High expectations propel students to college
Posted February 21, 2010 10:27 a.m. EST
Updated February 21, 2010 1:01 p.m. EST
Houston — Project Education: Edutopia, a partnership between WRAL-TV and the George Lucas Educational Foundation, brings the story of a low-income school with high expectations for students in Houston, Texas.
At YES! Prep Public Schools, a system of charter middle and high schools, the goal is for every student to finish high school – and college.
Since the first graduating class in 2001, the school has sent every student to a four-year college.
"Our students are here because they're on a mission," YES! Prep teacher Craig Brandenburg said. "They need to be preparing themselves for college. And not just going to college, but completing college as well."
The first step on the road to college is a home visit by a YES! Prep representative. The family signs a contract outlining expectations for students, parents and the school.
"It's symbolic," YES Prep! founder and CEO Chris Barbic explained. "What we want parents to understand is this has got to be a team effort. It's us, it's your kid, and it's you.
"If we work together for the next seven years, your kid's going to be able to go to any college they want," Barbic promised.
Students attend longer school days than customary in the U.S., and they dedicate one Saturday a month to a community service project. Teachers carry school-issued cell phones, so they are available at any time for parents.
In a college prep seminar, juniors spend a year learning how to select and apply to colleges. They prepare for SAT and ACT tests and learn about the admissions process, financial aid and scholarships. They also visit dozens of campuses.
"It's valuable, not only for the time that they get, but also the relationships that are built between the students and the college counselors," college counselor Chad Spurgeon said. "It would be impossible for us to truly recommend the right schools and to put them in the right position if we didn't really get to know them."
At the end of the year, seniors get to announce their college choice at a gathering of their peers, teachers and families.
"They sign their acceptance letters to college all at one time in front of their friends and their family in a huge auditorium," Brandenburg described.
"I remember signing my acceptance letter on a kitchen table, and I think maybe my mom walked by while I did it," he added. "This is a hundred times bigger."