September 23, 2009

YES Prep: Preparing Low-Income Students for High School Graduation, College, and Beyond

Incorporating video, text and sample documents, 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.


If I went to another school, I would graduate high school and that would be the end of the story. But YES gives us an opportunity to continue the story and become something most of our families have never seen… a college graduate. (Ashton, Junior)

April 27, 2009 was Senior Signing Day at YES Prep Southeast. Surrounded by cheering peers, teachers, and families, the 82 soon-to-be graduates of the Class of 2009 celebrated their high school success and publicly declared their commitment to continue the journey and graduate from college. Proudly unfurling pennants that said “Texas A&M” or “Davidson” or “Yale,” these students prepared to take their place among YES Prep’s alumni, who collectively have earned acceptances at over 250 colleges and universities across the country. (See video of the graduation event at the Click2Houston web site.) Eighty-one percent of these YES Prep alumni have graduated from, or are still enrolled in, a two- or four-year college or university, a number that defies the odds when you consider the students’ backgrounds: 95 percent are Hispanic or African-American, and 80 percent are economically disadvantaged; over 90 percent are first-generation college-bound students.

YES Prep Public Schools was founded in 1995 as a small middle-school project serving 58 students. In 2009-10, YES will serve 3,400 6th- through 12th-grade students in seven open-enrollment charter schools located across Houston, and the organization has plans to serve 10,000 students in 13 schools by 2020. From the beginning, YES Prep has held itself accountable for the type of student success that Senior Signing Day represents. The organization's state charter even requires all students to be accepted into a four-year college in order to graduate from high school.  YES Prep’s mission is to increase the number of low-income students from Houston who graduate from college. The organization’s particular strength is its ability to succeed with students like Ashton, who would not otherwise have considered going to the colleges on those pennants.

Chris Barbic, YES Prep’s Founder and Head of Schools, states simply, “The goal of college graduation is embedded in everything we do. We asked ourselves, ‘If we want every single one of our kids to be able to walk into a freshman college classroom and be successful, how are we going to reverse engineer backwards from there down to 6th grade to make sure that when they leave here every single kid is able to do that?’” The answer, for YES Prep, is to align resources against the people, programs, and systems that are necessary to prepare students academically, socially, and culturally for the college experience and continually reevaluate and adjust based on results. Two investment areas epitomize the organization’s approach to aligning everything it does to its ultimate goals:

  • Providing every student with consistently excellent teaching
  • Preparing every student for college success

Next: Providing Every Student with Consistently Excellent Teaching >> 

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