George Lucas Educational Foundation

A Once-Troubled Student Transforms into a Star

Kicked out of YES Prep as a sophomore, senior Erick Gonzalez returned to face the challenges and receive the support the school has offered him.
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Erick: Well, my name is Erick Gonzalez, and I'm a Junior.

Teacher: Like a self portrait, you might be able to submit a self portrait.

Erick: If you want a brief overview, you know, sixth to the tenth grade, I was pretty much the example of what not to do at YES.

Chad: It started off, it was pretty rough.

Erick: Coming to this school, I didn't want to come. I had friends going to other schools, I had friends that make fun of me for coming here, and I did a lot to try to get out of this school. I was on the final contract. If I did anything else, I would get kicked out, so I had a detention to serve, and I was goofing around, and got caught, and I got kicked out. My parents kind of freaked out. My dad-- my dad's really strict on my grades, and yeah, they found a school in Louisiana. I always thought YES was strict, but it was nothing compared to that school. I mean, I'm not going to-- the first two nights there, I cried myself to sleep. So I realized I really screwed up, so I wrote them a letter, you know, apologizing and I went in to see if I can come back to YES. And it was amazing. It was-- Like, I felt like I was right at home. I don't think I've ever had a teacher that just gave up on me.

Teacher: So where are your targets and goals?

Chad: He's really worked hard to turn things around for himself, both academically as well as just his behavior on campus, and the way he carries himself, and the way he interacts with others. So he's gone from what some might consider a really challenging student to one who's really become a pleasure to have on campus.

Student: All right, so basically, this thing is a spud gun, potato launcher.

Erick: In here we put the hairspray. As you press the igniter, there's a spark in there. So this goes in here, like, it's just a piece of cloth wrapped in tape, and usually you use potatoes. And the pressure launches this out. So when you plug in all the numbers, for example, the average time, the average distance, which gives you the initial velocity.

Student: Hairspray?

Erick: All right, go.

Erick: That's close. That's close to the point.

I've been painting for five years now, and being able to express myself that way is amazing.

So what this picture depicts is two soldiers, and one of them is painting on the wall, "Union by Force," which kind of goes back to the fact that I believe that, like, we're in the Middle East trying to put, you know, two different groups of people together, but we're really forcing them. Like, I feel like it won't necessarily work out, once we pull out. And you have the soldier watching his back, kind of representing the fact that, you know, if you try to speak out like that, you have to have somebody watching your back.

A lot of my friends were getting into gangs and so on, and I had a friend who drew. He drew a lot of, like, tattoo art, and graffiti art. So I slowly started getting into that, and trying to avoid the whole, you know, gang issues and all that, but I started moving out of that, and started using what I learned, and what I know, to create these murals. I did one for the school. In the background, it says, E Pluribus Unum, One for all, so you know, it just gives that sense of community, that, you know, you're not at the school alone, you're family with everybody here, and including the teachers. I'm working on another mural right now, and that's getting a lot of attention. It's pretty gorgeous, representing the music scene in Houston. That's from the '30s to today. So, like, they're in panels, so those panels are going to be auctioned off, hopefully. And then that money is going to-- well, at first, it was going to go to me, but I decided, I want to make it a scholarship fund for the school. So I mean, that's another thing I want to leave behind, is, you know, money for students to be able to go to college.

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

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


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