Teacher: And our goal next year is to be the only YES campus that has ever been exemplary every single year.
Narrator: You can see it at an end-of-year assembly and on the soccer field in the student-versus-faculty match.
Narrator: The students of YES Prep North Central and their teachers actually like each other, and they like being here. The positive energy on campus makes fences and cameras and security guards unnecessary. There are few, if any, fights. This ideal environment for learning is the product of several programs and initiatives that promote the school culture and support self-discipline.
Student: RISE stands for "restoring individual student excellence." Being in RISE has made me realize that you can't always get away with the little things in life.
Narrator: By incurring five marks in one week for infractions ranging from chewing gum in class to dishonesty, the students in white T-shirts have been placed on RISE, a strict disciplinary system that requires a daily visit to the principal's office until their transgressions are balanced by good behavior.
Alexander: Well, I got five marks and I got it for talking, and, yeah, so I'm not proud of it. Literally it sucks, yeah. It sucks. I'm going to try harder to get off and be back with my group right there.
Philip: Look at this thing. Does this show me that you're trying hard to get off RISE?
I just kind of go with the way I was raised. My parents showed me a ton of love but were also extremely direct and stern when I screwed up, and that's the way I talk to the students in checking them in the morning RISE.
This is a small example of what's going to happen for the rest of your life. If you make poor decisions, you're going to miss out on the great opportunities.
I think kind of the approach with the RISE is, look, I care about you tremendously. I really want you to be successful. I'm not giving up on you, but you've let me down and you've let your classmates down. You've let your teachers down, but each day is a new day to hold themselves responsible for their behaviors and that they, with their actions, can get back into the community and be a part of the family again.
You've done a great job, so keep it up. Have a good day.
Narrator: While they're on the RISE, students are separated from their classmates during lunch and assemblies. In class they are forbidden to speak unless it is academically essential. After logging five days of positive behavior, they address their classmates to explain why they are worthy of reuniting with them.
Student: Dear classmates, I am writing this letter to inform you the reason I was in respect to RISE for so long.
Student: How will you prove to us that you won't get on RISE again?
Student: Because whenever a teacher's talking I will slant towards here, and whenever a student tries to talk to me I will just raise my hand and tell her I need to move.
Teacher: You ready to change, Tatiana? Welcome back.
Alexander: RISE is an important thing here, because it teaches your students how to improve from their errors, and I really believe that.
Teacher: All right, highs and lows? Who wants to start us?
Narrator: Students meet for one period with their class adviser several times each week. It's an opportunity for them to be heard and supported.
Student: Her portfolios, I was glad that my mom was there, because I felt like she supported me, and usually she can't, because she's working and stuff, so I was really proud of that, happy.
Philip: Every student in the school has someone that they can kind of go to, who knows them well, who maybe knows their ups and downs and often is not their same classroom teacher.
Student: I think it's important for us to be heard, to let people know our feelings, because if we keep things balled up it can get worse, and we don't want each other to get hurt, because it can escalate.
Magda: In advisory it's talking about how do we communicate our frustrations, our ideas? How do we handle tough situations? It's talking about, what does it mean to be Hispanic? What does it mean to be a minority?
Now, I want everybody to lock in their mind one emotional need that they value, and what happens when you don't feel like that emotional need is not being -- it's not being met?
Narrator: History teacher Magda Derisma did extensive research and consulted with the school counselor before settling on a theme for her advisory.
Class: We have your back and we are listening.
Magda: It kind of took me a while in my head to actually figure out what the words were actually going to be, and I said, okay, I like these set of words. It's like, "We have your back and we are listening." It just shows that we're supporting you and we are listening to what you say, so that they know that empathy is important, just to sit down and listen to what somebody else is saying and how do we support someone else and actually give them advice in a concrete way.
Student: So, since this school is supposed to be a family-oriented school, so instead of us being separated into different groups of friends, we need to mix it up and have different people instead of just one little group.
Chris: The signage and the messaging and when you walk into a classroom, I mean, there's stuff up all over the walls. All that's intentional. When I was a teacher, I mean, my goal was that even if the kids aren't paying attention to me and they're looking around the room or daydreaming, I want them learning something, right? There really has to be kind of a marketing campaign every day around why are you here, what this is going to lead to and why college is really important. So, part of it is just making sure that kids are getting the right messages, because when they're not here, they're bombarded with a whole other set of them, whether it's on TV or from their peers. And so, if we're not aware of that and trying to fight that with positive messaging here, we're fooling ourselves.
Craig: One thing our school is really big on is something called the "Thinks and Acts," and they were created by a group of students, who said, "We want to leave YES with something to remember us by," and basically they say, "This is how YES students should think. This is how a YES student should act," not just in school but outside of school, too, and so we really challenge our students. We say, "Hey, are you living the Thinks and Acts? Are you living the blue-orange?"
Chris: I feel like one of my jobs and the jobs of the leaderships across this organization is to make sure that we're living those signs, that we're living those values and that we are walking, breathing examples of the kind of people we want our kids to be.
Narrator: For more information about what works in public education, go to edutopia.org.