Every Thursday and Friday I arise early and ready myself to fight morning traffic so that I might get to my old stomping grounds at South Houston Intermediate. A dear friend, Becky Sullivan, convinced me to serve as a tutor for her AVID students. (More about that program later.) I have to admit that I had already forgotten what it was like to sit in traffic while everyone attempts to get to work on time. I don’t much care for that since I have retired and furthermore, I’m not particularly fond of setting an alarm. Nonetheless I generally find that I thoroughly enjoy returning to the school that was once like a home to me.
The neighborhood hasn’t changed a great deal since I worked there except for the addition of a Jack in the Box across the street from the school. I’m in awe of how well kept the building is. Pasadena ISD maintenance crews really do take pride in their work. The floors fairly gleam and I never see even a speck of garbage or dirt anywhere. Instead there always seems to be someone meticulously sweeping or mopping or polishing. I realize now just how much I missed that conscientious care in the other districts where I have worked since leaving South Houston.
The campus used to house sixth, seventh and eighth graders but now the sixth grade students are grouped with fifth graders at a different location. Without that extra grade the halls feel enormous during passing periods. So many of the classrooms that sixth graders used to occupy are now filled with learning specialists and programs that did not exist when I was there. Overall the character and general feel of the school is exceptional. Every teacher and administrator is out in the hallways during passing periods moving the students along and relaying encouraging greetings. Students are attentive and hard at work in the classrooms. I sense the happiness that defines the general spirit of the school.
Only a few of the teachers with whom I worked are still there. Mostly it’s a newer, younger crew, the next generation of educational leaders. Still, I often encounter individuals who were part of my history at the school and we always get quite excited upon seeing one another.
I was recruited for the school by Lucas Vegas. He hired me to teach sixth grade science and social studies. I felt completely out of my element with those subjects but I enjoyed the challenge. Eventually I landed the position that I really wanted when one of the mathematics teachers left to become an administrator in the middle of the school year. I spent a very long time in the far back hallway teaching seventh grade math and I loved the curriculum, the students, the administrators, and my fellow teachers. Some of the longest lasting friendships that I have come from those years.
A new principal, David Kendler, took over the helm after Mr. Vegas and he came up with the idea of appointing a Peer Facilitator for the teachers. There was a Peer Facilitator in every elementary school at that time but none at the intermediate level. I along with a woman from another intermediate school became the first of my kind in the district. My job as outlined by Mr. Kendler involved coaching and assisting the teachers in every way possible. I was never to become an appraiser because David felt that I would no longer be a convincing support person if I were to be involved in determining annual reviews.
David often sent me to assist a struggling teacher and he would ask me to let him know when that individual was ready for a visit from him. He wanted to be certain that he/she would be at the very best when he finally came to call. He was quite patient in waiting for me to give him the green light. I don’t think the teachers ever realized the extent to which he wanted them to be successful. He instructed me to be the voice and the advocate for them. He often stressed that I was in service to the educators in our building.
I eventually left South Houston Intermediateto join David Kendler after he left for a school in the Houston Independent School District. I would always miss my Pasadena ISD friends. I had lived less than ten minutes away from the school, a perk that was particularly nice for someone like me who doesn’t like rushing out of the house early in the morning. I had earned a rather good reputation even at the highest levels and had even been offered the opportunity to be paid by the school district to get the necessary certifications to become a principal. Mostly though it was difficult to leave my friends.
I have found the students at the school today to be a bit more tame than they were at one time when gangs were in their heyday in the area. It may be that I simply don’t encounter the more difficult kids. The AVID program is a self selected elective and as with any program that requires a commitment, I suspect that those who are unmotivated are generally weeded out.
AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a college readiness program designed to help students develop the skills they need to be successful in college. The program places special emphasis on growing writing, critical thinking, teamwork, organization and reading skills. It represents a kind of philosophy that holds students accountable but also provides them with support that includes social counseling and academic tutoring. AVID teachers are specially trained to work with their students and to guide them toward the behaviors and knowledge that universities demand. AVID is designed specifically for traditionally underserved students and its purpose is to close the educational and social gaps that often hinder them in their pursuit of higher education.
In a way I was more than ready for working with the AVID students at South Houston. My background includes a multi-year stint at one of the KIPP Charter schools which are noted for emphasizing similar readiness skills. I recognized the importance of preparation for college and life immediately and I was quite happy to find that South Houston had joined in the efforts to make higher education more available for the underserved community. I also believe that my colleague, Becky Sullivan, is a perfect facilitator for the program.
Best of all, the students are quite wonderful. They are eager to do well and generally so polite and willing to listen. I have to admit that I am quite grateful to Becky for getting me involved. My only disappointment is that she has been undergoing treatments for cancer since the beginning of the year and both me and her AVID students miss her terribly. Luckily another friend from the old days, Lida Cole, is the substitute and she is doing a yeoman’s job.
I feel the spirit of all of the people that I ever met at South Houston when I walk through its halls. I remember them with great pleasure and I feel very happy to know that things are still going so well in that very special place. It has always been a hidden jewel that never quite receives the glory that it should. I’m glad that I’m still part of the great work that continues there day after day. I suppose that an old teacher never really retires. She just finds her way back home where her heart always resides.