The Little School That Could: Kerr High School By Michelle Levine

8150 Howell Sugar Land Rd
Houston, Tx 77083
(281) 983-8484

 November 2010- “Oh don’t worry” my buyer at the Kerr High Senior School auction says, “You’re going to love being a gangster.” An hour later I am wearing black Nike gym shorts underneath gray Tulane baggy sweatpants which are hanging down around my thighs ready to fall of my Puma tennis shoes. My white wife beater tank top allows everyone to see the barbwire tattoo on my left arm and the numbers written out on my right arm in black sharpie, of course! Right below, and off to the side of my left eye, I have a tear drop sharpie tattoo, like the ones you get in prison. To top of my outfit I am wearing a flat billed Astros hat tilted to the side.

Being sold as a senior at Kerr High, located in SW Houston, is sort of a rite of passage. The concept of the auction is to bid on all the seniors, with prices ranging from $10 to $200 plus, per student, whoever the bid goes to no matter what grade level, wins that senior. The prize that the winning bidder gets is the right to get the chance to dress their senior up entirely in anything they want (school appropriate). Then all the seniors have to parade around the school with the other seniors. Though this is an optional activity, the vast majority of seniors do willingly participate. Seniors are confident enough to put up with a little friendly humiliation to help out with the primary senior class prom fundraiser. Kerr is infamous for this event among high schools. It is truly an exciting and fun experience, once you get past the “mortifying” idea that you have just been auctioned off to the highest bidder.

For years tiny Kerr High School located in the Alief Independent School District in Southwest Houston, has been described by students and faculty as the “best kept secret in Houston,” because of just this kind of creativity. Today, Kerr has been recognized as an outstanding school on the local, state and national levels. My sister, brother and I have all graduated from this “little school that could.” In addition, my father has taught Kerr students secondary Social Studies since 1998. While I admit I might be a little biased towards my alma mater, I would like to share with you the vibrant, diverse, creative and enriching environment that is Kerr High School.

Driving by the small, plain and non-institutional looking building, I really couldn’t blame you if you didn’t stop. It is beige and has navy blue stripes and consists of two hallways and a small upstairs. It looks more like an office building than a high school. It’s because it was once a bank that Alief bought in 1994. Our school colors are white and purple, so why Kerr’s building still has blue stripes rather than purple is a mystery to most. As is the rarely ever used tennis courts right in front. Despite its looks, Kerr does have something going for it: it’s off Highway 6.

Off campus lunch my senior year was amazing. Leaving campus for lunch every day with friends was a great privilege that students recently received. I remember standing in line at Taco Bell, unable to stop laughing long enough to give my order. It is the inside of Kerr that matters most of all, though. Its small gym, library, band room, cafeteria, and academic centers offer big opportunities for growth and accomplishment. In fact, Kerr is the kind of school President Barack Obama and his Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan have envisioned for America. Modeled after Bishop Carrol High School in Alberta, Canada, the curriculum is based upon college preparation with an emphasis on the fine arts. Our Choir, Theater, Art, Band and Orchestra programs have all won prestigious awards.

Unlike Alief’s three traditional high schools—Hastings, Elsik, and Taylor—Kerr does not offer a competitive sports program. However, the small student body takes advantage of Kerr’s fantastic intramural exercise and weight training programs. Kerr is proud to successfully compete against traditional schools from Houston and the state of Texas in academic and fine art interscholastic competitions. Many of Kerr’s students view themselves as David battling Goliath when they compete against larger and often wealthier schools from around the state. To better understand this common Kerr mindset, it is important to have a greater understanding of what makes a “Kerr student.”

In my four years as a member of the Kerr choir, I was in non-varsity my freshman year and varsity during my sophomore, junior and senior years. All of my memories from choir seem so close, as if it were just yesterday when I sat in a chair in a row of 15 girls, waiting for my choir teacher to come into the room on the first day of freshman year. When Kerr competes they appear to have a less favorable chance of winning. I remember going to choir competitions and being intimidated by the gigantic sizes of the other choirs. Here we were, Kerr choir, walking into the competition area with around 30 members and sitting down next to a competing school of around 150 members. Against all odds, Kerr’s fine arts program has still came out on top year after year.

