YES Prep Public Schools
Communications & Marketing

Each year, YES Prep students can choose to participate in a summer opportunity. Though, due to COVID-19, many summer opportunities were disrupted last year. This summer, however, two of our rising juniors were able to attend the High Mountain Institute (HMI), an accredited, not-for-profit independent school that teaches students by engaging them with the natural world.

Of the 150 motivated, high-achieving students admitted to HMI programs each year, Daniela Menendez, from YES Prep Gulfton Secondary, and Paulina Virgen, from YES Prep North Central Secondary, were selected to participate in HMI's summer semester. This summer term provides a unique experience where they engage in outdoor education programs on two backpacking trips, exploring the reaches of their potential and how to lead others.

Spending summer in the wilderness after lockdown

After being under lockdown for a little over a year, Paulina shared that she enjoyed traveling to Colorado. “It felt great to experience a new thing, and it was nice to be away from Texas, and away from Houston."

Before coming to HMI, Paulina had never gone backpacking and had no outdoor camping experience.  After a month, she found herself rock climbing, whitewater rafting, cooking in the wilderness and going on two expeditions which she described as hiking four fourteeners: mountains with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet.

"The wilderness is beautiful,” Paulina said. “The more I saw it; the more breathtaking it was. Waking up to the view of mountains, the Aspen trees, flowers everywhere, just beautiful! It's a view you want to wake up to and see every day."

Aside from the beautiful scenery, Paulina shared more on her experience, "HMI has impacted me by helping me learn more about myself. It taught me how to push myself to be a better person and to push past my limits."

HMI has impacted me by helping me learn more about myself. It taught me how to push myself to be a better person and to push past my limits.

Growing as leaders

For Daniela, the fact that she spent the last month in Leadville, Colorado, and ten days on a wilderness expedition is still a little unreal. "At times, I still don't believe it! When I was in the expedition, I couldn’t believe I was actually there. Now, I open my camera to look at the pictures and am amazed at all I got to experience."

Daniela shared that attending HMI has made her a more confident leader. She stated, "I feel like I'm starting to get out of my comfort zone. I had a hard time on the first expedition, getting to know people, and initiating conversations." She continued, "When I was on the first expedition, I was a little scared to be the leader of the day for the group but by the second expedition, I was the first to volunteer."

When I was on the first expedition, I was a little scared to be the leader of the day for the group but by the second expedition, I was the first to volunteer.

YES Prep’s partnership with HMI

For the past five years, YES Prep has served as a sending school to the High Mountain Institute (HMI), partnering with HMI to promote their programming to our students. YES Prep's mission to graduate students from college prepared to lead deeply aligns with HMI's mission for "students to realize their potential—as leaders, independent thinkers and thoughtful citizens."

Thanks to the support of HMI, YES Prep students can receive financial aid to attend programming at the school, including helping provide the students with outdoor gear while participating in the program. YES Prep also supports student participation in programs over the summer semester, such as HMI, through enrichment scholarships thanks to a generous grant from The Brown Foundation, Inc. These enrichment scholarships can support families with travel expenses, registration fees and equipment students need to participate. 

Wrapping up the summer

With HMI’s summer term wrapping up on July 29, two of Daniela’s friends from YES Prep Gulfton Secondary, Kevin and Luis, are looking forward for their turn on August 16 when they will be heading out to participate in HMI’s fall semester program. As for Daniela and Paulina, while early in their college exploration process, Daniela hopes to apply to Rice University and Paulina is looking at Texas A&M, Baylor and the University of Texas at Austin.  

Do you know someone who would be interested in applying to HMI? Applications will open in October for Summer 2022, Fall 2022 and Spring 2023.  All applications will be due February 15, 2022. Click here to learn more about the High Mountain Institute.