became a community where adults felt safe and valued, educators began to connect more with students and as a result, learned a lot more about them. Suddenly, there was an overabundance of information and awareness about the high levels of trauma and social-emotional needs within the student body. To solve this, the team created a referral system whereby those closest to the ground—teachers and students—could quickly and easily submit a student’s name to the school support team who then provided a similar “check in” for the student.
By being responsive and timely, and addressing concerns big and small, trust was built in this systematic practice that helped all students and staff feel safe and seen. Over the course of five years, the school witnessed significant improvements: 67% reduction of out of school placement, in which a student is located to an alternative schooling environment in order to meet their unique needs; staff retention went from 57% to 80-90%; and a 21% increase in student achievement on STAAR.
The Anatomy of Change
As this story demonstrates, teaching, learning and leading in schools is an interpersonal endeavor and therefore, traditional school achievement outcomes such as teacher retention and student achievement are deeply intertwined with personal and interpersonal dynamics on a school campus. The table below illuminates what FuelEd is discovering to be the anatomy of this complex and dynamic change process:
What can we do, now?
The truth is, our educational system’s current issues related to educator stress are not new.Teaching is a highly stressful profession and it’s not just because of large class sizes or pressures of state testing. The emotional lives of educators and associated burnout-related fatigue are affected by their vicarious exposure to students’ trauma. Add to this: like students, teachers and principals also have their own experiences with trauma, which shape their thoughts, feelings and behavior in relationships. Our bodies keep a record of experiences in our lives where safety was lost, so any unprocessed trauma can be triggered in the classroom, regardless of whether it happened 20 years or 20 days ago. And though these reactions can be driven by protective instincts, they can also exhaust educators emotionally and damage relationships in equal measure. Call it a job hazard for teachers whose careers are built on emotional regulation, and whose effectiveness is grounded in their ability to build healthy relationships.
The need is real and recognized by educators who tell us how much they value trauma-informed adult SEL and wellness work—but educators also express strong tensions about not having time or space to engage regularly. Creating and incentivizing feasible systems where educators both give and receive care, as a routine part of the profession, would represent an innovative approach to the problem of teacher stress and burnout.
Here are some ideas for how you can get started:
Build a stewardship system in schools. Consider building a low-stress, low-cost peer support system at your school or district. The ROI is huge in terms of self-regulation and stress release. Capacity and skill building for staff in empathic communication is a critical prerequisite to ensure safety and effectiveness of the system, so be sure to secure necessary professional development.
Provide counseling for educators. Counseling is an intensive relational experience of being safe, seen and soothed. FuelEd has provided over 12,000 counseling sessions to teachers since 2012. We have found that when school districts actively promote, normalize, and create pathways for attending therapy, many teachers engage, and experience powerful impacts on their well-being and careers.
Expand the definition of trauma-informed to include educator trauma.Our childhoods shape who we are. Educators cannot address students’ social-emotional needs nor be “trauma-informed” if they have not processed their own trauma and social-emotional needs. Fortunately, secure relationships that help us reflect on our past heal trauma. If we can shift the definition of trauma-informed practice to include educator trauma, school climates can become places where students and adults alike can heal and thrive.
Educator care is not a flash in the pan. It’s not one-time professional development, it’s not a worksheet, it’s not a daily meditation nor a sudsy soak in the tub. Building individuals means building communities, and vice versa. And so, the very best thing we can do for our children, and the adults who serve them, is to make schools into places where secure relationships and adult development happen every day in the regular course of work. Places where educators are accepted for who they are and encouraged for who they can become. So they can do the very same thing for our children.
About the Authors
Megan Marcus is the Founder of FuelEd. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley, a Masters degree in Psychology from Pepperdine University, and a Masters in Education, Policy, and Management from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. In 2017, Megan was named an Ashoka Fellow, “a leading social entrepreneur [recognized] to have innovative solutions to social problems and the potential to change patterns across society.
Dr. Kelley Munger is the Director of Research & Development at FuelEd. She holds a BA in English from Auburn University, an MA in Teaching from Lee University, and an MA in Counseling Psychology from Covenant Seminary. She completed her PhD in Early Intervention and Special Education at the University of Oregon in 2019. Kelley is a researcher and licensed therapist working in the areas of trauma, adult attachment, special education, and human development.