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Posts published in “Day: November 24, 2011”

A Sweet Celebration

By Kristan Hoffman

Despite fireworks and festivities, the start of 2011 was bittersweet. Shortly after we rang in the New Year, Andy’s younger brother was deployed to Afghanistan with the Marines. Their family has a history of military service, but mine does not. This was my first experience worrying about a soldier overseas, and I quickly learned that when someone you care about is at risk, politics and philosophies go out the window. All you want is for them to come home safe.

For months we prepared care packages like it was our job, like our soldier’s life depended on it. Every other week we filled a Support Our Troops box with flavored sunflower seeds, white tube socks, lighthearted DVDs, and lots of deodorant. We wrote letters filled with the most inane details — about dogs and gardens and sports and celebrities — because we wanted to help him stay connected with “normal” life.

After half a year, we got the good news that our Marine was coming home. (“So please stop sending boxes, because by the time they get there, he’ll be gone!”) His first tour was over, and he arrived safely back in the States at the peak of an August heat. After spending months in the Afghani desert, marching for miles under the scorching sun, our soldier didn’t mind the “hot spell.” He barely even noticed it.

To celebrate his return, Andy took his brother, parents, and me to Chicago for Labor Day weekend. We visited Sue the T-Rex at the Field Museum. We shopped the Magnificent Mile. We laughed until we cried at the Second City comedy show.

But the highlight of our trip was a quiet dinner at Joe’s, the renowned seafood and steak house. After making reservations (several weeks in advance) Andy emailed to ask if they could do anything for his brother. He specified that we weren’t looking for freebies; we just wanted a special night. The manager replied that they could only give us their best server, an offer we happily accepted.

And our server was indeed fantastic. Attentive, friendly, knowledgeable, accommodating, and funny. We had a lovely evening, thanks to his witty banter and many excellent recommendations.

At the end of the meal, we decided to order a couple desserts to share. Our server got a twinkle in his eye and said he knew just the thing. A few minutes later, he wheeled out a tray of nearly a dozen desserts, which we figured were for the tables nearby. As it turns out, every single dish on that cart was for us. Andy’s brother was fairly embarrassed, but his mother and I both got tears in our eyes as our server and the manager came over to thank him for his service.

Although we were already full, the five of us ate as much of those cakes and pies as we could. Not because they were free, or too delicious to waste, but because they were all our fears put to rest, all our hopes confirmed, all our pride, gratitude, and good fortune baked into chocolate and iced with sugar. Those desserts were what our trip was all about. Celebration.

We savored every bite.

Chinquapin School: a local treasure hidden in the woods

By Luke Hales

There’s a series of buildings nestled away in the trees on Wallisville Road. Most people passing by would miss it, as it’s hidden in the trees to an extent. It’s not flashy, there’s not much spectacle to the exterior. It’s a simple complex, built not for glitz or glamour but for a higher purpose: changing the lives of area students for the better.

That complex of buildings is The Chinquapin School. And the school does great things indeed.

The school recently held an open house to display what the school can offer to prospective students and to show off some remodeled units, but the site’s history and heritage was on full display as well.

Serving the underserved

Since 1969 The Chinquapin School has offered a high-quality college preparatory education for low-income youth, many from the greater Houston area but also some from more local zip codes. And while the school’s education model differs greatly from that of public education, they’re doing something right, as 98 percent of their students go on to college. In fact, that’s one of the requirements for the school’s seniors; they must be accepted by a college or university to graduate. Of that 98 percent, an approximate 85 percent finish college, a testament to the lessons learned at Chinquapin.

Quid Pro Quo

Sophomore Melida Perez-Errasquin has been attending the school for some time, and she has plenty to say about all that the school can offer. She led this reporter on a tour of the school, pointing out exactly why the students and faculty feel that they have something special to share.

Perez-Errasquin pointed out a recent school project: rebuilding a classroom into a darkroom for photography classes. “We stopped classes to get it done,” she said. “Everybody that could helped to make it happen.”

