This week, families in Houston are making their voices heard in support of charter schools and school choice. I am proud to be among them.
Early on, my younger brother and I attended a Catholic school in Los Angeles. Our family loved the school’s small size and the personal attention each student received. After spending years together and enjoying many shared experiences, our classmates became our family.
Later, when we first moved to Texas, we attended district schools. But when we moved again, this time to the Houston area, we started looking for a school more like what we were used to from Catholic school—we wanted a more stable environment after so much change. But private schools here charge very expensive tuition, which our family could not afford. That is when I found YES Prep public charter schools.
Back in the mid-2000s, YES Prep Gulfton was just starting out, so it offered my brother the chance to have small classes again and to receive individual attention. From very early on the school emphasized the importance of education, helping those in need, and the importance of community. All the families we met were looking for the same thing and were always willing to help each other out so we could see all the kids succeed.
For example, if a parent was running late, they would ask me, the high school big sister, to watch their kids until they were able to arrive. And if my parents or I couldn’t pick up my brother from school, another parent would drop him off at our house. This school and the community it created was what we were looking for. From 6th grade to 12th grade my brother and his classmates had teachers who watched them grow up and knew their families. He went to school with the same classmates all seven years, with a few additions every year.
On top of this, YES Prep constantly emphasized the importance of college.
Every year in the fall and spring, my brother and his classmates went on trips to visit different colleges around the country. This was a huge opportunity that our family would not have been able to afford to give him on our own. He learned about many different types of colleges and universities, different programs each school provided, and the requirements different schools might have, all while experiencing college campuses first hand.
When it came time to apply for colleges, YES Prep provided the support most first-generation students don’t even realize they need, let alone have access to. My brother also had me to help him, since I had already gone through the college application process, but I know most of his classmates didn’t realize there were so many different parts to applying to college. They were encouraged to apply to both in-state and out-of-state colleges. They benefited from SAT and ACT test prep as well as support when writing college essays, filling out the FAFSA and researching and applying for scholarships.
By the time my brother was applying to college, in fall 2013, I was teaching second-year algebra at YES Prep Gulfton. Because I had worked in the office the school year before, I already knew most of the kids and they felt comfortable seeing a familiar face in the classroom. These students were a part of my family and I worked very hard to create a bond with each one of them. I live in the area this school serves, so I would run into parents a lot. We would chat about their families, about their children, and just life in general. I believe having that bond with their families showed my students I really cared for them, not just their grade. At YES we were also encouraged to create after school activities that helped strengthen those bonds. I went ice skating with students, they ate at my parents’ food truck and we watched superhero movies together.
Based on conversations I’ve had with friends who teach in other schools, I realized not everyone gets to build those lasting relationships with their students as much as I have been able to. To this day I still keep in contact with different families and check in to see how they are doing.
In my experience, charter schools not only provide students with a great education, but a community and family that will support them every step of the way. That was a game changer for my family.