Mays grad leads students to first college campus experiences
Sbisa Dining Hall is normally adorned with a sea of Maroon Out T-shirts and blue jeans, but this past April it was redecorated with the white polo shirts and khakis of school uniforms. Wide eyes and excited voices filled the cafeteria, trying to find out the skinny on college during a first experience on a college campus.
What’s the hardest thing about college? They asked. Do people ask questions in class or is it completely quiet? Can you tell if the Aggies around you are nice?
Teachers like Rachael Arthur ’05 encourage students in the Youth Engaged in Service (YES) Prep Public Schools to think about the possibilities of higher education during yearly college research trips. Arthur, who earned a marketing degree from Mays, brought her YES Prep ninth grade students to Texas A&M this spring because she wanted to pass on the school’s tradition of pride and success.
YES Prep schools are located in four campuses in Houston and offer open enrollment to lower-income middle school and high school students. YES Prep requires a written agreement from students stating that they will attend a four-year college or university. Students are also required to devote one Saturday a month to community service, and attend a three-week summer session to keep up or get ahead on their studies.
It isn’t common for a marketing major to go on to teach high school English. Arthur reflects on her decision, saying, “It wasn’t so much the idea of teaching, but the focus on working with at-risk kids and closing the achievement gap.” The students at YES Prep are 95 percent Hispanic or African American, and 86 percent will become the first in their families to go to college.
After her first year and a half of teaching, Arthur says, “A lot of days I feel like I’m teaching myself as I go. I feel like going to A&M and the leadership I learned there and student involvement is what really helps me the most.” Arthur was Fish Camp director in 2004-2005, and is one of two Aggies currently involved in YES Prep.
First stop: A&M
Arthur and her colleagues’ classes toured schools such as Baylor, Trinity and University of Texas at Austin this spring. But their first stop? Texas A&M.
More than 50 YES Prep freshmen toured the corridors of the Memorial Student Center, the classrooms of Wehner, the rooms of the residence halls, and the floors of the Rec Center to learn more about the tradition that Arthur has been instilling in them in their homeroom class. When asked what their favorite part of campus had been, several quickly replied, “Sbisa!” As they dashed from the ice cream bar to the pizza counter, the ninth graders listed their favorite hobbies as basketball, volleyball and dance, with their intended majors ranging anywhere from automotive engineering to linguistics.
Each homeroom at YES Prep North Central has a different college theme, and Arthur chose Mays for hers. Mays donated T-shirts to Arthur’s class, but Arthur didn’t hand them out for free.
She made students earn the right to wear the Mays name by helping other students or by showing overall good behavior. After each ticket they received, Arthur’s students pinned their ticket on a board and told the class what they had done to be rewarded. Once students earned three incentive tickets, they were awarded a Mays T-shirt.
These freshmen students have three years of high school left before they embark on a college adventureâ€”for most, making them the first in their families to do so. But they know they aren’t just doing it for themselves.
“At times you want to give up, but you know it’s for your own good,” says 15-year-old Fernando Luna. “It’s really opening doors for my younger siblings and my future kids.”
â€” Lindsay Newcomer