Frontiersman: 'You are poised for greatness': Houston High School officially opens

Though the weather was grey, and winter was making it last gasp with flakes falling from the sky, there was nothing but red and black Houston Hawk pride as the ribbon was cut, officially opening the new Houston High School.

“When I talk to the students and the community, one word always comes to mind-resiliency,” said Houston High School Principal Ben Howard as he addressed students, staff, and guests Thursday morning.

“Our school and community is resilient. In times of adversity, we stuck together and persevered. Through crowded hallways, cramped cafeterias, and so much more. Through all that, we knew deep down our time was coming.”

Nearly 4 and a half years after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked southcentral Alaska, Houston High School has officially opened its doors to staff and students.

Previously, the land housed the Houston Middle School, but the damage from the earthquake was so impactful that the school was closed and students were forced to combine with the Houston High School, forming the Houston Junior/Senior High School.

Eventually, the middle school was demolished and plans were put in place to rebuild it as the new Houston High School, while the old high school will now be home to the Houston Middle School.

“This is a super exciting day,” said Matanuska Susitna Borough School District (MSBSD) Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani, who told the audience that on his very first day as superintendent, his first school visit was to the Houston Middle School.

“It is remarkable to see what the community, in fact, the state, can do for kids.”

Dr. Trani went on to thank Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski for their continued attention to the Houston community and the support they provided in helping fund the building, as well as the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly, who were critical in funding the project.

He also applauded the efforts that were responsible in the design and construction of the school, with its state of the art career and technical education and inspired learning spaces.

“This (school) is positioned to launch all of these Houston students, and younger peers, for decades to come for top tier career and college opportunities…I am super excited for you to explore the full potential of all the programs at Houston High School.”
“We can make the Mat-Su district not only the best in the state, but a top competitor in the nation.”

“You have made it. I know it will be a memory that you will have for many, many years. In all the places that you will travel, you will find very few people that have graduated high school in a new facility. Thank you for your patience,” said Matanuska Susitna Borough Mayor Edna DeVries.

When Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy recalled his memory of the earthquake, not having yet been sworn in as Governor, but still heading to the emergency center in Anchorage, he remarked at how impressed he was with the Alaskan spirit.

“This is what I love about Alaska-everybody was helping everybody else. Streetlights weren’t working, a lot of things weren’t working, parts of the roads were collapsed, but everybody was helping.”

He also spoke of the day he toured the old middle school, remarking how miraculous it was that no one had been injured, and that what the students and staff had to contend with that day should make them proud to be Alaskans.

“There is something special about Alaska. There is something special about Mat-Su. And there is something special about Houston.”

After the speeches, the graduating class of 2023, who have not only felt the most impact from the earthquake, but also the COVID-19 pandemic, stood with the honored guests as Governor Dunleavy cut the ribbon, marking Houston High School open.

After the ribbon cutting, guests were taken on a tour of the building, highlighting the new Commons spaces, the new library, and some of the new spaces designed for career and technical programs.

“It’s a great facility for the future, for our kids,” said Houston Mayor Carter Cole after the ribbon-cutting.

“This place is set up to train kids to do well.”

Houston High School is set up to focus on pre-engineering, architecture and drafting, welding, aviation magnet program, small engines with outdoor power equipment certifications, and diesel components. There is also healthcare and business classes students can take.

“Our students go straight to work, our students do go onto college programs.”

“This is impressive. I’m excited to see what this is. Apprenticeships are really in need right now, and it’s a viable career opportunity,” said MSBSD School Board member Ted Swanson during the tour, who himself took advantage of an apprenticeship program.

And what do the students think of the new building?

“This is just wonderful,” said Longcheng Bleu Yang, a sophomore who also serves as part of the student government as the President of the Executive Board.

“The biggest thing is the change of the attitude (of the students),” Yang said, explaining that when the earthquake occurred and the students were forced to combine, there was a hope that students would become more mature.

By:  Katie Stavick
Source: Frontiersman