Last year on November 17th, State Representative Sylvester Turner put it to a room full of parents, students, graduates and other community activists to save Booker T. Washington High School before it was too late. The school had been deemed academically unacceptable in 2011, student numbers had dropped and some programs had been cancelled due to lack of funds. That night nearly $22,000 dollars was raised. This week Kroger added another $10,000 dollars to the fund which brings the total raised to $135,000 dollars to rescue the school located in Independence Heights. Rep. Turner couldn't be happier.
"You put out the plea, you put out the call and if you can demonstrate to people that the money is going to be spent on programs on supplies and not just personnel, but the money will actually reach the kids, people respond."
The school plans to use the money to provide vocational skills to students in areas like automotive repair and cosmetology. Booker T. Washington opened its doors in 1893, making it the oldest public school in the city. The original name was Colored High but by 1928 it was renamed Booker T. Washington after the famous educator. Rep. Turner says Washington's attitude to education within a community is what ultimately saved the school.
"Booker T. Washington believed that if you cash your buck down where you stand, you can pull yourself up and you do it yourself in large part. Well, that same spirit is still at Booker T. Washington but it takes a collective effort, it takes all of us doing our parts, saying we are all going to participate to provide these kids with the opportunities that they rightfully deserve."
Those opportunities for the students come in the form of the magnet engineering program that the school is renowned for. It's been running for 30 years and has a number of ongoing projects with NASA. Principal LaShonda Bilbo-Ervin says it's this kind of program that makes their school unique.
"Students have an opportunity to study mechanical, chemical and aerospace engineering. We have students who are building rockets. We have students who are working on robots. Our robotics team won the champions award and competed in St. Louis, Missouri last year. So our engineering program offers all facets of engineering that will allow our students see what avenue they want to pursue in college."
Bilbo-Ervin hopes that this money for programs and services will translate into more students walking through her door this August, and school officials hope by 2013 to be back in good standing academically.