Booker T. Washington High School RS Deer Ranch Retreat

By Jennifer Charles
Booker T. Washington, High School Teacher Specialist

Students and staff at Booker T. Washington High School recently chose to partake in an experiential learning exercise offered by RS Deer Ranch. Roy Douglas and Shirley Ann Malonson, the owners, did not disappoint, providing real life lessons in entrepreneurship, community reinvestment, philanthropy, and practical application of the agricultural, construction, and engineering curriculum taught at Washington High.

Learning through experience, or experiential learning, is a theory based primarily on the work of David Kolb, a well-known psychologist and educational theorist. It theorizes that students will absorb knowledge more readily when they are able to confront a new experience, reflect and review how the new experience is linked to prior knowledge, draw conclusions, and practice what they have learned (McLeod 2017). This theory of real-world application builds upon the curriculum offered in STEM schools. In this case, it offered students a lens into socioeconomic opportunities outside of urban settings and teachers’ personal anecdotes to be used in future classroom lessons. When asked for comment, Mr. Vincent Branch, one of the school’s history teachers, stated that he believed, “the trip was an awesome experience and found that [Malonson’s] talk about entrepreneurship and management stood out and could be valuable across curriculum.” He continued to state that the trip should be, “open to more students” as a guide towards life lessons.

Throughout the school year at Washington High School, students are settled into a routine of course work tailored to their area of interest. Within the engineering program, students learn to design equipment and machinery they wish to compete with or use to add value within the community. Most recently, designs have included at least 2 successfully launched rockets, an artificial limb created using 3-D printing, and a series of drones that were created for in district competitions. Through its agriculture program, students have learned to raise and tend to livestock, including chickens, rabbits, and cows often shown and sold each year through the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Finally, the construction program on campus has facilitated the NCCER, The National Center for Construction Education and Research, certification for students placing them on the fast track for career development.

Through the leadership of Booker T. Washington Principal Dr. Carlos R. Phillips II, and with the assistance of Mr. Roy Douglas and Mrs. Shirley Ann Malonson, senior students and teachers were afforded the opportunity to tour and interact with RS Deer Ranch and learn about its inner workings first hand from those that work the land daily. Many practical lessons emerged, including knowledge of how deer, cattle, and other animals are born, bred, and sold as a part of the ranch’s primary income. Additionally, attendees could both fish from and paddle on a man-made lake created by Mr. Malonson himself. Erika Austin, the school’s data driven instructional specialist, stated, “this was an amazing opportunity to engage with teachers and staff outside of the typical school setting and celebrate the year’s accomplishments”, and Erica Encalade, a school clerk, exclaimed that, “the difference in environment and interaction with coworkers was nice and should be duplicated for years to come.”

Towards the end of the field experience, tour guide and owner Roy Malonson shared several personal accomplishments and triumphs with the group. He explained that from childhood and until the age of 14, he was in and out of the hospital due to a Polio diagnosis which left him physically handicapped. This coupled with familial struggles left Malonson in a position where many likely counted him out for future success. However, Mr. Malonson eloquently explained that his physical ailment did nothing to impair his mind. Within the community of Acres Homes, Malonson bought his first home by the age of 16 and had built and owned investment property by the age of 18. Although he did attend college at the University of St. Thomas, Malonson explained that he had gone to amass his fortune in land and business ownership without the assistance of an actual college degree. His testimony served as a lesson to onlookers that despite perceived setbacks, he has used his life and livelihood to build himself up and take time to teach others to do the same. Class president, Cleveland Shepard IV, thoroughly enjoyed his time at the ranch and stated that other students appreciated the time they had to, “unplug and enjoy nature.” He later added that “holding conversations with Mr. Malonson inspired [them] to want to become millionaires.”

Washington High School would like to extend a special thanks to the Malonson’s’ for their hospitality and time taken to teach students and teachers alike lessons beyond what could be attained in the classroom.

Photo credit: Jennifer Charles/B.T.W.