YES Prep continues to knock the cover off the ball:
When Hurricane Ike struck Houston in September 2008, it dropped another hurdle in Samantha Marquez's path to college. Her mother lost her job at a storm-shuttered business, forcing Marquez to get a part-time job at Chuck E. Cheese's to help the family's finances. "We had to use the money we had been saving for college for just starting over," she says.
The late hours at the pizza parlor ate away at her time to study for the three Advanced Placement courses she was taking at YES Prep, an innovative Houston free public charter school that requires students to attend longer school days (7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.), take some Saturday classes, and do community service. Marquez could have gone to a less demanding school, but YES Prep's track record made it worth the sweat. In the past 10 years, 100 percent of its graduates have been accepted to four-year colleges. Marquez was not about to break that track record. "I'm going to college," says the freshman at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. "A lot of my other friends can't say that."
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The success rate would be remarkable for any public high school, but the composition of YES's student body makes the achievement even more extraordinary. More than 80 percent of students at YES Prep schools are from economically disadvantaged households, 90 percent will be the first in their families to attend college, and 95 percent are Hispanic or African-American. By traditional expectations, these are the students least likely to succeed in the classroom, much less enroll in highly selective universities such as Stanford, Yale, and Wake Forest. But through a rigorous academic course load and a hands-on approach to the college admissions process, YES Prep—which operates eight campuses in the Houston area—has proved it possible for nontraditional students to march off to the nation's elite college campuses.
…All of this college preparation has led to clear success for YES schools and their alumni (573 and counting). Not only do 100 percent enroll in college, but 80 percent have either earned a degree or are still working toward it, far above the national average of about 50 percent. Students who drop out of YES Prep usually do so when they can't meet the college admission requirement for a YES diploma because of failed courses or college rejections, Kamentz says. Others stay at YES for additional help. "I'd rather a student stay behind and get their head on straight than go off to college and not be ready," Kamentz says.
Of course, success breeds demand. More than 4,000 Houston students are on the YES Prep wait list. Currently, 4,200 students are admitted by lottery. Because the charter caps enrollment at 700 per campus, the only way to add students is to add campuses. In April, YES Prep borrowed $22.1 million in federal stimulus funds to build two campuses. The goal is to increase enrollment to 10,000 by 2020.