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.

Jenny Fain has worked at YES Prep for 8 years. She currently teaches geometry at YES Prep Southwest.

Jenny Fain

Favorite memory:  I remember taking a student who had some behavioral issues on his first Spring Trip.  It was my first Spring Trip, too.  Not only was the experience one of the key selling points for remaining at YES these many years, but also I got to see the world open up for a student that had never set foot on a college campus until that point. I’m very glad to say that he is now a student at Texas Tech.

Why YES Prep: I started at YES Prep because I had already spent two years teaching in a no-exaggeration disaster of a public school in New Orleans. I was ready to come home to Houston, and I wanted to teach at a school that would actually help me become a more effective teacher rather than forcing me to lean solely on my own drive and knowledge base for self-development.  Rhiannon Killian put me in touch with Jeremy Jones, who was recruiting at the time, and that was it. I stay because of that experience and the experiences thereafter of Spring and Fall trips. I stay because I like the people I work with. I stay because I know that, at my school, my concerns or ideas for improvement will, at a minimum, be heard.

Thomas Knecht has worked at YES Prep for 8 years. He currently teaches performing arts and is the 12th grade level chair at YES Prep East End.

Thomas Knecht

Favorite memory: The year was 2012. I was on the Junior Trip to Atlanta, GA with the founding class of East End Explorers. I was turning 20-something on the trip, away from home, friends, and family, and kind of bummed. Much to my surprise, the kids threw me a birthday party, complete with cake and presents. I was completely blown-away. These kids took some of their Spring Trip money and pooled it together to honor me. I felt so humbled and appreciated to know that these kids would so freely sacrifice what little they had for their silly theater teacher. I’ll never forget that trip, nor the generosity and love our students shared with me.

Why YES Prep: I was referred to YES Prep by my uncle who sits on the board of TFA.  He said that YES Prep was an organization that helped to provide a prep-school education to lower-income communities.  I was intrigued and a bit skeptical.  When I first visited East End I was a little concerned by the physical appearance of the campus.  As I toured, however, I became more and more impressed, proving that no book should ever be judged by its cover. The THINKS & ACTS were prominently displayed for me to read (I find a lot of value in these statements), the students were very welcoming (at least 6 approached me and introduced themselves to me), and I was amazed to see no less than 4 classes simultaneously occurring in the Great Hall (Cafeteria.)  The culture, professional drive, and creative problem solving I witnessed on that day solidified my decision; this is where I belonged.  Since then, I have been empowered to tackle several initiatives on campus, including coordinating service, running STUCO, helping to plan and develop our annual Spring Carnival, and working with campus leaders as a GLC. I love these kids so much, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do to help them succeed and learn. I truly do belong here; this is my home, and there isn’t any place I’d rather be.

Shauna Rachlin has worked at YES Prep for 8 years. She currently teaches 6th grade math at YES Prep Southside.

Shauna Rachlin

Favorite memory: One of my former students applied to my alma mater, Gonzaga University, and used me as an alumni reference.

Why YES Prep: I started at YES Prep when, on a visit to YES Prep West, 6th grade students introduced themselves to me in the hallway and told me what college they wanted to go to. I stay because YES Prep shows that they value their teachers through the teacher continuum and because of the transformative relationships I have built with my students.

Melanie Renner has worked at YES Prep for 8 years. She currently teaches 7th grade social studies at YES Prep Southwest.

Melanie Renner

Favorite memory: Revealing to my students last year that I was pregnant was pretty special. Nothing is so humbling as 150+  kiddos acting genuinely excited and happy for you.

Why YES Prep: I started at YES Prep because I had an interest in charter schools through my graduate school program. Someone I knew worked at YES Prep Lee and told me I should check it out. I attended a campus visit at North Central and realized this was a place I definitely wanted to be a part of. I stay because I love teaching, I love our kids, I love Southwest, and I love being a part of an organization that is socially responsive and active.

James Sheridan has worked at YES Prep for 9 years. He currently teaches AP literature and is the 11th grade level chair at YES Prep Southeast.

James Sheridan

Favorite memory: I will never forget watching Joe Balderas, Milton Garza, Ramon Jasso, Alejandro Gonzales, and Oscar Perales as seniors winning our first ever state championship in cross country in October of 2014.  It was a forever moment that required untold hours of pain, sacrifice, and dedication to reach the top of the mountain, but they did it and are forever champions!

Why YES Prep:  I started at YES Prep because I was convinced that it was a forward-thinking organization doing powerful work with students and communities to have choice-filled lives. I had heard about YES Prep early on in my career in Denver Harbor-Fifth Ward when Chris Barbic came to speak to our CSP: Clase Sin Paredes and recruit students.  Fellow McReynolds teacher and TFA 2000 Corps Member, Phil Wright, and I both found the work of Chris and YES Prep to be inspiring, and Phil joined in 2004.  I joined in 2009, with Phil as my School Director at SE, and it was appealing to work at a school where everyone was pulling in the same direction and shared the same core values. I stay because YES Prep is a place that has grown with me and evolved and changed.  It continues to innovate in ways that empower teachers to lead outside of and inside of the classroom through flex-time, substitute teachers, and opportunities for Advanced teachers to keep growing and learning. YES Prep sent me to Harvard for three days to take a class through an opportunity created in partnership with The Harvard Club that pushed me to think about my practice as it intersects with The Arts and Passion-Driven Learning.  I’ve also been able to start and cultivate traditions at YES Prep through cross country, the Shakespeare Festival, volunteering at the Rodeo Run, and much more that allow me to have fun and be my authentic self with my family.  In short, I see YES Prep as a place that values me as a person and an educator, and I think it is a fantastic job.  My mentor Professor Roy Wortman at Kenyon College told me, “You have riches beyond money in what you do for others,” and I find YES Prep to be an important part of a life well-lived.

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