The Greatest Adventures Bring You Back Home

I could not tell you who won the Super Bowl in 1992, and sometimes, I even have a hard time remembering what I had for dinner last night. One thing I can tell you for sure is exactly when I started attending school in Clear Creek ISD. I moved to League City immediately after Spring Break my kindergarten year, where I started my education at Ferguson Elementary. True to form, since I was the kid who was happy when Summer was over, I was not nervous, but excitedas I trekked down the walkway to the front office on my first day. With a broken arm and a Skydancers backpack, I could feel an almost tangible energy that made me believe anything was possible. This new place instantly felt like home. A sense of comfort remained consistent not only through elementary school, but through 12th grade when I graduated from high school in the same district. Looking back, I can honestly sayI loved every awkward, challenging, and joyful year of school in CCISD. I feel fortunate to have been a part of a district that not only values education, but relationships, and adopting those values myself has served me well far beyond receiving my diploma. Every year was memorable in some form or another, and I couldn't help but get nostalgic when I attended the Rededication Ceremony of McWhirter Elementary School with VLK last Thursday night.

McWhirter is one of the 26 elementary schools in CCISD and although I was not zoned for their campus, I do know that since the beginning, McWhirter has been creating future leaders through their commitment to providing every opportunity for success. This vision has remained the driving force in all they do, but like everything in a constantly changing world, buildings need updates and improvements. What was once considered 'cutting edge' might no longer be, and providing every opportunity for students might require extensive work. In this case, the need to rebuild McWhirter was evident. As the oldest elementary school in the district, the original facility was made up of two buildings, one built in 1956 and one built in 1971. It was inefficient and long. So long in fact, that kindergarteners had to walk a quarter of a mile to get to the nurse's office. While the integrity and dedication of teachers, staff, and students has always been noticeable, so was the need for a new space, and when VLK was awarded the project, it became the design team's responsibility to build upon the vision that was established 60 years ago. While assessing the needs, the over-arching question was 'What can we contribute to the new facility that keeps up with modern educational practices and holds on to the rich history and legacy of McWhirter Elementary'

As I walked into the new building, I felt expectant and hopeful of the future being laid out for these students. VLK designed a new space that not only maintained the integrity of the old McWhirter, but on top of that, they were able to equip this school with state-of-the-art educational resources. A building that once had over 70 exterior doors now has an open layout, nine collaborative spaces, and only 20 exterior doors to manage. There are also floor to ceiling magnetic white walls in every classroom and operable curtain walls in the library and computer labs that open up to the surrounding corridors. The best part, in my opinion, is the tribute to the old facility that welcomes you as you walk in. From the original dedication plaque to pictures of the old school lining the main hallway, VLK really merged the old with the new in an inspiringand beautiful way. McWhirter students now have a quality space to match the quality education they have always received, and I could not be more proud to work for a company that embraces the challenge of finding new ways to inspire future generations through educational design.

Move in day at the new McWhirter Elementary was only a few short weeks ago on February 1st, but everyone already appeared to feel right at home. As guests arrived to the rededication ceremony, students held the doors open and exclaimed 'Welcome to our new school!' Instantly, I felt like I was transported back to age six when I walked through my new school and began my journey in the same district just 20 short years ago. Since the beginning of my time in CCISD, I always felt like I had the environment and tools I needed to not only be a successful student, but to feel confident about my future. The leaders I looked up to and the relationships I built with teachers and peers have remained a steady anchor in my life regardless of my age or zip code. I have Ferguson Elementary and League City Intermediate to thank for introducing me to my sweet friend Micah who not only came to my 8th Birthday party, but my 26th Birthday dinner last weekend. I have Clear Creek High School to thank for Pennie Yancey, who was not only a teacher at Clear Creek High, but a reference when I applied for my job here at VLK. There are countless other people and stories that don't escape my regularly forgetful mind, because that is how impactful my time in CCISD was. I know feeling this way about a school system might be rare in some cases, but walking through the new McWhirter Elementary made me excited about the possibility of young students having stories and experiences they'll be able to share later on. Maybe with their new school they will continue to feel that tangible energy that reminds them that anything is possible. Maybe they will graduate from Clear Creek High and get accepted into their dream college. Maybe they will tell stories about the impact their schools and district made on them. And maybe, just maybe, they will write a blog about what it's like to stand on the other end of it all, and work for a company that continues to inspire and provide opportunities to your hometown community. It seems impossible how these random pieces of my life came together, but here I am, thanking CCISD and VLK for not only working together on a project that allowed me to reminisce for a while, but for also continuing to provide students with the same opportunities for success that were provided for me. The future is bright for you, McWhirter Astronauts. You're ready for blast off, and I can't wait to see where you go from here.