5 for 5: Spotlight on 5 YES Prep teachers and staff members who committed 5+ years to YES

In our Five for Five series, we spotlight YES Prep staff members who have committed five or more years to YES Prep. For more, read about YES Prep’s Commit to Five program.

Craig Brandenburg has taught at YES Prep North Central for 13 years. He currently teaches Algebra I, Video Production, Drumline and is the 9th Grade Level Chair and Algebra I Course Leader.

Craig Brandenburg

Favorite Memory: There are a ton of favorite memories. The ones that come to mind were the videos I used to make for YES Prep.  I think my favorites were the High School Musical video and the North Central Rap Video.

Why YES Prep: Before coming to YES Prep, I taught 5th grade reading at Macario Garcia Elementary School for three years. Teaching 5th grade was fun, but it was always sad to see the students move on. During my third year, I had such a great group of students and many had been accepted to YES Prep Northeast (North Central’s original name).  I decided that I wanted to continue working with this group of students so I applied and followed them. They were ‘somewhat’ excited about the notion that they would get to have me a SECOND year.

Kai Lee has taught for 13 years at YES Prep. She is currently an Algebra II teacher at YES Prep Southeast and also serves as a content facilitator.

Kai Lee

Favorite Memory: Being at Southeast when we were still in temporary buildings definitely created some unique memories. There was a gap between the awning and the door to my classroom, and whenever it rained, a “water curtain” would form from the dripping rain.  My students and I would joke that to enter the room, everyone must take a instant shower.  My private joke to myself was that the water curtain was there to wash away all the previous misconceptions my kids had when they came into class.

Why YES Prep: I started at YES Prep because my college advisor told me about this place where one of the requirements for graduation was acceptance into a 4-year college. After my interview, I was hooked immediately. I stay because of the support that YES provides. I stay because YES challenges me to be a better teacher every year. I stay because I feel like I make a difference for my students. I stay because I want to witness the successes of my students and to watch them graduate and move on the being the great people that they are.

Nelly Martinez has worked at YES Prep for 19 years. She serves as the Manager of Health and Wellness Program at the Home Office.

Nelly Martinez

Favorite Memory: My favorite memory was when my children graduated from YES Prep Southeast. All three of my children graduated from the Southeast campus.

Why YES Prep: I saw that YES Prep did not have a medical component when it started so I asked  Chris Barbic who he was planning to do all the medical work. He hadn’t thought of that, so I said ‘you need someone to do the reporting.’ After that, he worked to hire me. For my first two years I was hired to work part time at KIPP and part time at YES. I saw a lot of need and the possibilities to support our kids at YES Prep and so, I stayed and developed the Health and Wellness program that YES Prep currently has today.

Pierre Urban has worked for YES Prep for 18 years. He is the Athletics Director for East End and the Senior Athletics Director- Middle School for the system. He also serves as the League Director for the YES/KIPP Athletics Collaboration.


Favorite Memory: I can remember when I first started working at YES and all our practices had to be in the parking lot. No matter the sport– basketball, volleyball, or baseball– the parking lot was our gym. We learned to play in all kinds of conditions and learned to appreciate each other and the things that were given to us as the years passed.

Why YES Prep: I started initially to coach basketball and as I spent more time with the kids and staff members, YES became my home. I stay because  I was one of these kids and I want to continue to give them opportunities to develop and grow to make their families and the world better.

Rita Vasak has worked at YES Prep for 16 years and is currently a Sophomore Seminar and Computer Science Instructor at YES Prep Fifth Ward.


Favorite Memory: I have so many wonderful memories, but perhaps the one that stands out most is my first year, moving the T-buildings of YES Prep Southeast from Navigation to our newly-acquired property on Crenshaw Road.  We moved in during a rainy period, and my colleagues and I were covered in mud, trying to get everything moved in so our students could start school.  There is a beautiful picture somewhere of Chris Barbic, barefoot and covered to the knees in mud, standing in the rain, talking on his cellphone trying to arrange whatever it was we needed to open the campus. This, to me, epitomizes the “Whatever It Takes” spirit that built YES Prep and continues to be pervasive.

Why YES Prep: I started at YES Prep because I believed in  the mission–  that ALL children deserve the same quality of education as the kids who attended the expensive private school where I was previously working, that all kids can go to college, and that all kids can succeed given the right opportunities, regardless of zip code.  I remain committed to the YES Prep mission,  but there are more reasons I stay now.  One is the sense of community we embrace. I am friends with so many of the students I taught my very first year – and from every other year as well.  I have been embraced  by so many of my students’ families.  Relationships with my colleagues have endured for so long I can barely remember when we weren’t friends – and those relationships have, in many cases, continued when those colleagues have moved on to other opportunities.  Several of my former students are now my coworkers – and that feels like success. I see my students’ lives well-lived – students who have finished their degrees, who have great jobs, and who are making a difference in the world.  I see their wedding pictures, pictures of their children, and I celebrate their lives alongside them.  The longer I work at YES Prep, the more it becomes part and parcel of who I am.  I stay because there is truly no other job that I know of that can give a person such a longstanding sense of belonging, of community, and of  having a positive impact on the lives of others. I stay because it brings me new challenges and new joys every day of my life.

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