The school’s motto: “Quid Pro Quo,” or “Something for Something” in Latin, indicates how such a feat occurred. The students at the school all give their time to improving the grounds as repayment for their being able to attend. It’s part of their culture, and all students do their part, whether by cleaning, doing yard work or gardening, or — in this special project’s case — by helping to construct a darkroom.

“The school employs a groundskeeper and a chef, and the students handle just about everything else,” said Sarah Callahan-Baker, the school’s vice president of marketing and recruiting. “In any other setting, how common is it to see a 12-year-old begging to do chores?”

Students also regularly volunteer for local clean-up projects at the beach or in urban centers, work in community gardens or on trail maintenance at the Sam Houston National Forest, or assisting with holiday events for disadvantaged citizens, among other things.

Robust in the arts

Perez-Errasquin is especially fond of the art room, she said, a sprawling building flooded with natural light that used to be a dormitory. “This room is really amazing to me,” she said, “and I love how many windows there are.” Student projects hang from the ceiling, on the walls, and are displayed on tables, showing off the diverse talents they have to offer.

Dr. Ray Griffin, Chinquapin School director, said that the art room — as well as the other fine arts areas — carry substantial weight at the school. “There’s a lot of pressure in public schools to improve in the basic skills, reading, writing and math, because there is so much focus on those subjects for standardized testing,” Griffin said. “Here, we’re trying to become more robust in the arts, because they help to round out a student’s full education. We’re proud of what we can offer in that capacity.”

Adding to that robustness is a music room further into the campus where students have access to electric guitars, amplifiers and a grand piano. “A lot of the students here don’t have these things at home,” Perez-Errasquin said. “And not many people at all have access to a grand piano.”

A Spanish class was being held during the tour, and it was clear that the students were paying full attention to the lesson. This may have been helped by a much lower teacher-to-student ratio than what is seen in public education. “We try to maintain an eight-to-one ratio,” said Callahan-Baker. “We feel like by doing so, the students have greater access to their teachers, and are able to learn more effectively.”

That connection to the teaching staff goes beyond just the class period. Many of the teachers live on campus, as do the male students. The school used to be an all-boys’ school, and so the facilities were available. Plus, Perez-Errasquin said, “many of the boys come from rough neighborhoods. They feel safe here.”

A safe place

Safety is key at the school, Callahan-Baker said, and something the school prides itself on. “Bullying is not an issue here,” she said. “There is no discrimination here. This is a second home for many of our kids.”

That secure feeling is likely drawn from the fact that there are only approximately 150 students total at the school, lending to a tight-knit student body. “At homecoming, all the girls lined up together in the girls’ lounge,” Perez-Errasquin said. “There was a whole row of hair curlers and blow dryers, and we all did each others’ hair. You don’t encounter that kind of a feeling at a public school very often, I wouldn’t think.”

Getting in

The applications process for the school is somewhat rigorous, designed to limit enrollment to those students the administration feels would benefit the most from the program. Each February, March and April, meetings are held wherein interviews are given with the prospective students and applicants take basic reading and math tests. Students selected from the recruiting meetings are then invited to try-out the school for a week in June, to see if they feel at home in the environs. From the summer try-out, the most qualified students are invited to attend the school during the next fall semester.

Keeping tradition alive

Noticeable in the center of campus is a big red bell, which in many ways serves as the cultural hub of the school. “This used to be an all-boys’ school, “ Perez-Errasquin said, “and this bell rang to let everyone know when to come to meals, to assemblies, and other events.

“Now we ring the bell every year on the first day. It’s a tradition. It remind us who we are, where we’ve come from, and where we’re going in the future.”

It’s a solid tradition for a truly unique school, one with much to offer.

For more information about the Chinquapin School, call 281-426-5551 or visit www.chinquapin.org.

Huberty regains Crosby in latest Redistricting map

By LEWIS SPEARMAN

CROSBY-HUFFMAN – Redistricting has again caught the eye of the public as a judge in San Antonio redrew the lines for Harris County Precincts and State Representatives.