Acceptance into Kerr is based upon student application and an interview. Applicants must be passing their middle school classes, be recommended by a teacher or a counselor and must not be experiencing disciplinary problems. Once at Kerr, students learn and work both independently and in groups polishing their research, writing and questioning abilities. A give and take relationship between teacher and student results in less direct teaching by the instructor, replaced by supervised independent study in all classes.

During my four years at Kerr I witnessed many returning graduates returning their appreciation to the Kerr staff for helping them adjust to the requirements of college life. I know I will be doing this same thing after my freshman year of college. While walking down to the cafeteria I see people from almost every race interacting in the hallways. Unlike most traditional high schools, Kerr’s students try hard to avoid joining cliques and are accepting and open minded towards the schools diverse population. Because of the small numbers, everyone knows everyone and gets along with each other. While many schools are asked to participate once a year in a national “mix it up” day which encourages students to sit in the cafeteria with people outside their cliques, Kerr students do it every day of the school year. It is a regular United Nations in the cafeteria at lunch time. At a table at Kerr, in the cafeteria, you can literally find kids from four or five countries all sitting together. You will see an Asian boy with glasses, an Affliction t-shirt and blue jeans sitting with a couple of girls from Pakistan with traditional salwar kameez. Sitting two tables over you will find a girl wearing Coach tennis shoes and another girl who would never spend that much money on something that you put on your feet, laughing together about a joke they both heard. There is a true feeling of respect and a sense of belonging which I like to refer to as the “Kerr family.” Like any strong family guidance and wisdom are passed down by example and tradition.

I know it is fairly common to hear some say that their high school, in some way, affected how they developed as people. At the risk of sounding like a bad cliché, Kerr really did affect me as a person in a positive way. It is the kind of place that is small enough so you can focus on who you are becoming as a young adult but also big enough to nurture and develop your dreams of the future and all that those dreams entail. While many students look back fondly at their high school experience years after they have graduated, Kerr students appreciate their unique experiences while still attending their future alma mater.

Kerr was nominated in the 2009-2010 school year by the Texas Education Association as one of only 26 schools in Texas as a National Blue Ribbon school. On September the 9th 2010, Kerr’s faculty and student body received exciting news form Washington D.C. During my years at Kerr, I have observed many other awards and honors earned by the staff and student body. The National Blue Ribbon Award is, however, the most prestigious award that Kerr has ever earned.
Selected as one of only four Texas high schools and one of 320 schools in the nation, the United States Department of Education recognized Kerr for its outstanding test scores as well as its success in a long list of categories. Kerr became the first school in the Alief district to be awarded this honor. To many of its founding staff members and former students, this represents affirmation of Kerr’s past, present and future role as an educational powerhouse in the city of Houston.

Just as Kerr High School molded itself from the model of Bishop Carrol High School, many school districts and campuses have sent teachers and administrators to visit Kerr for inspiration to bring back to their schools. The “best kept secret” in Houston may no longer be a secret but is still one of the best learning environments in our great city. Loved by students, faculty and staff, this small alternative high school welcomes students and visitors alike to discover the tracks to success. All aboard…”The little school that could” is truly a phenomenal ride!

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LINKS

Kerr High School

U.S. News & World Report

Wikipedia

Author Bio

Michelle Levine is a freshman at University of Houston Downtown, who is hoping to major in Business Management.  She grew up in Richmond, Texas in a small community named Pecan Grove. She loves fashion and music and one day dreams of owning her own clothing boutique. Michells’s favorite city is New York because she has been going there ever since she was little. She can not wait to graduate with a great degree and begin the next chapter of her life.

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