More than 400 people, including a long list of elected officials, turned out Friday to celebrate the opening of the new Atherton Elementary school, rebuilt under the 2007 bond program in Houston’s fifth ward neighborhood.
“It’s beautiful,” said Judy Day-White, who attended the original Atherton Elementary back in the 1950s and came out Friday for special event. “When we have a better environment for our students, it uplifts them and it uplifts the community. It makes a difference.”
The new 86,000-square-foot facility drew many accolades Friday, as did the school’s charismatic principal, Dr. Albert Lemons, who worked alongside the architect and contractor to create a school to support the 21st century learning needs of its students.
“I love it,” said Senora Mims, whose daughter Kayla is in the fourth grade at Atherton. “It’s way better than the school they had. Kayla hasn’t stopped talking about it.”
The new school is nearly twice the size of the original facility, which was built in 1957. Guests on Friday entered through the building’s unique aluminum-cone-shaped entrance and had the opportunity to tour the facility, which features bright colors and flexible learning spaces.
“When we redo a school like this, we’re also making a commitment to the neighborhood and the community,” said Mayor Anisse Parker, who kicked off a program that included musical presentations by Atherton students, the Kashmere High School Reunion Band and renowned gospel singer Yolanda Adams, who also happens to be the principal’s niece.
The event drew many people with ties to Principal Lemons, as well as to the fifth ward. State Rep. Harold Dutton, a 1955 graduate of the school, served as the master of ceremonies. Others in attendance included George Foreman IV, the son of famous boxer and entreprenuer George Foreman, Councilman Jerry Davis, HISD Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones and HISD Superintendent Terry Grier.
Grier praised the community’s commitment to the school and said all students in Houston, no matter what their zip code, deserve facilities as inspiring as Atherton. Under the 2012 bond program, the district is planning to build or renovate 40 schools.
“We’re going to build schools all over Houston that are going to have the same quality,” he said.
Several speakers noted that while the new building was impressive, the teachers, principals and parents were essential in ensuring the school’s success.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee noted the school’s deep roots within the African-American community in Houston and also drew a connection to Martin Luther King Jr., who saw the function of education to develop both intelligence and character.
“I stand here today as a believer in our children and a believer in our history,” she said, noting the school principal understands King’s commitment to racial equality and opportunity. She presented Lemons with a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in honor of the new school. Earlier, he received one that flew over the state capitol from State Rep. Senfronia Thompson.
“He’s educating but he’s also teaching human beings to get along and love one another,” Jackson Lee said.