Middle School Explores Houston in A-Term

Curated by Allie D. ՚26 and Alexandra W. ՚26, Middle School students

When the Middle School teachers plan out the school year at the beginning of fall, there is a week in April where no regular classes are scheduled. In place of Math and Humanities is A-Term—a week in April in which Post Oak’s Middle School goes on a week-long exploration of Houston.

This experience is one of the most looked-forward-to trips at the Middle School, known for its exciting trips within the Greater City of Houston and engaging activities. During this week, students are broken into groups for a particular focus they will study Houston through. This year, those groups were Multicultural, Culinary, and Art groups. Here is a day-by-day review of each group’s A-Term experience!

Houston Art and Culture Scene

by Allie D. ’26

During A-Term, the students were separated into three groups. The art group was a very unique trip with opportunities that the students are so glad they got to experience. We started the week by traveling to the Cistern, which is where we got a tour on the history and heard a tune from a song our tour guide had written herself. Our tour guide's name was Rosemarie. She talked about how the water in the Cistern is like an optical illusion. The water looked to be ten feet deep when in reality it was only ten inches! We also got to visit graffiti alley, where we saw a wide variety of different graffiti from artists all over Houston. We give a big thanks to the teachers and tour guides for the amazing experiences we got to experience.

Houston Food and Culture

by Haashir Q. ’27, Gala G. ’26, Jaycie F. ’26, and Culinary Group

Our A-Term Culinary and Cultural group visited different places in the city that were related to food, food production, and their importance. We also looked at different cultures in the city and worked with professionals such as chefs at Sur La Table, Rice Epicurean, and LeNotre. We visited many places of cultural significance like the Taoist Temple in Asia Town, the POST, and the Italian Cultural and Community Center. We tasted different foods from other countries such as Africa, China, Italy, Thailand, and Britain. We also learned how to cook and bake many different foods.

Monday

On the first day of A-Term, we started by going to the Post Houston. We learned about the building’s history and some of the restrictions put on the renovations because of its status as a historic building. After getting a tour of the exterior, we went to our first point of interest, the Z atrium. Inside we saw a mix of modern additions like the Z-shaped staircase or the office windows or the coffee counter in the middle, as well as some aesthetic pieces that were maintained from the old building, such as the pillars and electrical boxes. The next atrium was called the X atrium and had an X-shaped staircase. This atrium served as a temporary art exhibition. The O atrium was where the food hall was located and had a spiral staircase that led up to the rooftop park and farm. We went to the roof and helped with some maintenance of the farm after our indoor tour had been completed. After we had worked up a good appetite during our farm work, we went back down to ground level and ate some lunch. We all ate at a West African restaurant called Chopnblok in the O atrium.

In the afternoon, we went to the Rice Epicurean Market and learned how to make empanadas. In the beginning, Chef Carol gave us a tour of the store, and we even got to see the back area of the food market. After the tour, we started making our empanadas. An empanada is a Spanish dish that is a type of baked or fried turnover consisting of pastry and filling.

Tuesday

On Tuesday in the morning, we drove to Asiatown (Chinatown) and visited the Teo Chew Temple, which is a Vietnamese Buddhist temple. After visiting the temple, we went to Golden Dim Sum Restaurant to eat a Dim Sum brunch. Some of the foods we ate were chicken fried rice, Chinese broccoli, barbecue pork buns, soup dumplings, chicken feet, egg custard, and many other dishes. We also drank tea and learned the importance of Dim Sum.

After Dim Sum, we went to Le Notre Culinary Institute. This is a school that trains people to be different types of chefs. This culinary school is considered one of the best culinary schools in the U.S. We worked with Chef Phillipe, a professional pastry chef, and one of the instructors at the school called Courtney. We learned how to bake and frost cupcakes and model with fondant. We practiced our icing skills on parchment paper and got a lot better ready to work on our cupcakes. This afternoon we also looked at the different culinary and hospitality jobs.

Wednesday

On Wednesday, we went to Sur la Table, where we investigated global street food from different parts of the world. We made Thai satay chicken with peanut sauce, Indian samosas and chutney, agua fresca, and French crepes. We learned new techniques, words, tools, and ways of cooking with Chef Nick. In Sur la Table, we made everything and tasted everything that we cooked. We learned that street food should be quick, tasty, and inexpensive to buy.

In the afternoon, we went to the Italian Cultural and Community Center and learned all about the Italian dessert torta camilla, which we made. We also had an Italian conversation class, where we learned some common Italian phrases and chatted with each other.

