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Maybe This Time....

Everybody loves a winner and Youth Engaged In Service Prep North Central charter school is pushing hard to win. The goal: 100% college enrollment for their first senior class of this school where most of those seniors will be the first in their families to go to college. In fact,

To earn a high school diploma, each student at YES Prep Public Schools, a growing Houston-area network of charters that predominantly serves children from low-income and minority families, must be accepted into at least one four-year college or university.

Going to college is a great thing.This YES school pulls its students from a lottery with more than 4,000 applications, so obviously parents believe in it as well.

But here's what worries me:There are 43 seniors in the Class of 2010. But there were 100 who started off together in sixth grade back in 2004. What became of the others? Did they move? Did their parents fail to meet the expectations of the parental contract that is a condition of enrollment at YES Prep? Did they drop out? Were they counseled out?

"We know that a lot of things outside school that have little to do with academics will affect academics," said North Central school director Mark DiBella. "So we try to create a support system at this school. When they go back into their neighborhoods, they can hearken back to this community of like-minded people."

How supportive is a system that allows more half of its candidates to slip through the cracks? If there is a waiting list, why didn't YES open the door to 57 students who were not luck enough to be selected as first round winners in the YES enrollment lottery? Were the others deemed insufficiently like-minded to remain or become members of this community? Or were they simply causalities to the Youth Engaged in Service mission statement, since:

So much was riding on this. The reputation of a charter school built around the mission of sending every student to college. The hopes of parents who wanted more for their children than they had attained. The expectations of younger siblings, schoolmates and friends hungry for role models. And above all, the dreams of 43 North Central seniors determined to turn stereotypes and statistics upside-down.

Forty-three seniors are trying to make it over the wall. Hear what they have to say:

"We are the leaders here. We have to set the record for everyone else to follow."


"Going up to your senior year, you don't get it yet. You just work hard because teachers tell you to do it and you have to trust it will pay off."

"Now, I've been out there, away from my parents. It makes it harder for me to think about staying in Houston for school."

"If I don't get an education, I'll be letting all the people who support me down and I'll be proving the people who don't believe in me right."

"Now I say: 'I'm going to college and you're not."

"Everyone's on the same page here. It's like physics, like Newton's law. Something stays in motion unless something negative stops it. Here, there is nothing negative to stop us."

I hear a lot about achievement and accomplishment and it is admirable, but I don't hear much about Youth Engaged in Service. Yes, Newton was right, something stays in motion unless something negative stops it. There is nothing negative to stop students from achieving at YES Prep North Central. Small classes. Longer days. Saturday school. Parent involvement. Two full time counselors to focus on college placement for the 43 seniors and 60 juniors. A senior seminar period to work on SAT prep, resumes, and applications. But can or will all of the four-year colleges where these students are accepted make the same level of commitment to the success of the 43 members of the YES Prep Class of 2010?

I admire these kids, they have done well; but I wonder about what comes next. College acceptance doesn't necessarily result in enrollment. And college matriculation does not necessarily result in college graduation. And college graduation does not necessarily result in economic or social stability. And economic and social stability does not necessarily lead to a desire to serve the greater good of the community. I am concerned about what will become of these and many other students who have spent four years focused on the prize of college acceptance -- with the assumption that it comes with a guarantee of living happily ever after.

Just a month earlier at a parent-student conference, Elizabeth had cried as she talked about moving away from Houston. Now, she said, "I'm sure everything's going to be OK. I hope so."

Oh Elizabeth, I hope so too.

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