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Former student, mom visit Varnett; surprised by growth

Danielle King and her mother paid a visit to The Varnett Public School this week and talked about old times.

Danielle, 27, a meetings coordinator in the Washington, D.C. area, started her schooling at then-Varnett Academy in 1986. She was three years old. And even though she stayed at Varnett for only two years, she and her mother credit the school for launching Danielle into her educational journey and career path
The former student and her mother, Gwendolyn King, met with Superintendent Annette Cluff on Wednesday and then sat down for an interview as they talked about how Varnett played a key role in their lives.

Ms. King said she searched out different schools for her daughter, learned about Varnett and made her decision to enroll her here.“I was impressed with what they were offering,” she said. “Danielle started reading at 3 so I needed a school that was going to expound on that – and they did. She just excelled tremendously with the teachers she had.”

She said the teachers were “nourishing” and they “embraced the children with love. My daughter was used to that.”

Danielle added: “I really liked the environment. It was fun.” She said she started reading to her classmates at the age of 5 and credited Varnett and her mother for preparing her to be at the top of her class each year in grade school.

She started kindergarten at a magnet school, Kate Bell Elementary in the Houston Independent School District, before enrolling into The Vanguard program that accommodated her learning level.

Ms. King emphasized that her daughter left Varnett, a private school at the time, for the public school system because of economic reasons.

“We were not unhappy with Varnett,” she said.

Danielle plans events for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesa, Md. The non-profit umbrella organization is the nation’s largest coalition of biomedical researchers, representing 23 scientific groups and more than 100,000 researchers from around the world. According to its website, the federation is recognized as the policy voice of biological and biomedical researchers.

Danielle has a major role with the federation as a meetings and conference planner. She initiates contracts, talks to hotel managers to schedule the rooms, studies floor plans, keeps in touch with the speakers and attendees, plans for the food and beverages and goes on site to make sure “everything is together.”

“When you go to a conference, I’m behind all of that,” she said.

Danielle graduated from the University of Texas in Austin in 2006 and plans to earn a graduate degree in finance. She is looking at the University of Maryland, George Washington University in Washington D.C., and possibly the University of Virginia.
She eventually wants to start her own event planning business.

Danielle was in Houston on a vacation break and returns on Sunday to Washington, where she has lived for three years. In meeting with Mrs. Cluff, mother and daughter had a very important reason to visit Varnett. Ms. King’s 4-year-old granddaughter, Lauren Johnson, will start school at the Southwest Campus on Aug. 23.

She said she and her daughter-in-law agreed on Varnett, recalling her own daughter’s positive experience at the school.

While in the administration building’s conference room, Danielle and Ms. King watched a video that focused on the history of Varnett and then looked at a framed school picture that read “To Our Friend Oprah Winfrey... From The Varnett Academy, Houston, Texas, 1988." Danielle was in the photo and had signed the portrait, along with other children and Mrs. Cluff.

Ms. King, an accountant, said she was surprised when she stepped on campus on Wednesday. “Compared to what we were, we were just one building,” she said. “The growth is tremendous.”

Mrs. Cluff said it is always nice to visit with former students. When asked about the praise that Danielle and Ms. King gave the school, Mrs. Cluff said: “It makes me feel like I’m doing something right.”
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