Teacher: Welcome, all. As of today, April 27, senior sign-in day, over 95 percent of the seniors have been accepted to at least 2 colleges and universities.
Narrator: A core principle of YES Prep is that every student will attend and succeed in college.
Mark: We have this high expectation that all kids go to college, but we don't leave it there. We kind of backwards-plan from there: Here are the things that we need to do in order to make sure that kids are going to be ready.
Narrator: YES Prep's college-bound culture is built on three key components: an environment of expectation…
Teacher: So now let me see your college list.
Narrator: …a college-prep seminar class…
Guide: And this is the bookstore. We can take a look in there.
Narrator: …and college-campus visits, where students experience the look and feel of a college.
Guide: Now we'll go to the gym. There is fitness classes here…
Narrator: The promise of a college education begins with a home visit and contract-signing.
Chris: The home visits are when we go through the contract with them and their parents and we talk about, "This is what it means to be a student at YES."
Teacher: Good to meet you. I'm going to give you a copy of…
Chris: The contract is good because it's symbolic. What we want parents to understand is that this has got to be a team effort. This is a three-legged stool. It's us; it's your kid; and it's you. And if we work together for the next seven years, your kid's going to be able to go to any college they want to.
Teacher: And then sign under the "student signature," please.
Chad: By the time the students get to 11th grade they've been talking about college since the 6th grade, and they've got homerooms that are named after colleges and people are asking them where they want to go to college, and even though they really don't have any idea -- and they shouldn't necessarily have any idea at that point -- they at least know that they want to go to college and they're all focused on that.
Student: But you can apply as soon as possible into August through October.
Narrator: In the college-prep seminar class, juniors spend a year learning how to select and apply to colleges.
Chad: It's basically a College Prep 101-type class, so a lot of SAT/ACT prep. We take the students through what the admissions process will look like, focus on building their college lists. We'll talk about applications. We talk about financial aid, scholarships, so that when it becomes college-application season that they're ready to go.
"Areas of Study." Click on that.
One of the benefits of the extended day is that we have that extra two hours per day that most schools don't have, and it allows you to do something like this, where the students can come in every day, and 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, just because 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.
Teacher: All right, well, welcome to the University of St. Thomas, everyone.
Narrator: To help students get a sense of college life, YES takes them on field trips to a variety of campuses.
Mark: Over the course of a student's history at YES, that student's going to see 20 to 25 schools, actually go to the campus and be on that campus and meet students and meet professors on that campus.
Guide: What do you all think so far?
Student: I think I like that it's in the center of Houston.
Chad: It's just exposure. So much of finding your fit and sort of picturing yourself on campus has to do with actually getting on the campus and being able to see for yourself, and so we're able to hold classes on a college campus and then tie that in with an information session and a tour…
Guide: Right here is the lounge.
Chad: …so they can really picture themselves there and try to get a sense as to what it might be like.
Teacher: And over 90 percent of this year's graduates are first-generation college-bound students.
Craig: Every year the seniors get together and they sign their acceptance letters to college, all at one time, in front of their friends and their family in a huge auditorium.
Diana: Good afternoon. My name is Diana Rivera, and this fall I will be attending Columbia University in the city of New York.
Craig: I remember signing my acceptance letter on a kitchen table, and I think maybe my mom walked by while I did.
Student: And this fall I'll be attending Texas A&M University.
Craig: This is 100 times bigger, and it means so much to these kids.
Student: …where I'll be majoring in biomedical engineering.
Craig: And when our kids walk across that stage and they sign those letters…
Nelson: Good afternoon. My name is Nelson Mendoza and this fall I will be attending Yale University.
Craig: …it's exactly what we've been working for for the past eight years.
Narrator: For more information about what works in public education, go to edutopia.org.