Frida Rodriguez is YES Prep’s first Manager of Community Engagement. She is a 2006 graduate of YES Prep Southeast and a 2010 graduate of Grinnell College. She also holds a Master’s degree in Higher Education from Columbia. We interviewed her about her new role and her experiences as a YES Prep alumna.
How did you become a YES Prep student?
My family moved from El Salvador to Michigan in 2001. I was 15 at the time, just starting high school, and learning English and the culture. Eventually, we moved to Boston and then to Houston, and, by the time I found out about YES Prep, I was entering my senior year. YES Prep told me that they didn’t accept seniors, so I’d have to repeat 11th grade. I remember very clearly asking: “Are you really going to help me go to the college?” At the time, I didn’t think it was possible for me. They said, “We’ll do whatever it takes.”
Did you resent having to repeat a grade?
No. I used to think I’d be lucky to go to a community college. I was working a part time job, and I was thinking, “If I can be a cashier for the rest of my life, that will be good. It’s a job and I’m making money.” So when I found out that YES was invested in me going to college, I adopted that “whatever it takes” mentality too.
Was Grinnell a culture shock?
It was. It’s this small liberal arts school in the middle of nowhere. I became friends with the Posse Scholars. We called ourselves Posse + 1. The next year, Grinnell became an IMPACT school and other YES Prep students arrived. I took them under my wing. At the time, I was the House Coordinator for the Spanish House and we’d have get-togethers for YES kids and Posse kids.
How did you become interested in the Manager of Community Engagement role?
I had been working at Connecticut College for four years as an Area Coordinator, and I decided it was time for my son and I to come back home to be closer to my family. YES Prep was hosting an Alumni Summit around Christmas time, and I went to touch base with the YES Prep kids that had attended Conn College when I worked there. I ran into Kari [YES Prep Head of Schools], who I’d worked with at Southwest, and she introduced me to Recy [YES Prep Vice President of Operations and Growth]. He called me about two weeks later about this new position. When he described it to me, it sounded like my career in higher education and my passion for community development put together. He said there’s no blue print for it, but that it’s a position that YES Prep has been wanting to have for a while. There was such a need for community engagement leadership. This position would become an umbrella for the individual YES campuses.
Tell us more about that. Why is there a need for more community engagement at YES Prep?
YES Prep stood for Youths Engaged in Service. The organization is based on the idea of giving back. But we’ve been so focused on the development of the students that the connections and relationships with the community hasn’t been enough of a priority. We want to support and collaborate with the community we’re serving. Additionally, the students are a part of their community, so we need to be aware of the things going on in that community so we can support them better.
What are the goals of the position? What do you want to accomplish?
I’d like for all 15 campuses to have a more positive and sustainable relationship with parents and for parents to feel ownership over the education of their children. I also want to create a stronger network of community organizations that support us and that we can support as well.
What have you already started doing?
For me to figure out what YES Prep should do, I need to have conversations with School Directors, Deans of Students, teachers, students, and parents about what they need and wish for. So we developed a listening tour. Right now, I’m meeting with School Directors about community engagement efforts on their campus. I’m having conversations with the staff members who have been leading those efforts. I’m gathering data and trying to understand what stage each campus is at before I can make a plan for improvement. I’m also connecting with community leaders and different organizations that are supportive of our efforts to start building relationships with them.
Any final words?
I’m looking forward to working with YES Prep. I want people to feel comfortable reaching out to me and providing ideas and suggestions for moving community engagement forward.