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Thousands of At-Risk Girls Gain 100% College Acceptance & Full Scholarships

October 11, 2016Posted by Wendy Joan Biddlecombe

It isn’t often that we hear 100% graduation rate, 100% college acceptance, and $42 million dollars in scholarships per year used in the same sentence.

But one network of schools has figured out how to guarantee this outcome for hundreds of girls who previously saw no bright future, no way out of the life they were born into, no opportunity for success or a life better than the one they have now.

By providing seed money and guidance until their public school partners are self-sustaining, the Young Women’s Preparatory Network (YWPN) has made higher education a dream come true for nearly 70% of girls who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds in public schools across the state of Texas, many of whom are the first women in their families to go to college.

Founders Lee and Sally Posey created a model that focuses on three core values: college readiness, responsible leadership and wellness life skills, and based it off of the single-sex, college prep school model they visited in New York City in 2001, the Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem.

One YWPN student, Emma Chalott, is now a junior studying political science at Austin College. Chalott came to the U.S. from Mexico as a young child, and, residing with an undocumented status, never imagined that she’d be able go to college and make it on her own.

“In other schools, undocumented students feel limited and afraid to come forward to the administration. I never felt that way,” Chalott said.

With the help of the program and her college advisor, Chalott was granted status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and was able to use her temporary permit to work and apply for financial aid and community-based scholarships.

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“Now, all my close friends are realizing their dreams. A lot of us go to Austin College, and we call ourselves the ‘sorority of the plaid skirts,’” she siad.

That sisterhood was formed long before they arrived, though: when she started to learn in a “no-boys” environment, she felt a kinship being fostered in a community of girls with goals who “weren’t afraid to speak up.”

Keeping with the three core tenets, students get used to visiting college campuses long before it’s time to take the SATs and actually apply.

“In sixth grade, they’re visiting a college campus. The question is not if they’re going to college, but where,” said Juliette Coulter, a school spokeswoman. “If these young women don’t know female neurosurgeons or female airline pilots, we’re exposing them.”

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Stephanie Aguilera was a member of the first YWPN graduating class and who now teaches 7th and 8th grade math at the San Antonio school, and says her students really respond to the way STEM curriculum is taught with real-world applications.

“We do proportions and data based on gender breakdowns of the number of women leading Fortune 500 companies or who are elected to the House of Representatives,” Aguilera said.

“When we actually calculate the number, to see the look on their faces is funny, at first. They’re so upset, and then start talking about what to do to change the status quo … all from a seventh grade math problem.”

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Jeanne Goka, principal of the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in Austin, remembers one  student in particular who was surprised to see a $8,000 bill when she went to register for classes at the University of Texas.

“When she called home, her father said ‘You have to come home, we don’t have money like that.’ But luckily, we have such a strong relationship with her that she remembered to call us,”Goka said.

“One of our college advisors said, ‘You wait right there, we’re coming,’ and walked her to the bursar’s office to explain the financial aid and scholarships just hadn’t gone through yet, that she could indeed register. And that’s a moment of poignancy that in one phone call she would have not gone to college.”

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