The ‘big reveal’: Diploma in one hand, college admission in the other

YES Prep Public Schools empowering Houston youth in post-secondary pursuits

A decision on your post-secondary school of choice is exciting in itself. Now, imagine announcing it to a stadium of 16,000 people including family, peers, teachers and others—all in attendance to support you.

This is reality for all 17 campuses of YES Prep Public Schools in Houston. The annual Senior Signing Day, held every May, is a hallmark event attended by the entire student body of Grades 6 through 12.

“It’s an event filled with camaraderie. Some of the students keep their school selection under wraps and use Senior Signing Day as sort of a ‘big reveal’,” says Leigh Levine, director of advancement for YES Prep.

“The sixth graders get to see the seniors declare every year, which really builds up their personal excitement to be on that stage one day.”

This year, a whopping 1,034 seniors declared their college or university plans in front of the highest attendance yet for Senior Signing Day.

An added bonus this year was the host venue Minute Maid Park—which, as many know, is home turf for baseball’s reigning world champions, the Houston Astros.

“That definitely made the moment even sweeter,” says Levine.

YES Prep Public Schools runs a unique middle and high school program in the Houston area, targeting underserved communities within the fourth largest city in the United States.

One of the prerequisites for students to graduate is acceptance to a post-secondary institution. With many students entering sixth grade at YES Prep behind in math and reading, a first priority for the school system is getting students up to speed on learning levels.

“We work extra hard to get our students on track to where their average grade level should be,” says Levine. “It will usually take two to three years; then they really start to excel in high school.”

Graduates are not bound by the limits of state borders. They may stay in-state, go out of state, or even pursue Ivy League schools if their situation permits.

“Part of our mission is also that our students graduate from college,” says Levine. “We try to build them up to succeed in that regard—we want them to go to a great school, but we also want them to end up in a financially sound situation.”

Enbridge’s sponsorship, through the legacy Spectra Energy Excellence Programs, is one of YES Prep’s longest-running partnerships. Through this sponsorship, a variety of programs are supported, including YES Prep’s College Initiatives Program and Teaching Excellence Program, which provides development and training on an ongoing basis to teachers.

YES Prep is currently expanding, with an 18th school underway in Houston, and plans to develop elementary schools in the next two to three years.

Research has demonstrated a wide gulf in post-secondary education—10 percent of children in underprivileged communities will walk onto a college campus, compared to about 80 percent in affluent communities

“The odds are really stacked against them. It really gives me fuel to know that we’re turning the odds in their favor,” says Levine.