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Texans' Toro brings smiles to classrooms in virtual visits

The mascot is surprising students by popping in to Zoom meetings.

HOUSTON —

School is just different these days. There’s no getting around that. What hasn’t changed is the way teachers go above and beyond for their students.

“I was just like, 'I want to do something for our kids. Let's break this up,’” says Callie Harmon, a sixth-grade STEM teacher for Dickinson ISD.

A few weeks ago, she had an idea that a celebrity visit would be something her students would look forward to, so she messaged Houston Texans mascot Toro.

“A couple days later, he DMed be back and said, 'Do you mind if I run with this?' Of course not,” Harmon says. 

The mascot put out an invite to teachers on social media: “Let me surprise your students by dropping into your meeting to say hello!”

“Mascots are the opposite of social distancing. They like to give high fives and hugs and be interactive with Houstonians,” says Andrew Johnson, Toro’s manager. “This was a way for us to virtually visit classrooms all over Houston.”

Hundreds of teachers responded to Toro’s social media callout, including Ellen Wood, who teaches third-grade math and science.

“I thought, 'Oh, my God. My kids would love that. It would be so different,’” says Wood. “I feel like the more normalcy we can give them, the better.”

Wood says she loved getting to see her students’ reaction when Toro joined the Zoom meeting.

“Some of their eyes just got really big and one of them just kind of rubbed their eyes. Then you see some parents come in the background,” she says “It was really cute. It was a great surprise.”

Cy-Fair ISD first-grade teacher Justin McCabe, a die hard Texans fan, knew he had to reach out when he saw Toro’s post.

“Complete shock. I had kids' jaws hit the floor,” says McCabe.

He adds that each of his first graders got to interact with Toro, talking about how they spent their spring break. McCabe says he hopes this is something that sticks with them.

“I wanted to do something for my kids that they were going to remember,” says McCabe. “I don't want them to remember the COVID-19 or that they were out of school for two months. I want them to remember the fun things that we're still doing, even this far apart.”

While he just visited with McCabe’s class, Toro helped promote reading for Jennifer Gonzales’ third graders.

“He was ready and prepared with props. He had books on hand,” she recalls. “He had a cute little white board and he was writing messages to the kids.”

Toro is non-verbal, so the white board comes in handy. He also plays Hangman with kids with messages such as “Working hard from home.” 

“You just know a lot of the kids are going through a really tough time now. They're away from their classmates. They're away from their teachers. They're away from their comfort zone. We're able to bring a familiar face into their classroom and really create some excitement,” says Johnson. “Hopefully it's just creating a smile and a positive memory from this challenging situation.”

After all, even as so much has changed, Wood says there’s one thing that hasn’t: “No matter what kind of kid you're working with or teaching, those smiles are the same.”

Are you a teacher who would like Toro to visit? Email the time of your Zoom meeting, your name and the grade level to TORO@HoustonTexans.com.

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