Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee announces $1 million grant for Booker T. Washington HS community science venture

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee visited Booker T. Washington High School on May 6 to announce a grant toward “The Vision” Community Statue Project. The $ 1 million in federal funding grant comes from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Fund and will pave the way for the student-developed project’s completion.

The project includes the commissioning of a statue of the school’s namesake, African American educator and author Booker T. Washington, which will be the centerpiece of a community plaza including amphitheater spaces for outdoor learning as well as a community park.

Booker T. Washington High School students also plan for their project to impact the community in more direct ways. It includes construction of a geodesic greenhouse where students can expand on their already-existing agriculture ventures, growing food sustainably and in great quantities to help feed their community.

“This campus is surrounded by a food desert,” said Agriculture Instructor Surendra Surujdeo-Maharaj. “That means that the kids don’t have access to healthy, nutritious food within a mile of where they live. If agriculture is to mean something to the students in this community, they need to address a problem in the community. The first thing that came to mind was solving the food insecurity issue.”

“The Vision” Community Statue Project is an experiment in sustainability. In addition to the greenhouse, STEM students have developed plans for a windfarm consisting of four to five wind turbines which will produce more than 75,000 watts of electricity to power the greenhouse and light the football field. 

“This grant means the world to me,” said valedictorian Daniel Bouffard, who has been working on the project since its inception. “We’ve been working on this project for the last two years. We put countless hours into it, late nights, long weekends, and the ability to get this funding in the manner that we did and from the people we got it from is unexplainable. It’s awesome. It’s amazing. When they told us that we’d gotten $1 million for the project, we were in total shock that now we could carry out our vision to put in the statue and the wind farm and we’re super pumped.”

The student innovators at Booker T. Washington High School have based their plans for “The Vision” on rising global temperatures which have affected sea level, food supply, and lessened biodiversity. The sustainable power created by the wind farm will support the greenhouse where garden beds inside will filter carbon dioxide from the air and provide a year-round growing environment with a minimal carbon footprint.

“It means a lot of training opportunities for students relating to agriculture and careers related to food and nutrition,” said Marcus Glenn, HISD School Nutrition and Agricultural Science Area Manager. “Hopefully we’ll be able to train future food producers to feed not only Independence Heights, but all of Houston. We’re hoping to be able to see this program grow at other schools that have urban agriculture programs.”

Booker T. Washington High School prioritizes STEM education opportunities with multiple agriculture classes, as well as a focus on engineering, programs that are designed to instill knowledge and passion that will stay with students for the rest of their lives.

“Many of them have never seen a plant grow, so they get to watch the entire process of planting a seed, caring for it, and watching it grow,” said Surujdeo-Maharaj. “The best part is that when they harvest them, they understand where their food is coming from. That’s very powerful. It’s empowering them to take charge of their food.”