Thursday

On Thursday, we stayed at school and started our baking challenge. This baking challenge was a play on the TV series “The Great British Bake Off,” where 12 bakers compete in a series of challenges to make the best-baked good. We did our best to try to recreate that challenge by trying to make, flavor, and frost the best Victoria sponge cake. We selected all the ingredients we needed and went to HEB. Then we added different flavorings or zests of citrus fruits. We first selected our ingredients and weighed out everything we needed and made our cake. When we were done, we baked our cakes and then made our flavored frostings. After lunch, we completed all the icing and decorating. We also colored our fondant so that we could do fondant modeling. We applied the icing on our cake, and it was very colorful to look at. The Victoria sponge cake is a traditional cake used in a British High Tea. When we finished we photographed and evaluated our finished cakes. The mock bake-off wasn’t as competitive as the real “Great British Bake Off;” students were more friendly towards each other and even helped one another when in need of guidance. Some students might have felt a little doubt in their ability to bake, but everyone did the best they could.

Friday

On Friday, we learned the significance of wheat in Houston at Hope Farms. We harvested arugula, peas, and herbs that helped us make a range of different wheat-based foods. We then went into the kitchen with Chef Carlos, who explained the importance of wheat in cooking. We made lots of different meals using wheat and flour.

During the week, we learned a lot about different cultures and foods. We took away many culinary techniques and were able to find out the amount of significance that cuisine has within various cultures. We gained lots of information, such as learning how to pipe frosting, close an empanada, make fondant less sticky, and much more. Overall, this was an enjoyable experience for all while still being able to learn culinary skills and facts about different cultures.

Multicultural Houston

by Alexandra W. ’26 and Sara Leoni C.-E. ’26

The Multicultural Houston Group explored the cultural diversity of Houston. We learned about the history, traditions, contributions, religions, art forms, language, and food of the many cultures that make Houston the most diverse city in the United States. Each day we learned about a specific culture, and we visited different places that were specific to each one.

Monday

We began A-Term week by learning about Latin American cultures, starting at Arte Público Press. Arte Público Press is the oldest and largest Hispanic publishing company in the United States. Through a presentation, we learned about the press’s mission to help bring Hispanic writers and their literature to the mainstream and how they work to accomplish it, including their first national attempt to recover lost Latino literature. We also saw some of the many Hispanic works of literature they publish. “Seeing all the stories made me appreciate the voice they gave to these writers,” says Maddie G. ’26. “It was very inspiring to hear about the work they do.”

Our lunch was also in keeping with our Latin American focus for the day. We dined at Ninfa’s, a Tex-Mex restaurant rumored to have invented the fajita.

After lunch, we returned to the Museum District Campus for a Latin dance class. Over a two-hour dance class, we learned the basics of salsa, bachata, and merengue taught by Christian Franco, an international dance instructor with Latin Dance Factory. Taking this Latin class was especially fun because we interactively learned about Latin culture. Franco taught the Latin dances and discussed their origins, so we also discovered where the styles originated and how they related to their respective cultures. “I loved learning different Latin dances and concurrently learning about their origins,” says Alanis P. ‘26. “I had so much fun dancing with my friends.”

Tuesday

On the second day of A-Term, we focused on different Asian cultures. Our day began at Asia Society with a guided tour of their Making Home: Artists and Immigration exhibit. Making Home centers around immigration through the artwork of Phung Huynh, Beili Liu, Tuan Andrew Nguyen, and Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya. Through installations, prints, drawings, and sculptures, we saw the artists’ personal experiences with immigration and how it impacted their lives.

“Seeing all of the artwork was very personal because the focus was very relatable to my family,” says one student. “My favorite part was Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya’s installation since many of the pieces she used are familiar to me, like the snacks, pointe shoes, and metronome.”

For lunch, we went to Aga’s Restaurant, a highly rated Indian-Pakistani restaurant in Houston, and tried new foods, gorged on curries and biryanis, and rested up for the remainder of the day. We then hopped in our vehicles again and drove to Stafford for a Bollywood dance class at Rhythm India taught by Dilshad Patel, a Bollywood Dance instructor and choreographer. In this class, we learned a one-minute Bollywood dance routine. It was very tiring, but we had lots of fun trying new steps and moves, like “patakas,” where a person’s fingers are flat together where there is no space between them. We also learned the basic positions of Bollywood dance, like first and second. We also learned how dance disciplines are applicable in real life. Overall, we enjoyed learning about such an integral part of Indian culture.

Wednesday

Wednesday was our day to learn about the religions of Houston. So, we went to religious places of worship across the city. But first, we took a pit stop at Arandas Bakery, one of the first authentic Mexican bakeries in Houston since opening in 1993, where we stocked up on baked goods. With treats in our stomachs, we set off on our journey to our first destination: BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. A mandir is a Hindu temple of worship, and this particular one is the first traditional Hindu Mandir of its kind in North America. It opened in 2004 after four years of construction where 33,000 pieces of Turkish Limestone and interior Italian marble were hand-carved in India, shipped to the USA, and constructed in Stafford, TX, totaling 1.3 million volunteer hours. When we arrived at the Mandir, we all stopped to admire the building and capture its beauty with a camera. Once inside, we received a guided tour where we learned about the building’s architecture. The inside of the building integrated Hindu deities in the ceiling carvings, which were very interesting. It was so exciting to see such a beautifully constructed building and appreciate the tranquility and peacefulness of the Mandir. The tour guide also talked about the Mandir’s history, like the gurus that visited the Mandir and other Hindu temples that inspired it. We unanimously agreed this particular place of worship was one of the most beautiful sites we went to because of its artistic architecture.

