It may be that the typical ribbon-cutting ceremony is a photo op to recognize philanthropists and investors that support people doing good. Mundane speeches, check presentations and unveilings are often a superficial and an exclusive formality.
But not this one; not at Ripley House. It's not how things are done here in the East End.
The official welcome of Neighborhood Center's first community middle school, Ripley House Middle School, was more akin to a lively pep rally than a traditional rite of passage, rolling out the proverbial red carpet — though the nonprofit's CEO Angela Blanchard prefers the energy of the color orange — for parents, students, educators, leaders, politicians, seniors, babies and artists for whom the center is intended.
It was a mariachi fiesta in which Second Ward Neighborhood Centers' community developer Bolivar Fraga danced Ballet Folklórico-style, children led visitor tours and no one went home without a slice of cake.
This middle school building's overhaul was overdue. Though the main structural elements remain intact, the new design reflects an ethos of inclusivity.
What housed offices of the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County until recently is now a vibrant, newly renovated education center for grades six through eight — and part of the Ripley House Neighborhood Center. As a complex, Ripley House offers health services, hosts a Texas Children's Hospital Pediatric Associate Project Medical Home, computer classes, ESL, soccer, yoga, cake decorating, jewelry design, senior activities, nutrition, summer camps, after-school programs, tax preparation services and citizenship workshops, in addition to a charter elementary school.
On Friday, the adjacent Ripley House Middle School structure was rededicated as the Tsanoff-Ripley Building in honor of Corrinne S. Tsanoff, who was the president of the Houston Settlement Association (the group that would become Neighborhood Centers Inc.), and the Daniel and Edith Ripley Foundation. Tsanoff and the Ripleys joined together to establish Ripley House in 1938, the first building erected from the ground up as a community center; it opened its doors in 1940. It was rebuilt as a 60,000-foot resource hub in 2001, and in 2002 it earned the American Institute of Architects Houston Chapter's Award of Honor and the Award for Community Enhancement.
As such, this middle school building's overhaul was overdue. Though the main structural elements remain intact, the new design reflects an ethos of inclusivity.
Crafted by Museum of Cultural Arts Houston (MOCAH) co-founder Reginald Adams, a geometric, star-studded tile mosaic encases the entrance with aquas, oranges and reds. The same cornucopia of colors bursts from the interior walls and glossy stained concrete floors. The foyer is outfitted with living room furniture, antiques and Mexican textiles — a favorite spot where children and adults were relaxing and enjoying popcorn and ice cream.
"In theater class, this year I will learn all about public speaking. It will give me the confidence to say what I am thinking."
A long corridor leads to the bright library and many classrooms, all equipped with modular desks and interactive whiteboards.
"In theater class, this year I will learn all about public speaking," Abrigal Garcia, 11, said to her guests while conducting a tour. "It will give me the confidence to say what I am thinking."
Garcia is thrilled to be one of the first 144 students at Ripley Middle School. Her theater teacher, Crystal Curry, wants to create an environment where all the arts disciplines meld together. She previously worked at a private school. As Big Sister and a volunteer for a few nonprofits, Curry was allured by Ripley House's sense of community.
Curry agreed to help start this fine arts program, which is funded by a $5,000 gift from the center's advisory board. In the winter, Curry plans a Nutcracker-themed show.
Physical education teacher Tiffanie Ginn was demonstrating how props would be used for indoor exercise, stretching and drills. Outside, she has the option to engage her students in kickball, soccer and baseball.
When hiring teachers for the school, officials sought individuals who wanted to connect with families, who were excited to talk with parents, who lived to teach, who loved children and who had an attachment to the community.
Ripley House Middle School opens Monday.