HISD Foundation honors top students in Houston

August 15, 2011 4:59:26 AM PDT
Thu-Mai Nguyen begged her older brother to drive her to HISD's "Cool to Be Smart" celebration so she could spend a little time with her high school friends before they all went their separate ways for college.

But the 18-year-old won't need to ask for a lift anymore.

The recent Lamar High School graduate walked away with the top prize -- a Toyota Scion -- at Superintendent Terry Grier's event to reward students who took a full load of college-prep courses.

HISD Foundation's inaugural celebration recognized recent graduates who enrolled and tested in a minimum of five Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses. Of the more than 950 students who qualified, roughly 250 showed up to Sunday's event, where scholarships, laptops and the car were raffled.

An ecstatic Nguyen ran to the stage after her name was announced. Her plan had been to carpool with her brother to University of Houston this fall. "I have a car now, but my parents still need to let me drive it," said Nguyen, who lacks a driver's license.

HISD officials hope this event will motivate incoming seniors.

"We want more of our students taking rigorous courses," Grier said. "We want more of our kids getting accepted into tier one universities."

The district increased teacher training and started footing the testing fee for students, moves that helped increase Advanced Placement participation more than 40 percent in 2010. Those who score high enough are awarded college course credit.

While students at the celebration said the prizes weren't their motivation for tackling the tougher classes, they were thrilled to have their efforts recognized.

Lamar High School graduate Stephanie Mills scored a Sony Vaio laptop.

"It will be really useful to have," said the 18-year-old who will be attending Tulane University this fall. "I'll be able to download a lot of programs that will help me make everything easier in school"

Esti Arriaga, the district's AP/IB school improvement officer, hopes the event encourages more students to participate by removing any negative stigma that advanced courses are for "students who are considered nerds or for students who are being considered uncool."

Arriaga said the celebration drew skepticism from some teens.

"We did a call out to get students to come and participate in the event and some folks sounded as if they didn't believe us," she said.

District officials said they plan to do a better job spreading the word about the event next year. They're also considering ways to throw the party before graduates start leaving for college.

"This (event) is going to make it very clear," Arriaga said. "We're serious about this and this is exactly how we want to recognize students that participate in these courses."


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