YES Prep Public Schools
Jonathan Brown


On October 24, YES Prep Southeast Secondary hosted an event that marked a significant milestone in the school's history - Grill Day. This groundbreaking initiative, organized by Michael Buck, dean of instruction, connected education and excitement, bringing together students and staff from across the campus. The event also drew the attention of the broader YES Prep organization, including Home Office leaders who actively participated.

Grill Day was an interactive platform where students could showcase their in-depth research and projects. The uniqueness of this day lay not just in the presentations but in the special guests who were eager to "grill" the students with questions about their work. YES Prep staff, including C-Suite members and home office leaders, played a vital role in this engaging experience. 

This momentous occasion shined a light on the outstanding research of students enrolled in Southeast's AP Capstone Program – an innovative academic initiative where over 90% of students earn college credit. The program reflects the commitment that YES Prep Southeast has to academic excellence. 

We interviewed two students, Andrea Flores (12th) and Brea Wallace (10th), asking them about their projects and the experience they gained participating in Grill Day. From Andrea's exploration of matchmaking dynamics to Brea's passionate quest for enhanced career exposure, and the myriad of other captivating projects, each student brought a unique perspective to the forefront. 

<<View photos from the Grill Day event>> 

Effectiveness of matchmaking websites 

   Andrea Flores, AP senior student

In the spotlight as the master of ceremonies for Grill Day, Andrea navigated a mix of nerves and excitement, confident in her research and welcoming the challenge of being grilled. The session unfolded with probing questions from C-Suite members like Nella Garcia Urban and others, pushing Andrea to provide richer details and explanations. She realized that these moments weren't setbacks but opportunities, fueling Andrea's commitment to enhancing her research. 

"Everyone was pushing me to know more because they knew that I knew my topic. They wanted to make sure that I knew how to express it and actually communicate through what I'm trying to present." 

Andrea embarked on a captivating journey into the world of matchmaking for her AP Research project. Seeking a topic that aligned with her interests and allowed for sustained engagement, Andrea veered away from the conventional and opted for a more personal exploration. 

"I really wanted to research something that I would be interested in for the next eight months because I really have to stay committed to it. I wanted to do something fun and engaging, especially for my age group. So, I'm talking about matchmaking and how that's going to affect people in high school because I know it's something that most adults do," she shared. 

Andrea's project wasn't just about theoretical research; it extended into real-world investigation. She meticulously examined matchmaking websites, delving into articles and papers from sources like Elton B. Stephens Company (EBSCO) to gather insights. Taking her commitment a step further, Andrea reached out to matchmaking services, aiming to understand their methods and effectiveness. 

With January on the horizon, Andrea is gearing up to implement her own method and observe the dynamics of matchmaking among high schoolers at YES Prep Southeast. Her enthusiasm is palpable as she eagerly anticipates unfolding the next chapters of her research journey. 

Investigating career-oriented education 

Brea brought a unique perspective with her project centered on career exposure. Having experienced different school systems, Brea pondered the intricacies of curriculum and the need for career-oriented education. 

"Ever since I was like a little kid, I've always wondered how the curriculum works. I used to be in Pasadena ISD, and it is so much different than YES Prep. And when I came to YES Prep, I wondered how I could make a change or research these certain things. And I finally came to a conclusion: career exposure," she explained. 

Brea's dedication to her research stems from a desire to continue to enhance the educational experience at YES Prep. She delved into the world of Career Technical Education (CTE), exploring its pathways and how they could further enrich the curriculum. Brea and her group scrutinized both the glows and grows, driven by a passion to make a meaningful change. 

As the culmination of the project arose, Brea faced a unique challenge when a group member couldn't participate in Grill Day due to personal reasons. Despite last-minute adjustments, the group rallied to overcome hurdles.  

During the presentation, Brea observed as campus leaders showed genuine interest and focus. The moment sparked a profound realization — YES Prep grillers cared deeply about the students' perspectives. The feedback received, including encouragement to overcome nervousness, left a lasting impact on Brea and her views of personal development.  

Through her research, Brea exemplifies the spirit of inquiry and a commitment to having an impact on the educational landscape at YES Prep Southeast. 

The moment sparked a profound realization — YES Prep grillers cared deeply about the students' perspectives.

For Buck, witnessing students present their research to top leaders in the Southeast Union (cafeteria) was a highlight. Despite the inherent intimidation that comes when facing organizational leaders and executives, students delivered with poise and confidence. Before the event, Buck gave his students a pep talk, “I pulled the kids to the side and reminded them that they’ve done the work and now it is time to go out there and have fun." While the sentiment was initially met with skepticism, as the day unfolded, students found joy in the challenge, turning anxiety into a sense of accomplishment. Buck sees these experiences as crucial for building confidence and addressing broader societal challenges like mental health.  

Mark Dibella, CEO (left); Michael Buck, Dean of Instruction at Southeast Secondary (right)

Buck envisions Grill Day evolving into a longstanding tradition, where students like Andrea will return after they have graduated to grill the next generation of Southeast students. Serving at YES Prep for over 10 years, he sees the program not just as a one-off event but as part of a broader initiative to provide students with agency and space for meaningful engagement.  

For Buck, the success of Grill Day reinforces the transformative power of giving students opportunities to explore their passions, aligning with the broader goals of the AP Capstone program. He shared, “as an instructional leader at Southeast, my aim is to empower students across all their classes to leverage their passions, align them with the skills taught in each course, and creatively showcase their ideas. Not only to provide constructive feedback for improvement but to recognize and learn from the great ideas and achievements our students bring to the table.” 

The conversations, ideas exchanged, and lessons learned during Grill Day laid the groundwork for a future where our students can continue to innovate and engage in meaningful research that reshapes their futures.  



About Advanced Placement

Advanced Placement (AP) plays a pivotal role in shaping the academic journey of YES Prep students. In addition to the achievements made by YES Prep Southeast students, 11 YES Prep schools have been recognized by the College Board’s AP School Honor Roll. The opportunities at YES Prep go beyond conventional education in the classroom, offering students a unique pathway to college credit while equipping them with vital skills for lifelong success.

To delve deeper into our AP Honor Roll and recent accolades, explore our blog here

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