Imagine: YES Prep Focused on College and Career Readiness

April 6th, 2012

Category: News

Jason Bernal, president of YES Prep Public Schools in Houston, TX, talks about the success that the YES network has enjoyed over the last several years in his op-ed in The News Journal. YES Prep employs many winning strategies, that unfortunately we are unable to replicate in Delaware because of the current charter environment.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t change that. Every teacher, principal, superintendent, parent, and community member in Delaware stepped up to the challenge of leading national reform efforts aimed at doing just that. Through Race to the Top, Delawareans came together, acknowledged that the status quo was insufficient, and chose to chart a different path for our kids. This work, no doubt difficult, requires all parties to make sacrifices for the benefit of kids. And while it may sometimes seem like the work is impossible, Delaware has numerous partners throughout the country willing and able to lend their experiences to the work, including YES Prep Public Schools.


“Preparing Kids for College and Beyond”

Tonight I’ll be joining Delaware Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery and others at the Imagine Delaware forum on education. Among other things, I’ll talk about what has worked for YES Prep Public Schools, a network of ten state charter schools which I lead as president in Houston, TX.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, only 30.7 percent of adults in Texas between the ages of 25 and 34 hold college degrees, ranking Texas 43rd overall in the U.S. A 2008 Bizjournals survey of the top 100 metropolitan areas in the country ranked Houston as 83rd for degree attainment of its adult population and last among the four largest U.S. cities for the percentage of residents over 25 who have a bachelor’s degree.  The statistics are even lower among the economically disadvantaged population that YES Prep serves: The average low-income sixth grader in a Houston public school has less than a 10 percent chance of graduating from a four-year college.

Since our inception 13 years ago, YES Prep Public Schools has been and remains fully committed to ensuring that all its students are accepted to college, matriculate to college, and graduate from college. YES Prep was founded on a simple premise:  Students in low-income neighborhoods can achieve at the same academic levels as their peers in more affluent neighborhoods when given access to similar opportunities and resources.  Ninety percent of YES Prep students are from low-income households, yet all of our students are required to gain acceptance to a four-year college or university in order to receive their high school diploma. YES Prep’s integrated 6th-12th grade educational program includes a longer school day and year, rigorous college preparatory curriculum, multi-tiered student support system, varied enrichment opportunities, service learning in low-income communities, and personalized college counseling and support through college graduation.  Students are enrolled using a random lottery selection process and do not have to meet any admission requirements.

100% of YES Prep graduates have been accepted to four-year colleges and universities since our inception, and given our focus on ensuring college readiness and college graduation, much of our work centers around a comprehensive college initiatives program that spans from the 6th grade to the last year of undergraduate studies. We see high school graduation and college acceptance as milestones, not capstones, which is why we are committed to supporting students throughout their college careers to ensure that they successfully complete a four-year degree.

At YES Prep we focus on college acceptance, but also on what we call college “persistence,” or the ability of a student to successfully navigate the challenges and difficulties of college to complete a degree. National research in addition to our own tells us what determines how well a student “persists” in college. A lack of academic preparation is a big factor and external conditions beyond the school’s control can also be a hindrance. But other issues play a big part as well, such as not understanding how college admissions, matriculation and graduation processes work, or how to obtain financial support, or how to find and use college/university resources for academic or personal reasons.

YES Prep has worked relentlessly to address these challenges, which culminated in our College Initiatives Program, created by Donald Kamentz. It is comprised of two key elements: comprehensive college counseling and ongoing and robust alumni support programs. These programs are designed to support students at all stages of the college preparation, admission, and matriculation process and to ensure successful completion of a four-year post-secondary degree.

For the purpose of this article, I will give a few examples of how we carry this out.

First, to make sure our students are academically prepared, we provide the most rigorous programs possible, complement with outside courses if necessary, and maximize whatever college prep courses are available. We provide courses to students and families to demystify the admissions process, and help students transition from high school to college by broadening their awareness of what’s outside of their immediate school and community. We make sure that our students know about the financial support and the robust academic and personal advising services available to them, and we encourage them to pair with a mentor. We conduct “senior exit interviews” to identify any red flags so we can address them in the summer before the student begins college in the fall.

For low-income students as a whole, only a quarter of the already-small percentage that matriculate to college will complete their studies and earn a degree.  By contrast, 75% of all YES Prep alumni have either graduated from college or are still enrolled in a post-secondary institution. We are proud of that statistic and hope to improve it even more.

So as YES graduates more students each year, we will continue to evaluate and refine all aspects of the program to ensure it continues to meet the needs of our students in high school, college, and beyond.

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Brett Turner



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