This year, thanks to generous donations from the HISD Foundation and Smart Financial, HISD’s Cool To Be Smart program was able to award two lucky students – one junior and one senior – with a car.
Senior Tam Ngo was surprised on June 3, when HISD Superintendent Terry Grier greeted her and handed her the keys to a brand-new 2015 Toyota Corolla. When Ngo walked out of the Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center and saw a car topped with a big red bow, she didn’t know what to think.
“My principal told me to come here with my parents,” she said. “When I first saw the car, I was hoping it was for me, but I am still in shock.” The DeBakey High School student and her mother, who was crying, thanked everyone.
Ngo came here from Vietnam with her parents when she was five years old, and now the EMERGE student has graduated in the top 10 percent of her class with a full scholarship to Soka University of America in southern California. “EMERGE opened the world to me,” she said. “It showed me that I wasn’t limited to Houston colleges.”
“That’s pretty cool,” Dr. Grier said about Ngo and her mother’s reactions. Everyone attending the event was moved, including HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, DeBakey Principal Agnes Perry, and representatives from Smart Financial.
“We have worked hard to build this partnership with HISD, and it is so rewarding to see what this student has accomplished,” said Smart Financial Senior Vice President and Chief Lending Officer Larry Siedl. “Watching her and her mother’s reactions was priceless.”
Ngo hopes to take her new car to college when she reports for freshman orientation on Aug. 9. “We didn’t plan to drive, because we were afraid our car might break down in the desert,” she said. “Maybe now we will be able to drive to California.”
The first new Toyota was given away on May 17, 2015, at the fifth annual Cool To Be Smart celebration, which honors students who took rigorous college-prep courses in high school.
Smart Financial Credit Union, former known as First Educators’ Credit Union, has been an HISD partner since the 1930s.