Step inside the principal's office at Furr High School and you might find an unusual request.
“Here, will you jump rope out there?” principal Bertie Simmons asked a visitor. She insisted: “Here, jump rope out there.”
She handed over what looked like a normal jump rope. After a few whirls, she revealed what happened next.
The jump rope created kinetic energy and charged up a battery – enough to power up a lamp.
Simmons wants to take that kind of innovation and change the entire high school experience.
It’s been a big part of her mission at Furr High School in Northeast Houston for several years.
And now the campus has won $10 million from the XQ Institute, led by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. The school was one of 10 in the country that won the 5-year award, out of some 700 applications. The project aims to reinvent high school.
“Even before we applied for this grant, we had been trying to transform high schools, because I've always thought that they were stuck in time,” Simmons said in an interview.
Now they’re going to step it up.
“We're going to be actually trying to tap into the passions of the students,” she said.
Students will do even more hands-on projects that try to solve community issues, like pollution in the nearby San Jacinto River.
Simmons also wants to improve her students' well-being: “We're also going to be adding a clinic because 95 percent of our kids are on free and reduced lunch.”
The new clinic will give them more access to health services. And for the influx of teenagers from Central America and Cuba, they will create a newcomer center with grant money.
“That's just an example of one of the ways we'll be spending that two million dollars,” Simmons said.
That's the first year of the five-year grant. Students like Jordan Davis know what Simmons ultimately wants.
“What are we going to do? What are we going to change?” she asked him.
“The world!” he answered.
Davis later explained that he wasn’t joking.
“When I first got here, I didn’t really have good grades, I didn’t have a good support system. And ever since I walked into Dr. Simmons office, from that day that I got here, it’s my family. Furr High School is my family,” Davis said. “All I say is that’s all we want to do here is change the world. And I think we are. I think we are.”