George Lucas Educational Foundation

Yes Prep North Central

Grades 6-12 | Houston, TX

Academic Rigor that Prepares Students for College

Project learning, integrated studies, and comprehensive assessment support a drive to achieve high academic standards.
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A School Commits to Academic Rigor (Transcript)

Student: I made this in color. The wall, and the letters in red to kind of represent the blood that's been spilled over there.

Narrator: Whether they are presenting their portfolio of artwork.

Teacher: See, the pressure launches this out.

Narrator: Or using a spud gun to test a projectile motion equation for a pre-calculus project,

Teacher: Before we shoot it, we're able to calculate how far it's going to go.

Narrator: YES Prep North Central students do things with the knowledge they acquire.

Teacher: That's close, that's close.

Michelle: In terms of ensuring rigor, it's a question that we've always struggled with, and I hope we always continue to struggle with, because I never want any of our instructors to be satisfied with the level of rigor, I want us always to be thinking of ways that we can push the kids more and more.

Teacher: And if this is where Christopher Columbus landed, then what can we guess, or what can we assume?

Narrator: YES Prep North Central's recipe for academic rigor includes, integration of core subjects to deepen understanding, inquiry based project learning to show real world relevance, assess student work in a holistic and comprehensive way, and empower the students to become self-reflective critical thinkers.

Teacher: At 90 and 270, if you have a quarter moon, it shouldn't look like a crescent at all, it should look like--

Narrator: In sixth and seventh grades, core subjects are integrated. Math, science a technology are team taught in one block, while language arts and humanities are taught in another.

Luis: Hi, my name is Lou Salazar, and this is a project that we did. It's called books of hope.

Narrator: In a cross-curricular arts and humanities project, seventh graders researched, wrote and published books on their favorite subjects to ship to a sponsored school in Uganda.

Luis: And here I have, in order, all the process that I took, to make this book.

Katie: We taught them how to write nonfiction, and this took about a month and a half, where they went through this writing process. The whole time, we kept reminding them, you know, why we're doing this, and what these books are going to be used for, and we found that the kids were just incredibly motivated. They really, really latched onto this vision that we had, and they wanted to make them perfect, because they knew that kids were going to be learning from them.

Luis: And I really didn't want to focus on one specific culture, because I thought it was better for people to relate to it if I made it, and a lot of cultures.

Michelle: We're a project based school, so the students are asked to do things that are going to really challenge them to think critically.

Luis: And we had to revise it ourselves, and then we had to give it to the teacher.

Teacher: It excites them, so they always talk about projects and they're really excited to do them, because of those relevant connections.

Luis: It's a good thing to do, like to do service, help other people, not because they tell you to, it's good, because, like, you want someone, like, for example, these books, I really put effort on it, I didn't put a lot of effort for the grade, I put a lot of effort so the kids in Uganda could learn.

Rachel: Okay, I need you to take out your rubrics quickly.

Narrator: YES Prep uses a variety of assessment tools to track student progress.

Student: I wrote three sonnets.

Rachel: The piece that we're working on is to make a literary analysis paper, so that was kind of the main assessment, but then we also had some creative outlets for them, where they created their own sonnets, or a lot of people made poems, or raps, or you know, just visual representations, just to show their artistic expression.

Student: What means the world to you? Being lost for a guy, or being lost for a girl. To the world, you just mean somebody, but to somebody you mean the world.

Narrator: To empower students to take charge of their own learning, the grading process is completely transparent. The students are given assessment rubrics at the beginning of each project, so the expectations are clear.

Kristy: You can get a just beginning, which is, you didn't put effort in it, and you just slacked off during the whole time. Approaching, is when you put some effort, but it's like she could tell you did it at the last minute. Meets, is you met her expectations on what she wanted you to do. You did a very good job, and Exceeds, is, you went above and beyond, like, you created something that she didn't even tell you to create. It's really easy to get an exceeds, because you already know what's expected from you.

Student: The other AOI I chose was environment.

Narrator: Performance assessment is used in every grade, so by the time they reach high school, YES Prep students are experienced presenters.

Katie: To have them actually verbally articulate their learning, I think is a hugely important skill, and one that our seventh graders and sixth graders really need to practice, so they feel sort of the importance of, like, oh, you know, my parents are going to come, and ask me questions, and other teachers are going to ask me questions. And so they tend to be a little more motivated about the project, so that they're more prepared.

Teacher: Please just really give a lot of thought and introspect into this.

Narrator: Each spring, all students must not only defend their knowledge of the core content, but prove that they are adding value to the school and the community.

Student: Like, math has always taught me that there's always more ways to solve one problem. And I can relate that to life.

Michelle: They're asked to think critically about what they've learned, the skills that they've acquired, and then, on top of that, we want them to think about themselves as people, and how they've changed.

Student: Comparing it to the beginning of the year, I think I've improved my communication.

Narrator: Critical thinking is a key skill for college readiness, and every person in the building is working towards getting every student into college.

Teacher: So you have to work a little harder?

Student: Yeah. And--

Teacher: And you do.

Student: And I do.

Narrator: But the hard work is carried out with joy and passion.

Julian: But the school is serious and fun at the same time, because we have awesome teachers, who make class fun, and put a whole bunch of work into the lessons and make sure you get it deep through your head, and make sure that you have fun with it, too.

Luis: They prepare us for college, so like, it's really hard. It's really hard, like, they're very challenging. I really like it, because they really care about your education, and it's a good experience being at YES.

Narrator: For more information about, What Works in Public Education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis


  • Karen Sutherland

Coordinating Producer

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Production Assistant

  • Doug Keely

Camera Crew

  • Thomas Waldron
  • Mark Angelo


  • Kris Welch

Original Music

  • Ed Bogas

Support for Edutopia's Schools That Work series is provided, in part, by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

Click on the title below to download a PDF of one of YES Prep's many resources:


Presentation Rubric 65K
Rubric: Oral presentation

More at How YOU Can Do It: YES Prep Resources and Downloads

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Abena's picture
UK English (Language Arts) teacher working in Malaysia.

Is there any way of seeing a sample from those books?

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