Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Blog Series: It Takes…

What does it take to prepare students for college, get them accepted, and make sure they are successful once there? It takes great teachers. For the past four years, 100 percent of Aspire Public Schools’ graduating seniors have been accepted to college. Now in its 15th year, with schools in California and Tennessee, Aspire has become one of the highest-performing school networks nationally serving predominantly low-income students. “We believe high-quality teachers are the number one lever for preparing students for college,” said James Willcox, Aspire Public Schools CEO. “We are committed to developing and supporting highly effectiveteachers in every classroom.” Since 2009, to deliver on its College for Certain mission, Aspire has collaborated with teachers to develop a nationally- recognized teacher assessment and professional development model. Based on individualized observations, educators are able to access customized tools and resources – which are constantly being updated – as well as work with mentors and peers to drive student learning and college readiness. What does it take to prepare students for college, get them accepted, and make sure they are successful once there? It takes a belief that all students can achieve. “We believe,” says Tim King, founder and CEO of Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies, describing simply and poignantly how for four years in a row, 100 percent of graduating seniors in these charter schools have been admitted into four-year colleges or universities. But they haven’t just been admitted, Urban Prep students have raked in more than six million in scholarships and grants this past year. Urban Prep points to its positive, mutually accountable school culture as core to its success. Every morning students recite the creed “We believe in ourselves. We believe in each other. We are college bound.” And they are. All of them. Powerful, considering the national high school drop-out rate for African-American males remains just above 50 percent. Urban Prep Academies is a network of all-boys public schools, including the country’s first charter high school for boys. Urban Prep’s mission is to provide a high-quality and comprehensive college-preparatory educational experience to young men that results in its graduates succeeding in college. The schools are a direct response to the urgent need to reverse abysmal graduation and college completion rates among boys in urban centers. While most of Urban Prep students come to the schools from economically disadvantaged households and behind in many subject areas, Urban Prep remains committed to preparing all of its students for college and life. What does it take to prepare students for college, get them accepted, and make sure they are successful once there? It takes preparing students emotionally. This fall, every single one of Prescott, Arizona’s Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy’s graduating seniors walked onto a college campus. “[We] work with all students beginning in ninth grade to maintain the expectation of college acceptance,” said the charter school’s director, Geneva Saint Amour. The school model focuses on rigorous academics combined with citizenship and character. “You would think that school is a place where students sit for seven hours a day in their own bubble and occasionally interact with others on a surface level,” said Hans, a former student. “That is what I expected, but Northpoint changed that. From being drenched from rain in the middle of the woods in a failing tent, to all coming to the realization that this would be our last year together in the deep canyons of the Colorado river, [this] has changed me as a person. It has changed me socially, morally and emotionally.” What does it take to prepare students for college, get them accepted, and make sure they are successful once there? It takes a challenging curriculum. One hundred percent of Indianapolis’ Charles A. Tindley students have been accepted to four-year colleges and universities. More importantly, though, says Chancellor Marcus Robinson, they arrive on campus having fully experienced college rigor. “At Tindley we don’t just believe in college preparation, we practice college immersion,” said Robinson. Each Tindley student must complete an array of college courses – English, History, Philosophy, and Calculus – before they can obtain their high school diplomas. “We articulate our entire curriculum,” says Robinson, “all of our instructional supports, and our creative energies to this single outcome for all of our students.” Over 80 percent of Tindley alums have graduated college or are pursuing a bachelor’s degree. What does it take to prepare students for college, get them accepted, and make sure they are successful once there? It takes a strong work ethic. Nationally, only 12 percent of low-income high school graduates go on to earn a four-year college degree. Boston-based Match Education, which serves primarily low-income and minority students, has a college completion rate that is 4.5 times higher. Fifty-four percent of Match charter graduates graduate from a four-year college. “We have always organized our work around the twin goals of academic readiness and work ethic in our students,” said Match CEO Stig Leschly. Ninety percent of Match students take at least one AP course, as well as a college course at Boston University, before graduating from high school. It’s an academic challenge that also teaches students to keep trying when faced with difficult problems, and then see how that hard work pays off. “Getting students to pass AP exams and produce college-level work has prepared our students for the rigor and expectations of college,” said Leschly. To have this kind of success, students first need to believe in themselves. One way Match builds that confidence is by developing relationships through two hours of daily tutoring. Is two hours significant? It adds up to 15 days of individual support and learning for every Match student each school year. The practice has been so successful in raising math and English proficiency that traditional school districts, like Chicago Public Schools, are now partnering with Match to borrow its tutoring program. What does it take to prepare students for college, get them accepted, and make sure they are successful once there? It takes a vision. A gong sounds in the hallways of YES Prep Public Schools every time a senior gets a college acceptance letter. For 15 years in a row, it has sounded as many times as there are seniors. That’s because 100 percent of YES Prep seniors have graduated from high school and been accepted to four-year colleges and universities. The vast majority of students in these charter schools, now in Houston and Memphis, Tenn., are from low-income families. Almost all are the first in their families to go to college. That’s why YES offers a college readiness course every year of high school that covers everything from SAT prep to understanding the financial aid process to writing college application essays. Students take annual college tours beginning in sixth grade. All seniors are required to apply to at least eight four-year colleges by mid-November. YES leaders even convinced 24 colleges to commit to giving special consideration to qualified YES students and meet 100 percent of their documented financial needs. YES maintains a scholarship fund for alumni, sends care packages to freshmen and many college campuses with a large number of YES graduates also have alumni designated to support their peers. More than 30 alumni have even returned to teach for their alma mater. No wonder the waiting list to get into these outstanding charter schools is more than 7,000 names long. What does it take to prepare students for college, get them accepted, and make sure they are successful once there? It takes a team! For the last three years, every single one of Dallas’ Uplift Education charter school graduates has felt the relief and excitement that comes from opening an envelope from a college and learning they had been accepted. “When everyone is working together to help scholars prepare for college, the scholars will rise to their potential,” says Yasmin Bhatia, Uplfit Education’s CEO. “Our teachers believe all children can learn and all children can go to college. They work every day to help scholars grow academically and prepare.” It also takes a focused group of college counselors. Uplift’s “Road to College” team takes its scholars on college field trips, helps them with college applications, makes sure parents understand all their financial options, and even provides graduates with support while they are in college.