Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Don't Hate on our Excellence!"

In the last two years, we have been talking to our students about embracing their “excellence.” One of the things I discovered after my first few weeks at HA was that when our students were outside of Houston Academy, they weren’t always eager to let others know they were HA students. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they were ashamed, but they were definitely uncomfortable with people in the greater-Dothan school labeling them as “snobby rich kids.”

The funny thing is, everyone I’ve talked to in Dothan knows that Houston Academy is the best and most rigorous school in the Wiregrass. In fact, this year, we have record enrollment in the Upper School.  The only factor that seems to keep people from coming to HA is the perception that we are unaffordable.

First of all, having been here for over a year, I can tell you that I’ve never been around a more well-mannered and assiduous group of young people than the kids at Houston Academy. Secondly, I think folks out there in the general public would be shocked to know how many of our families make tremendous sacrifices to allow their children to attend Houston Academy. Most notably, we have scores of faculty children attending HA, and as I’m sure you are aware, teachers around here are NOT typically found vacationing in the Hamptons!  Moreover, we work very hard with families here to make HA affordable. Our Board is firmly committed to offering financial aid to those who qualify, and our entire community is committed to providing a diverse environment for our students. In any case, in our capitalist republic having wealth is a sign of hard work, dedication, and entrepreneurship – not something of which to be ashamed (but perhaps that’s too political of a statement).  As I’ve told our students, there is nothing wrong with being born into a privileged environment.  The important part of being a person of privilege is to ACKNOWLEDGE that you are privileged, and act according through service to others.

To return to the notion of embracing our excellence, we have already established that HA is the most rigorous and finest education in the Wiregrass. Why should our students be ashamed of that? They should be PROUD of that! What our students go through on a daily basis is far more than the vast majority of students in this country experience. Most students would neither want to do what HA kids do, nor would they be capable of doing it.

Furthermore, our students do thousands of hours of community service every year.  They outwork their opponents in practice and on the athletic field every single day. Last year, we won two state championships in athletics and had a winning record in every single sport.  Our band and chorus won national awards. Our artists won regional competitions. Our ACT scores were the highest I’ve seen. We had 52 students take 92 Advanced Placement exams in 12 different subject areas. Our seniors earned $4.2 million in college scholarships.

What I want is for every one of our students, parents, faculty and alumni to go out into the community and let everyone know that they are a part of the HA family. I’d like us to proudly display our HA stickers on our cars.  I’d like us to wear our HA hats to Westgate, and wear our HA shirts to the movies. I believe that when folks actually see who we are and what we do, they can’t help but see what a wonderful community we have.  And if they don’t see that, that’s their problem.  Or, as one of our students wrote in shoe polish on his car last year, “Don’t hate on our excellence!”