After an extensive and competitive application process, Vanessa Morales ‘12 was selected for the Teach for America (TFA) program from a pool of almost 50,000 candidates and has been placed teaching middle school math at YES Prep Brays Oaks here in Houston, TX.
As a Sport Management and Political Science Double Major at Rice University, Morales has maintained an impressive GPA while still finding time to serve as Co-President of Rice ESL, participate on grade school academic panels, and do “lots and lots of tutoring!” She is one of those rare individuals who would thrive in a wide variety of industries, but teaching has long been her aspiration.
“The United States is plagued with an educational achievement gap”, Morales said. “Students of ethnic minority and low socio-economic backgrounds consistently achieve lower academically than those of affluent communities. Education is a means to success in life; but if not all students attain an excellent education. They are being deprived of that opportunity.”
YES Prep is the perfect place for Morales to start. The organization consistently produces rates that are well above the national average for low-income students. Along with above average standardized test scores, 90% of the students at YES Prep graduate, 80% of which are pursuing or have achieved college degrees. Although the road to this success is demanding for both the students and teachers, Morales is familiar with hard work and overcoming socio-economic obstacles.
Having grown up in a low-income Hispanic family and a single-parent household, the goals that Morales sought were a high reach away. “Looking back, I cannot help but notice that the odds were against me of even obtaining a high school diploma”. Morales was able to remain focused with the support of her family and teachers. Now among the first-generation in her family to graduate high school, Morales will also receive her college degrees at the end of this semester with high honors from one of the most prestigious universities in the country.
The intensive YES Prep model includes a longer school day and year, hundreds of student volunteer hours, after-school and weekend enrichment, structured parental involvement activities, and a thorough evaluation model for Morales and her colleagues. The student population is predominantly Hispanic and African American, economically disadvantaged, and first-generation college bound. Most students also enter the program at least one grade level behind in Math and Reading.
Despite these daunting prospects, Morales remains as enthusiastic as ever.
“My life circumstances have made me passionate about helping students in my situation achieve the same level of success that I obtained with the support of family and teachers,” she says.
Her journey begins with the TFA training on Rice campus during the month of, immediately followed by a separate training program for YES Prep during July. YES Prep Brays Oaks begins in August.
Meredith Gamble, a sophomore from Houston, Texas, is double-majoring in Sport Management and Psychology as well as minoring in Business.