Rockets' Alexander sends students on life-changing field trip - FOX 26 News | MyFoxHouston

Rockets' Alexander sends students on life-changing field trip

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Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander spent about 45 minutes with some sixth graders at Woodson K-8 Leadership Academy in Houston in April and their teacher said Alexander would go on to provide the classroom of girls with memories that will last a lifetime.

And perhaps change their lives forever.

Not the 45 minutes in the classroom, but Alexander's decision to send the kids and their teachers on a field trip to Washington, D.C.

During her interview with FOX 26 Sports teacher Clorena Simmons had more than one message for Alexander.

"You changed my girls' lives," Simmons said. "You changed my life. You put a hope in me that I never would have (seen) to change the world."

Alexander was at the school on behalf of Teach for America, a non-profit organization whose mission according to its web site "is growing the movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education."

Simmons said many of her kids do not have enough to eat at night.

Taking a trip to the nation's capital was beyond their wildest dreams.

"When he said it I cried," Simmons said. "Tears of joy.  I don't even know why I cried at first. I guess it was because it was unbelievable. You don't believe it. I do hear about it, but it hasn't happened to you.

"No one gives my kids a trip to Washington, D.C. for four days for free. That doesn't happen. It was astonishing to me."

Simmons said the idea of meeting the Rockets owner was "intimidating" at first, but Alexander immediately put her at ease.

"He comes into the building and he's this normal guy," Simmons said. "All my nerves went away and he comes in and he starts asking me what do I do every day?"

Alexander asked Simmons a lot of questions.

" 'So what is your every day job?' " Alexander asked Simmons. " 'What do you do and how do you interact with the kids and do your kids interact with you?' "

Alexander brought copies of the New York Times with him and told the kids "how you can see the world through newspapers without ever leaving where you are," Simmons said.

She said the Rockets' owner then asked her students where they would liked to go based on what they saw in the newspaper.

"He was shell-shocked that they said Macy's, because they saw Macy's in the newspaper," Simmons said. "So they said they wanted to go to Macy's.

"He just took me to the back table and he was like 'where do your kids go on field trips' and I said 'Houston Food Bank, maybe a museum' and he said 'no, that's not enough.'

"That 'they'll never make it that way. I want to take them on a trip.' I'm thinking 'oh he's going to take them to a Houston Rockets game, okay.'

What Alexander said was beyond Simmons' wildest dreams.

"He's like 'plan a trip to Washington, D.C.,' " Simmons said. " 'I'll pay for it.'

"And I just sat there for a second and I started to cry and he said 'no I'm serious.'

"It took me a minute to understand that he really was serious."

Alexander was very serious.

"It was normal for him," Simmons said. "He was like 'yea I'm going to take you.'

"He was like 'they deserve it. You deserve it.' I was shell-shocked. Not planned, very spur of the moment. I was amazed."

Two weeks later Simmons said she met with officials from the Rockets organization who helped her plan every detail of the trip that they took from June 13-16.

She said the plane tickets alone for the 33 students and five teachers cost more than $20,000.

The next challenge for Simmons was to get the kids and their parents to understand the offer from Alexander was real.

"They did not believe me," Simmons said. "Of course when you tell a group of kids in this demographic that you're going to Washington, D.C. for four days for free, they didn't believe me. Their parents didn't believe me."

And the idea of taking the trip still seemed like a fantasy for the students until they were given the paperwork to take home to get their parents' permission to go.

And once fantasy became reality Simmons said it was a chance "for my kids, (to) live, like literally live.

"They were able to see things they would never have the opportunity to see. Elevators, little things (like) an elevator. Getting on and off the elevator in the hotel was magical to them.

"When they got there, their hotel was their dorm room, like college. "(They said) 'this is our dorm room Miss Simmons.

" 'You can't come in here' and I would say 'no I can come in there. I have to make sure you're okay."

Then it became time for the kids to ask questions.

"Being able to go to the monuments and then asking all of the questions, who is this person? Simmons said. "Why does he have a monument? Why is his monument placed here?

"It was amazing to just hear the questions and their smiles like never left."

Simmons said it is easy to choose the most important moment of the trip for her students.

"When they got to go to the Ford's Theatre and see where Lincoln was actually assassinated," Simmons said. "When they were looking at that balcony they said 'He was in that balcony and then they took him to this house. This is his bed.'

"They couldn't fathom that the bed could be preserved for that long. (They said) 'He laid in this bed Miss Simmons right here. Can I touch it? (And I said) No don't try to touch the bed. You can't touch the bed.'

"They could not fathom that history had been preserved that well for that long. So that to them was the most amazing part of that trip. They really felt like they were living history."

Alexander provided the trip and the students were the winners.

However, Clorena Simmons also won in a way she could have never imagined.

"When I first got here, being that I was from Ohio, I was the new teacher," Simmons said. "It was very hard to get them to trust me. In this environment trust is everything.

"If they don't trust you, you get absolutely nothing, not even a name on a paper. You get nothing."

And while attempting to earn that trust Simmons taught her students hard work can pay off.

"Now will it always pay off with a trip to Washington?" Simmons said. "No, and I was very clear in that.

"(I told my students) 'Miss Simmons had no idea this trip was coming. When I told you work hard all year I had no idea this is what you would get, but you still got it.

" 'So you need to continue to work hard, so things like this can happen.' "

"It gave me a sense of accomplishment and it gave them a sense of I can believe in somebody and I can work hard and know that it will pay off."

Simmons said those sixth-grade students have moved on to the seventh grade, but they stop by her classroom all the time wanting to be near her.

And her credibility with this year's sixth-grade class is off the charts.

"It just built very strong relationships with my kids and it helps me with this year," Simmons said. "I don't have to fight for the relationships I had to fight for last year.

"My kids already know who I am. I have clout."

And it all stems from Alexander's decision to send last year's sixth-grade class on a field trip to Washington, D.C.

"There has to be more people who see the need and do something about the need, not just because they are going to  get something from it, but they just see it," Simmons said.

"That's all he saw was the need. He spent maybe 45 minutes with them and he gave them at trip to Washington, D.C. There's something in you that makes you do that and you don't want credit for it. You don't tell anybody. So we need more people that have that something in them to do this for girls like my girls."

Simmons said her students sent Alexander some homemade thank-you notes, but she did not think that was enough.

They were.

"If the trip helped educate Miss Simmons' students and they had fun, that's thanks enough for me," Alexander said.

Simmons would like to thank Leslie Alexander in her own way.

"In Washington there's the MLK Monument and it says out of the mountain of despair comes a stone of hope and you gave my girls that stone of hope," Simmons said.

"I thank you so much for that."

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