District boundaries are redrawn every 10 years to reflect changes in the census, the legal challenge is from the 1965 Voter’s Rights Act, the act holds that certain states, those held to have been discriminatory, be further pressed and be reviewed into “pre-clearance” before voting can be enacted.

Before the Representatives performed this Redistricting for the State House, Dan Huberty basically had from Atascocita to the County Line and South to Highlands at Interstate 10. After redistricting, the lawmakers had determined that Huberty had to lose some voters in the East and District 128, Wayne Smith, R. Baytown got Crosby and the Eastern half of Highlands. Now the current ruling is that Huberty gets part of Humble, where he was President of the school board for a time, the Northern portion of Atascocita above F.M. 1960 and keeps Crosby down to F.M. 1942 with the exception of Barrett Station.

Barrett Station and the West of F.M. 2100 in Highlands goes to District 143 or Ana Hernandez Luna. Luna was elected in 2005 and her district contains the Port of Houston and runs in a thin area almost to U.S. 59 at I-10. A line also extend her into McNair. Smith while keeping all of Highlands East to the County line is being redrawn South down Highway 146 and will each as far West as Beltway 8’s South side.

When asked to make a statement about keeping Crosby Huberty said, “Late last week, the San Antonio Federal Court issued a proposed redistricting map to use during the interim. This map was issued because the one enacted by the Legislature was challenged. The new map shows the precincts that make up Crosby inside of District 127, meaning I will continue to represent the residents of Crosby. However, this is not a final map. I was excited to learn this because, as many of you know, I consider Crosby to be one of the main communities of interest for District 127. It may not hold the largest population in my district, but as the representatives who have served in this seat before me can also tell you, Crosby is a vital part of this community. The small town feel and rural backdrop of Crosby make it one of the most unique places in Harris County. It has such a sense of community and I am hopeful that I will again have the opportunity to serve the residents of this area. My office will continue to keep you updated on any new information that may come in regarding the maps. But it is our hope that we will continue to represent Crosby after the new district lines are finalized later this month.”

Excuse the brevity here of the redrawing of Harris County Precincts. The case brought to Court as unfair to make a Hispanic Opportunity District resulted in the realization that Precinct 2 shrank in size but picked up slightly more of the concentrated populations toward the center of Houston. All of East Harris County is still Commissioner Mormon’s Precinct 2.

Lee College ready to welcome new president to campus

After a five-month national search, Lee College regents have announced the appointment of Dr. Dennis Brown as president of Lee College.

The announcement came at a regular meeting of the board Thursday, Nov. 17.

The resignation of current President Dr. Michael Murphy is effective in December. Thirty-eight applicants from across the nation expressed interest in the position.

“We are very pleased with both the quantity and the quality of our candidates,” said Regent Keith Coburn, chairman of the 2011 Presidential Search Committee. “The result shows that Lee College has a very positive reputation among community colleges nationally.“

“We are delighted to work with Dr. Brown,” added Mark Himsel, chairman of the Lee College Board of Regents. “We look forward to his leadership.”

Dr. Brown brings extensive experience to the position, having served twelve years as vice president of instruction and chief academic officer at El Paso Community College (EPCC), a comprehensive urban college with 30,000 credit students and 8,000 continuing education/non-credit students. He rose through the academic ranks at EPCC, serving as faculty member, chair of the Communications Division, and associate provost in a career that began in 1970.

Dr. Brown earned an A.A. degree in Speech Communication from Arizona Western College, a B.S. from Northern Arizona University, a M.A. from Arizona State University, and a Ph.D. from New Mexico State University.

A recipient of the Innovation of the Year Award from the League for Innovation in the Community College, Dr. Brown has also served as president of the Texas Community College Instructional Administrators Association, and statewide project director of the Texas Professional Development Consortium. He has written and managed several state, federal and foundation grants, published several articles, presented at more than eighty state, regional and national conferences, and testified at national commissions, the United States House Sub-Committee on Postsecondary Education and the Texas House and Senate Committees.