Educators at YES Prep are on a mission with far-reaching goals. They want to prepare kids, many of them from disadvantaged families with few, if any, high school graduates, to attend college. But the aspiration doesn't end there: They want to make sure their students succeed in college once they get there, a step they believe will change the fortunes not only of their students but also of the kids' families and communities.
It is a tall order, acknowledge the teachers, and it requires time -- a lot of time. The instructional day at YES Prep campuses runs from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., five days a week, with sessions for extra instruction and community service on certain Saturday mornings. The average school week involves a whopping 45 hours of class time.
"If you just have great people and you don't give the kids more time with those great people," says YES Prep founder Chris Barbic, "you're not going to solve the problem."
The practice of adding time to the school day is gaining popularity nationally. President Obama has advocated for it, and research on its effectiveness is underway. In a set of case studies published in 2005, Massachusetts 2020, an independent organization dedicated to improving learning opportunities, found that extended schooling allowed for broader and deeper coverage of the curriculum, more opportunities for experiential learning, greater individualization of instruction, and stronger relationships between adults and students.
At YES Prep, educators are finding additional benefits to a packed student schedule. For one, the longer school day ensures that kids spend more hours doing constructive activities, and fewer hours without supervision. Also, says Barbic, it accustoms kids to the kind of workweek they can expect in college and later on in jobs as adult professionals.
"To be honest, I don't know of anybody, except maybe the mailman, who works a 40-hour workweek and is successful," he says. "We expect that from our teachers, and we expect it from our kids. That's preparing them for more than college. If you want to be a successful person, have some responsibility and be challenged, and feel like you're setting big goals for yourself, this is probably going to be your work life."
Teachers and students at YES Prep use the extra time for more -- and longer -- classes. At Saturday sessions, students do some academic work, such as SAT practice, and also help teachers organize community activities, like a carnival on the athletic field and a door-to-door outreach campaign, both designed to build the school's relationship with its neighbors.
Summer sessions also are an important part of YES Prep's extended learning program. Students in the lower grades must attend a two-week summer school for an academic boost. (For entering sixth graders, it's all about getting to know the ropes at YES.) Older students must either attend summer school or purs
Past activities for students at YES Prep North Central have included National Outdoor Leadership School wilderness trips, college-prep immersion programs on university campuses, and service trips to India and Ghana. North Central's college counselor helps students find scholarships for these experiences.
Elia Torre, the mother of a YES Prep student, helped raise money for her son's India trip by working at a local Toyota center that partnered with the school. She says the trip "made a change in my son, because he was able to see another way to live -- how to sleep, how to eat, how kids his age have to survive every day."
These are the kinds of experiences that can happen naturally in the lives of wealthier kids, says Barbic, experiences that help them deepen their education and broaden their own sense of possibility. He wants YES Prep's students to have them, too.
"You hear that not everyone's cut out for college," he says. "But for a lot of the kids we serve here, those decisions get made for them before they even get to college, or even high school."
Grace Rubenstein is a senior producer at Edutopia.
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