Longform

These Kids Go to the Best Public High School in Houston

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The 17-year-old senior at Clements High School in Sugar Land hangs out in the ER each week as part of her Scientific Research and Design class, an exclusive and highly coveted course that requires students to pass an admissions test to enroll.

It's the student's responsibility to select and recruit a mentor, who doesn't always agree to participate. And that's just part of the real-life lesson the class intends to impart.

"The students have to go out and knock on doors and talk to medical professionals," 31-year veteran teacher Doug Ronnenkamp says. "For some, it's the first time they have to deal with rejection."

It's helped Priya, an aspiring premed student, to discern a career path. Before taking the class, she wanted to work in a medical clinic. But that sort of environment may be too tame for her. She prefers the manic energy of the ER.

"This class is one of the best things that's ever happened to me," she says. "It's given me experience in the medical field. And I've learned a lot about life itself."

Clements boasts a well-deserved reputation for stellar academics. The teachers are experts in their fields: More than 40 percent of faculty members hold advanced degrees. Students score off the charts on statewide tests and choose from 26 advanced-placement courses ranging from macroeconomics to European history to studio art 3-D design.

Last year the school produced 17 National Merit Society finalists. Nearly all Clements students pursue postsecondary education in two- or four-year universities.

The school also offers excellent athletic programs. The baseball team won the district championship last year, and the boys' and girls' golf teams were district runners-up.

Clements has benefited from the recent construction of new high schools in Fort Bend ISD, a trend that continues as the district plans to open a tenth campus. This has enabled Clements to substantially decrease enrollment, which dropped to about 2,300 from nearly 3,000 a decade ago, and to escape the trouble faced by similar schools whose populations grow to unmanageable proportions.

In addition to top-notch academics and innovative teaching methods, Clements places a premium on imbuing its graduates with a sense of social and ethical responsibility. The school recently adopted an honor code to combat cheating and academic dishonesty. Students must conduct 125 hours of community service to be recognized at graduation.

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Todd Spivak