September 17, 2009

YES Prep: Beyond College

This case study explores the “nuts and bolts” of how YES Prep Public Schools, a charter organization based in Houston, Texas, succeeds in preparing low-income students not only to graduate from high school, but also to enter college ready to meet the challenges of a post-secondary education.

Whenever I read the latest data about the achievement gap, I think about how I know more than 3,500 students who are getting ready to change those results. (Melanie Singleton, YES Prep alumna and Dean of Students at YES Prep Southwest)

YES alumni are continuing their success stories through an increasingly diverse variety of professional and educational endeavors. Thirty-six percent of YES prep students who graduated from college are working in the business/corporate sector, 20 percent are working in public service or with a non-profit organization, 27 percent are teaching, 4 percent are working in other education-related fields, and 13 percent are in graduate school. Tellingly, 10 alumni have returned to teach at YES Prep.

One of these returnees is Melanie Singleton, who was a member of YES Prep’s second graduating class in 2002. Melanie attended Columbia University with full scholarship support from the university and the Gates Millennium Scholars Program. She majored in English Literature and African-American Studies and participated in law-oriented internships. As college graduation neared, however, Melanie decided to defer law school and explore teaching opportunities. That fall, she headed back to Houston to teach 7th and 8th grade English for the Houston Independent School District. She discovered a passion for teaching and found her professional home back at YES Prep. She is now Dean of Students for the YES Prep Southwest Campus. She is also a graduate student at the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program, where she is working towards an MBA and taking education courses in preparation for her next goal of becoming a YES Prep school director. When asked “Why YES?” it doesn’t take Melanie long to answer: “I think it goes back to the YES core values. Our last core value is achieving social justice, and it is amazing to be part of an organization that not only has that as a core value, but is doing something about it. YES spends a lot of time on the action steps, and everyone here does what we need to do to get the job done. The achievement gap will get smaller, and we will have schools like YES to thank.”

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