At YES Prep, we are proud to achieve jaw-dropping results with our students. It is an honor to send them off college-ready to live lives of opportunity but the ultimate reward as a school system is when those students return to pay it forward.
Gustavo Mireles is a YES Prep Southeast Alum – recipient of the Impact Scholarship and the first YES Prep student to attend Rhodes College. He is also a founding teacher at Southeast Elementary and as part of YES Prep’s 25th anniversary spotlight series, we invited him to share a little bit more about his time at YES Prep.
How did you first hear about YES Prep? What brought you to YES?
I first heard about YES in sixth grade. I was not at the best school in my area, and I did not feel safe in my environment. I had always been open with my parents about my thoughts about moving schools. One day my mom told me she had heard about YES through one of her friends. She explained that YES was a place where my education would be taken seriously. After telling me all that she knew about YES -homework, classwork, college program- she asked me, “are you sure you want to apply?” and my decision was a simple yes. I wanted to go to YES because I had heard that it helped students get into college. Being the child of two immigrant parents, I knew I wanted to be the first in my family to go to college. I saw YES as my opportunity to potentially do that.
What did YES look like when you first started?
I came to YES Prep Southeast Secondary in 2009. At the time, Southeast was made up of portables with our only permanent building being our gym. I loved having the portables and having a school campus where we walked outdoors to get to our next class. That set up now really reminds me of how a college campus is laid out. We had our grade level portables connected with paths and our “Thinks and Acts” banner hanging from the covered pathways. The Thinks and Acts were a big part of my foundation in middle school at YES.
About YES Prep’s Thinks and Acts philosophy: Written by students of YES Prep’s first graduating class, these 20 statements create expectations about how the model YES Prep student should think and act. This set of expectations teaches YES Prep students to leave a place better than they found it and figure out how to work with a lot of diverse types of people.
In my eighth-grade year, the new school building was constructed. There was a huge sense of excitement about having a traditional school building but also a sentiment of sadness. The portables gave us the opportunity to build relationship bonds with our peers since we were outdoors and had more open space to connect as we walked from class to class. As students, we appreciated that the changes being made were not just admin level decisions, our opinions as students were being considered too.
What has your YES experience been? Professionally, personally.
I came back to YES because I am one of their many examples of what YES can and has done. I wanted to be in an area where I could share my knowledge and continue to foster growth as a professional.
I joined YES in 2020 as a founding kindergarten teacher at YES Prep Southeast Elementary. We had many struggles being one of the first elementary schools opening that year, with our biggest struggle being COVID-19. Even with those obstacles, I was constantly receiving feedback from my instructional coach on how I could better serve my students. I was also surrounded by incredible teachers who consistently reminded me of how important our work was. I was part of our sunshine committee, where we celebrated our staff, and reminded each other of how amazing everyone is.
Since then, I have taken on more roles throughout my time at YES. I participated in academic tutoring for the past three years, served as the summer programs manager this past summer, and now I am also the ASPIRE after school program coordinator where I also lead our first cheer program. Along with that, I am also the content specialist for pre-K technology and serve as one of the curriculum writers for the pre-K department.
YES Prep has also provided me with professional development opportunities, one of them being Classroom Storytelling at Rice University.
My experience personally with YES, has remained the same since my student days. I am still in contact with many of my friends that I met at YES. Those friendships have remained strong. New relationships have blossomed too, as now I have my previous teachers as colleagues. Having them as teachers was amazing and now forming personal friendships with them has been a great new addition to my YES experience.
Compared to how YES was at the beginning, what are your thoughts on where YES is today?
Since my time as a student, I have seen YES grow by a lot. YES recognized the importance of early childhood education and took a leap at providing more people like me opportunities. Behind the scenes, I have seen a huge change in the makeup of what YES used to be and what it is now. YES is constantly paying attention to policies and best practices and has been implementing changes for the better of our students and communities.
Any concluding thoughts?
YES Prep has provided me and my family with opportunities to discover our true authentic selves. My family are all Southeast Secondary alumni. My siblings and I had many different teachers, yet something we all had in common was that we at least had one adult on campus that we trusted and felt like family. We were a family-oriented school and the relationships we had with our teachers were crucial to our success there. My mom often talks about the positive ways in which different teachers made her feel at YES, and that always sits with me as a reminder of how I want my own classroom families to feel.
YES Prep is filled with people like Mireles, and we are so proud that we keep paving the way for more students to reach their full potential but also come back and become the way-makers for generations to come.