Brenda Zackery doesn’t mind all the trucks and construction noise at Codwell Elementary across the street from her house on Tavenor Lane, part of a $12.5 million renovation of the school.
“I was upset when they closed it,” she said of the building, which was shuttered to students in 2014 because of moisture problems. “I had gotten used to the kids waking me up in the morning. It will be good for the community when they reopen it.”
Workers didn’t pause on Friday as neighbors, parents, students, and HISD staff gathered at the school site to officially celebrate the construction with a groundbreaking ceremony. The event was part of a milestone day for HISD’s South Area feeder pattern community, which also included a grand-opening celebration for the new Sterling Aviation High School just down the street.
The goal was to showcase the strengthening of the South Area feeder pattern and HISD’s commitment to focus on improving neighborhood schools.
“We’re not just building a building here,” said Trustee Jolanda Jones, who represents the area. “We’re investing in the neighborhood so the kids don’t have to get on the bus.”
That sentiment was echoed all afternoon at Codwell, and later at Sterling, where hundreds of students and community members packed the gym for a pep rally-styled ceremony to officially celebrate the new $72 million school, which opened to students in January.
Among those joining Jones at the Codwell event were Congressman Al Green, State Rep. Shawn Thierry, HISD Chief School Officer Erick Pruitt, members of the Codwell family, and Charles Cave, president of the Crestmont Civic Association.
Cave told the audience that the decision to close Codwell and relocate the students to a temporary location on Brisbane Street was frightening for him and the community, which has always seen the elementary school as a fixture in the neighborhood. Cave’s three children attended Codwell, and his wife taught there as a substitute.
“We’re living proof that neighborhood schools do make a difference, and we should work to keep them,” he said.
No one seemed more excited Friday than 9-year-old Genesis Sherman, who returned to the school with her drumline to provide entertainment for guests.
“I miss this school so much,” she said. “I can’t believe I’m coming back.”
If all goes as hoped, Sherman will finish elementary school at the renovated school, before moving on to Thomas Middle School and the newly built Sterling Aviation High School.
“It’s about revitalizing the neighborhood,” said Codwell Principal Kristy Love. “There’s no need for a child to leave to get an excellent education.”
Shortly after officially breaking ground at Codwell, participants got into their cars for the short drive to Sterling, where the school’s marching band, dance team and twirlers were joined by Codwell Elementary musicians and cheerleaders.
Among those invited were students and principals from across the South Area, including 13-year-old Jessica Velasquez, a sixth-grader at Thomas Middle School. In two years, she hopes to attend the new school, which features state-of-the-art science labs and flexible classroom and learning commons areas with access to library resources.
The crown jewel of the new building is a 7,100-square-foot airplane hangar at the center of the school to support its aviation science program. The hangar is lined with large windows and serves as a flexible learning space where students can work on airplanes and their engines, individually and in large and small groups.
“It’s really nice,” she said of the new school. “I like the way it looks.”
Sterling Principal Justin Fuentes welcomed the hundreds of students, parents and neighbors to the event, and praised Trustee Jolanda Jones for her ongoing support of the school.
“All I want is all the kids in HISD to know that they can go to their neighborhood school and get a good education,” Jones said to applause. “We’re reinvesting in neighborhood schools.”
The Sterling event also featured remarks from State Rep. Thierry, Chief School Officer Pruitt and former Sterling Principal Daisy Maura. Jones presented a proclamation on behalf of Congressman Al Green.
The highlight of the afternoon was a special recognition of Azellia White, who was the first black woman from Texas to earn a pilot’s license. The school has named its Sterling Aviation Science Lab in the honor of the 103-year-old White.
“This school is beautiful. I love it,” said Marion Edwards, who volunteered at the school and has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years.
She turned out for the event to get a tour of the new facility. Sterling is one of the few public schools in the nation with a working airplane hangar and an aviation sciences program.
“I hope it encourages our parents to keep our children in their neighborhood schools,” Edwards said. “They need to be here, instead of being bussed all over the city.”