When Thompson Elementary School’s counselor, Rashaun Gabourel, came to Principal De’Monica Amerson with the idea of launching a Harry Potter-style “house” system at the campus this year, she knew the idea would take hard work to implement across the campus, as well as buy-in from Amerson.
But one thing she never worried about was that her principal would be anything less than open, engaged, supportive and eager to implement new ideas to strengthen the school community.
“What I like about being here is that my principal is always excited about ideas that I bring, and she allows me to implement them,” said Gabourel, who proposed the “house” system, in which every student, teacher and staff member would be sorted into one of four intergenerational houses – the House of Respect, the House of Responsibility, the House of Kindness, or the House of Honesty.
Culture-building is especially important to Amerson, who attended Link Elementary and Wells Middle School, and graduated from Westfield High School. Following in her older brother’s footsteps, she studied education with the hope of becoming a teacher, graduating from Prairie View A&M University. Over the years since then, she worked at Reynolds, Lewis, Heritage, and Salyers elementary schools before becoming an administrator at Claughton Middle School and at Thompson.
“I’m a product of Spring,” Amerson said. “So my notion is, we’re giving back to the community that served us. We’re serving the community that served us.”
Having grown up with a single mom in a small apartment that was often crowded with siblings and extended family – including grandparents and cousins – Amerson said she works hard now to pass on the values of kindness, generosity, perseverance and resilience that she saw in her mother, both to her own 11-year-old daughter and to the staff and students she interacts with every day at Thompson, where she is now happily in her sixth year as principal.
“I had a rough childhood,” Amerson said, “so it’s important for me to make sure that I look like who I was to the kids that I serve, if that makes sense. I want to make sure that the 10-year-old De’Monica that’s here right now gets the support that she needs.”
After arriving at Thompson, Amerson added motivational messages and murals to the walls of the school as a continual reminder for students to aim high and think of themselves as capable of succeeding, in school and in life.
While still in college, Amerson learned that she had multiple sclerosis (MS). She reeled from the news at first, wondering how the disease – for which there is still no cure – would affect her life, her hopes for a family, and her career. Struggling through her initial shock and the depression that followed, Amerson was inspired by her faith and the example of those she loved to keep moving forward.
“Finding out about MS in 2001 was a dagger,” Amerson said. “But you know, you push through it, you take your treatments, do what you have to do.”
Flare-ups of the complex autoimmune disease can be caused by genetic, environmental, and physical factors – including high levels of stress – and can have devastating and debilitating long-term impacts. While never wavering in her commitment to her calling as an educator, over the years Amerson has had to pivot at times, seeking more balance in her life in order to support a healthy immune system and fight the disease.
That included her decision to leave her principalship at Claughton Middle School to come to Thompson Elementary – a story she had the chance to share with other principals and district administrators over the summer.
“To people who don’t know, it looked like, ‘Oh, she took a demotion,’” Amerson recalled telling the group. “But I was also battling an incurable disease, and the stress of the job weighed, essentially, on my life, because with multiple sclerosis, the more stress you’re under, the quicker the disease progresses and the more likely you are to have some physical disabilities. So, I had to make a choice.”
In sharing her challenges openly with others, Amerson hopes she can inspire other educators to do the often-difficult work of striving for balance in their own lives – making sure that even as their careers progress, they don’t neglect the things – or the people – that mean the most to them.
For Amerson, that includes her husband, George, and her daughter Hailey, with whom Amerson has even teamed up to form Hailey’s Helping Hands, a charitable organization that collects socks and other items for homeless women and children in Houston and The Woodlands.
“My daughter is in middle school, and having been a middle school principal, I know she needs me more than ever at this age,” Amerson said, “so I try to make sure I leave here at a certain time every day, and I try to leave work at work, and I go be a mom or a wife.”
Amerson also does motivational speaking and coaching, and since falling in love with writing while in college she has gone on to publish several books, both fiction and nonfiction, aimed at parents and others seeking motivation and inspiration.
Asked about how she finds her needed work-life balance, Amerson admitted it’s still a challenge. On the one hand, her work as a campus principal and her life as a wife and mom keep her busy and engaged deeply every day; but as someone who has struggled since her early 20s with the reality of life’s fragility, she says she doesn’t have the right to waste the time she’s been given.
“Because I have been dealt a certain hand, where I have to work through disease, every day is an opportunity for me,” Amerson said.
Meanwhile, at Thompson, Amerson says she thinks every day about being the kind of principal that she always wanted to have when she was a teacher, as well as the kind of adult who students can look up to – one who can help them envision what’s possible for them in their own lives and inspire them to achieve it, no matter what challenges they may face.
“That’s my ‘why,’” Amerson said. “That, to me, is the icing on the cake of my educational experience, when someone comes back because they remember – 10, 15, 20 years later – how we made them feel, and the seed that we planted in them. We go home tired every day, literally, but we know our tired is not in vain.”