After leaving the mandir, we went to the Islamic Da'wah Center for a tour. This center opened in 2002 and had its first prayer that year's last Friday of Ramadan, November 29, 2002. It is the first mosque in downtown Houston and the first center dedicated to Da'wah in Houston. We learned all of this history from our tour guide. We also learned more about the different pillars of the Islamic faith, like the importance of purity. After the tour, we broke for lunch at The Nines Thai Cuisine.

Our last stop for the day was the Fo Guang Shan Chung Mei Temple. Chung Mei Temple opened in 2001 as part of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Society. Its mission is to promote Buddhism in the Greater Houston Community through cultural exchange. Though we did not have much time to spend at this site, we got to appreciate its beauty and significance. The inside of the temple was beautiful and had many ornate Buddhist statues, and the tour guide explained their importance. The tour guide also discussed some of the principles of the Buddhist faith, and it was interesting to see how what she said differed and resembled what we had previously known. The exterior was also lovely and had a peaceful atmosphere, fitting the core principles of Buddhism.

Thursday

The next day, our focus was on African-American culture with other incorporated cultures. For example, we started the day with a presentation by students from the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science or SACNAS. SACNAS is an organization whose purpose is to help the success of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in STEM. The presenters talked about this and discussed how their work relates to SACNAS’s goal and how their research was enabled and supported by SACNAS.

Next, we went to our first destination of the day, the Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC). The goal of the HMAAC is to preserve rich African American culture through various rotating exhibits. During our time there, we went to three exhibits. The first was called The Frame of Reference, created by April Frasier. The room was filled with photographs and made to be a photographic journey from the 1890s to the present day. The second exhibit was named  Kumbi Saleh 3020, based on an ancient African Civilization. It featured an all-black lego piece set 1,000 years in the future. Lastly, we visited a room called The Secret in the Waters. This exhibit had colorful and vibrant art that artistically showed the connection between water and mental health. We then had a healthy lunch at Soul Food Vegan, a vegan restaurant founded in 2014.

Our last activity for the day was a scavenger hunt in the Mahatma Gandhi District and Chinatown. We started at the Mahatma Gandhi District, where we were tasked to find different items in a clothing store and Subhlaxmi Grocers. In the clothing store, we had to look for specific articles of clothing and jewelry. We finished our hunt in Subhlaxmi Grocers, an Indian grocery store that has provided Houstonians with the best products from India and the subcontinent for the past 15 years. The scavenger hunt had us look for different food items, like spices and snacks, and at the end of our hunt, we all bought a small treat.

We continued our search at two different places in Chinatown: a shaved ice store and Jusgo. Jusgo is an Asian supermarket whose mission is to provide Asian immigrants with a modern shopping space with their homeland food. For our hunt, we needed to find specific products like specific snacks and fruits. As a treat, we went to a shaved ice store where we had shaved ice dessert.

Friday

On our final day of A-Term, we looked at various art within Houston, and to begin the day, we had Booza ice cream. Booza serves “stretchy ice cream,” a recipe that has existed for over 500 years. It was created in the Mediterranean region, specifically Palestine. We then had an art and calligraphy workshop from the Islamic Arts Society, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote Islamic heritage and arts in Houston. They frequently organize events to reach their goal and celebrate Islamic culture in the Houston community. We were lucky enough to experience this during our calligraphy and art class. We learned many new things during the art class specifically relating to calligraphy, like how to write our names in Arabic, how to use the writing tools in Arabic calligraphy like the kalam, and more.

Our next activity was a tour of the African American Library at the Gregory School, one of the few African American libraries in the USA. At the African American Library at the Gregory School, we engaged in several immersive exhibits. We learned about the history of Texas, the library, and their connection to each other and US history. For lunch, we went to Blue Nile Ethiopian, one of the best ethnic restaurants in Houston, as voted on several occasions. Finally, we went to Community Artists’ Collective, founded by artists and gallerists to educate children and adults on various art, entrepreneurship, and community development. We explored the Coffee Kool-Aid and the Tabernacle of Memory exhibit by Viktor Givens. This exhibit was made with forgotten or discarded belongings in vacant African American residential estates.

Our A-Term experience was incredibly immersive, fun, and educational. We learned about many different cultures and their role in the Houston community and had a very fun time doing so!

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