Monday, September 21, 2015

New School, New Program: Day of Firsts for YES Prep Northbrook High School students

On a Monday morning in late July, while most Spring Branch ISD students were still enjoying summer vacation, the charter students at YES Prep Northbrook High School were reminded of their significance in district history.

“There are very few times in life that you get to say you were the first,” Bryan Reed, the school’s founding principal, told YES Prep Northbrook High students during summer session, a required orientation in July.

Not only are the some 140 ninth-grade students at YES Prep Northbrook High the initial high school class in Spring Branch ISD’s innovative SKY Partnership, they’re the first Spring Branch ISD students to return to classes for the 2015-16 school year.

They’re also the largest ever grade-level class at YES Prep, Reed said. Program administrators are hoping to be closer to 150 students once the dust settles on the new program and school year.

Now in its fourth year, the SKY Partnership is an innovative alliance between Spring Branch ISD, a public school district, and YES Prep and KIPP Academy, public charter schools. Most of the YES Prep Northbrook High students completed middle school at YES Prep Northbrook, located at Northbrook Middle School.

KIPP Academy operates KIPP Courage at Landrum Middle School. KIPP Courage also opened three years ago but with fifth-graders, who are this year’s eighth-graders and who will matriculate next year.

Back at Northbrook High, though, YES Prep students are attending school for their second day on this Wednesday (Aug. 12), releasing around noon following a morning of assembly and schedule adjustments.

The assemblies are designed to impart both information and the YES Prep culture, which emphasizes not only college-readiness but college success. They’re a combination traditional school assembly and pep rally, with teachers and administrators leading cheers and chants.

The class was divided into two groups during summer session – maroon and gray, the colors of the Northbrook Raiders – who take turns repeating lines of the chant before ending silently with an extended fist.

Side 1: Up to It

Side 2: Down to It

Side 1: Northbrook, we power through it

Side 2: Do it cause we used to it

Together: Fight, Raider Nation, Fight!

As for Tuesday’ first day of school, Reed said that YES Prep Northbrook had a great day, but only one of many.

“I told the staff and the kids that it was a great day, but that it really just felt like a stop along the journey,” said Reed, “because we spent four days getting to know one another (during summer session). We already felt like a family.”

Adds Dean of Students Chris Di Matteo: “This is an outstanding group.”

Northbrook High School Principal Randolph Adami said it’s fun having students back on campus and in the building, adding that “they’re so well behaved you barely realize they’re here.”

A portion of the Northbrook High School facility was reconfigured throughout the spring semester for the YES Prep Northbrook High, which not so much a school-within-a-school as it is a program-within-a-school.

“(The YES Prep students) are Northbrook students,” Reed said. “That’s such a huge advantage. We just don’t have these kinds of resources at other YES Prep (campuses).”

YES Prep students are indeed Northbrook Raiders, with a number already participating in athletics, band, orchestra, theater and other activities. Reed said there is a commitment at Northbrook to making sure extracurricular activities aren’t going on while YES Prep students are in class. YES Prep uses a slightly longer school day than Spring Branch, attending class from 7:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Paola Martinez was one of four teachers who told students about the reasons they want to teach YES Prep Northbrook High students.

A first-year teacher – and Northbrook High School alumna – Martinez told students that she loved growing up and attending school in Spring Branch, and that she always knew she wanted to come back.

“And the best way,” she said, “is as a YES Prep teacher.”

Other teachers talked about how important social change and social justice is to them personally, and that the power of that change comes from individuals like the YES Prep students.

And Dean of Instruction Jeremy Williams told students that what’s happening at Northbrook right now gives him hope, and brought home again the notion of firsts, with the founding class of both YES Prep Northbrook Middle and YES Prep Northbrook High schools.

“When we prove that it works,” Williams said, “everybody will know that it started right here.”

By Rusty Graham

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