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First in Her Family

First in Her FamilyA Stanford University freshman,
Hada Flores always knew she would go to college. She just didn’t know the road would be so steep. The daughter of poor Salvadoran immigrants, Flores attended a Houston charter school that kept its low-income, mostly Hispanic student body in class 65 percent longer than other public schools do, plus on many Saturdays.
Following the school’s mantra, “Whatever it Takes,” Flores had virtually no time for going out with friends, watching movies or even sleeping late on weekends. “Sometimes I wondered why I was doing all this,” says Flores, whose first name is pronounced AH-da.
Her welder father and custodian mother have pushed her as the first in their families to go to college in hopes of improving her career prospects. Although Flores earned A’s and B’s at other public schools, she chose the YES College Preparatory School as a step toward expanding her college choices. One of the school’s graduation requirements is acceptance from a four-year college.
School director Chris Barbic says that when setting up the school in 1998, he wanted students to believe a university education was within reach. Also, he was leery of the relatively low transfer rate of community-college graduates to four-year institutions. More than 80 percent of YES students qualified for free lunch programs and like Flores, spoke Spanish at home and learned English in school. “We’re not targeting the top 10 percent, or the bottom 10 percent,” Barbic says. “We’re after that middle 80 percent.”
YES teachers and staff also take students to 25 colleges locally and nationally by the time they are seniors. That was definitely a factor in Flores, 18, gaining admission to prestigious universities like Brown, Washington, Rice and Wellesley. She might not have learned about them outside of YES.
Barbic and other YES staff provide their home and cell numbers to students and parents to answer questions, help with homework and provide support. The school also provides an SAT preparation and review class not normally found on other urban campuses.
Meanwhile, Barbic expects the stream of students like Flores to continue. Hispanics are the nation’s fastest-growing minority. After beginning his career in Houston public schools through Teach for America, Barbic, who’s White, decided to start a highly-structured academic program helping Hispanic students stay on track after seeing so many promising teens not bother to go to college because they didn’t believe it was important. In most of those cases, no one in their families were college graduates. Barbic’s program eventually blossomed into the free-standing YES school.
For her part, Flores, who graduated valedictorian from YES this past spring, is considering becoming a doctor. 

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