by Mark Scheinbaum
May 4, 2012
THIS HIGH SCHOOL 'SIGNING DAY' IS FOR THE ACADEMIC STARS
HOUSTON, Tex., April 30, 2012 -- Just looking around the Toyota Center, home of the NBA in Houston, made it clear the graduates of Yes Prep Public Schools were having a better year than the Houston Rockets.
More than 8,000 students, teachers, family members and friends screamed, cried, waved and shouted as each senior was summoned to the rostrum and declared, "In 2016, I will graduate from" and inserted their school of choice.
While the NBA too often looks for kids from poor families who want to avoid four years of college, kids at this annual "signing day" for Houston's open enrollment public charter school system took a different direction.
Some 197 seniors "signed" their letters of intent - for colleges and universities with all the hoopla (complete with cheerleaders) of an NFL draft party.
Here is a box score you'll need to size up the event:
"I stood here seven years ago, and can tell you that my experience at Yes Prep Southeast inspired me to think big!" said guest speaker Lilia Pineda (Brandeis '09) who is now a Yes Prep teacher and part of the Teach for America program.
Pineda's ultimate boss, Wendy Kopp, the woman who in her senior project at Princeton inspired Teach for America, a 23-nation "Teach For All," gave the keynote address.
Kopp is the latest in a line of 11 previous Cabinet members and VIP's who have been exposed to this annual Houston event. She looked at the crowd and said, "I had heard about this event and saluted your achievements, but there is nothing like being here and seeing it in person."
She told the seniors who will be graduating in a few weeks that they might encounter prejudice and insensitivity on some campuses, especially when they interact with students who have never been around students whose families have never had middle-class privileges and comforts.
"There might be a tendency to 'lay low' and just keep your head down, keeping a low profile," Kopp told the graduates.
"I am here to tell you to keep your head up and be proud of what you have achieved. You have great qualities. Hold on tightly to your differences because they are your greatest assets. You bring these campuses and students unique qualities and insight," she said.
Despite the magnitude and significance of their achievement, when I started surfing the Internet for press coverage of today's Signing Day, I struck out. The last remaining daily newspaper in the nation's fourth largest city, the Houston Chronicle, had nothing on its news site or its "news blog."
At a typical Rockets game - even for that lackluster team that failed to make the playoffs - there might be six TV satellite trucks parked outside Toyota Center, four of them for English-language network affiliates and two for Spanish networks and stations. Today, I saw none of them. The video cameras were all in the hands of proud, proud parents.
Even the fact that the majority of the students graduating were Hispanic was apparently not enough for Latino newsmen to cover the Signing Day on either Telemundo or Univision, even in their abbreviated online news briefs. But I did notice the eternal metaphysical question concerning all Americans, "Is Jennifer Lopez the Hottest Woman on the Planet?"
Perhaps the station owners are jealous of the success of Yes Prep, which sets out to -and regularly achieves - fancy "prep school" results that elude their own children. Not only is that miracle accomplished in a public school setting, but it is underlines by test scores and college acceptances that eclipse those of some high schools in wealthy suburban Zip Codes.
Or it might be that Yes Prep's aggressive and tough recruiting actually attracts teachers from around the nation who value the Yes Prep mission, and appreciate its results more than a "name" prep school in New England would. In any case, the real stars held the audience with each announcement:
And there were many more, with a heavy emphasis on the University of Houston and many Texas schools. Clusters of out-of-state schools recruited Yes Prep's graduates in multiple acceptances to Syracuse, Bucknell, Boston University, and Washington & Jefferson College.
Teacher Pineda, the Yes Prep alumnus, surveyed the crowd and said proudly, "I am in a school with 800 students, and the best faculty and staff in the country!"
As For the politicians, only one Member of Congress, Sheila Jackson-Lee (D, TX-180, was at the ceremony, but did not speak. The crowd at Toyota Center might be the new face of America on immigration issues, and offer a valuable new insight for those who think they know something about ethnic "melting pots." Depending on one's age and location, it is not necessarily your father's or grandfather's "melting pot."
It will take a few generations to quantify what has happened in Texas, but it might just be that the state's investment in the 1970s and '80s in recruitment of top Ph.D graduates and other bright young professors has paid off in institutions that are keeping ther state's "best and brightest" at home. To be sure, there are family responsibilities, travel costs, and economics to consider, but many of the Yes Prep seniors chose the University of Houston, Sam Houston State, Texas Tech, the Texas A & M campuses, and other Texas schools over Cornell, Columbia, Harvard and other Ivy League schools.
Perhaps the spirit of the parade of Yes seniors declaring their chosen schools at the microphone was exemplified by Luis Condado. While almost every student shouted out their name, year of graduation and choice of school, when it came his turn Condado, who selected Rochester Institute of Technology, shouted: "I am Luis Condado and I will graduate in 2016 from Rochester Institute of Technology as a robotics engineer!"
Editor's Note: Three days after the "Signing Day" event, a local Houston FoxNews affiliate broadcast a brief story about it.