5 for 5 Spotlight: Ashley Harris, Bunmi Ishola, Troy Neal, Amanda Rawlings, & Jennifer Reyes

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.

Ashley Harris has worked at YES Prep for 11 years. She currently works as the Director of Academics at YES Prep Southside.

Ashley Harris

Why YES Prep: When I started at YES Prep, I had just earned my Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and as much as I enjoyed teaching, I was ready for a new challenge. I became an Instructional Coach at Teaching Excellence and quickly realized that working with students and working with adults was worlds apart. I grew to love coaching teachers and eventually instructional leaders. There are two main reasons why I stay at YES. The first reason is the people. I worked at three different schools in Houston ISD and at two of the three schools, passionate, driven teachers were the exception, not the norm. At YES, I found that teachers and leaders went above and beyond in service of their students. Being among like-minded individuals continues to fuel me each and every day. The second reason I stay would have to be the development opportunities YES Prep offers.  I have a YES Prep sticker on my computer that says, “Talent is the source of our strength.” YES Prep pours into its people and feedback is freely given and received.

Favorite memory: I can’t pinpoint one specific memory but I often reflect on the collective achievements of those that I’ve coached. I’m immensely proud of the teachers and leaders who continue to serve at YES Prep and have been rewarded for the success through the Kinder Awards and/or promotions.  It gives me great joy to know that I played a part in their development.

Bunmi Ishola has worked at YES Prep for 7 years. She currently teaches 8th grade ELA at YES Prep Southeast.

Bunmi Ishola

Why YES Prep: Education has always been important to my family because it changed the trajectory of my life. My family is from Nigeria, a country where education is not free. My dad had to drop out of school after the 6th grade when his father died, and he no longer had a way to pay for school. He moved to Ghana to live with his oldest brother and spent most of his pre-teen and teen years selling items on the streets. In his early 20s, he was able to get a better job and go to night school to get his GED-equivalent. This opened the door for college, and when I was seven years old, I got to watch my dad walk across the stage to receive his PhD. Having an education opened up a lot of opportunities for my dad, including being able to immigrate to the United States, help support many of his extended family members to also go to school, and ultimately provide his children with better educational options. He taught my siblings and I that “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” Education gave him, and ultimately me, the chance to create better futures and a choice of what those futures could look like. I started working at YES because I believed in the mission: that all children should receive a quality education regardless of their zip code.

I have stayed at YES because of the relationships I have built here. I’ve built a lot of supportive and meaningful relationships, and have been blessed to get to know the families in our community. It has been my joy to get to teach multiple sibling groups, and over the years I have also been able to provide special opportunities for students, including coaching a student to the Houston PBS Spelling Bee, advising a Scholastic Student News journalist, and taking students on six different international trips from Ghana to Australia.

Favorite YES Prep memory: During my first year of teaching, I was already pretty overwhelmed by having my own classroom for the first time. I had no clue what I was doing—especially with short Wednesdays. On a whim, I decided to pick a book to read with my students because reading is one of my great loves. It helped solved my dilemma of what to do with 30 minute-Wednesday classes, and  I figured it could only help improve their reading comprehension. We read A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park every Wednesday of that first semester. My students became really passionate about the global clean water crisis. We spent months collecting almost $300 for a well to be built in South Sudan, and on World Water Day that year, we invited their parents to class so they students could perform the PSAs they had scripted to build awareness. Those 6th graders are seniors now, and when I run into them on campus, they never fail to mention A Long Walk to Water as one of their favorite memories from that year. I continued to read the book each year with my students, and it’s now a part of the 6th grade Social Studies curriculum for the whole district.

Troy Neal has worked at YES Prep for 10 years. He currently works as the Senior Director of Information Technology.

Troy Neal

Why YES Prep: Richard started as the first technology leader at YES Prep and needed help. We had worked at the same IT consulting firm and I owned my own business. The idea of working for an organization with a mission of serving low-income families and sending students to college was a refreshing way to leave the corporate sector. My wife now works for an organization that helps families understand their school choices. My wife and I both have seen the benefits when a parent has the option to choose a school that best fits the needs of their children. Now, I spend my free time helping other parents navigate the educational landscape.

Favorite memory: Senior Signing Day 2014 when our son, Joshua, announced he was going to Iowa State University. He graduates from college this year.

Amanda Rawlings has worked at YES Prep for 11 years. She is the founding School Director of the Hurwitz Empowerment Program this January.

Amanda Rawlings

Why YES Prep: I started at YES Prep because of the opportunity to build relationships while doing something that I loved. I realized in college that kids had a heart and an authenticity about them that I found brave and admirable and I wanted to be around them and get excited about art and science with them. My reason for this work has evolved throughout the years, and I stay at YES Prep because I am committed to dismantling systems of oppression in any way that I can and education is one of the many avenues to make that happen. If we are not actively dismantling oppressive structures, then we are contributing to them. I deeply believe in the collective power that lives in our students to make big change in this world and I think they can do big things when we are constantly examining our methods and getting out of their way to let them use their power.

Favorite Memory: My favorite memory of my time at YES Prep was my 2nd year at East End where we welcomed a pilot group of 9th graders to join our community. That year was the most eye-opening year of my career. I got to really see the educational inequities that exist in our city firsthand, experience some extreme highs and extreme lows of this hard but beautiful profession of teaching, dressed up and sang songs with my team while those 9th graders just stared at us, and built relationships with students, families and colleagues that will last a lifetime.

Jennifer Reyes has worked at YES Prep for 8 years. She is the Director of Campus Operations at YES Prep Gulfton.

Jennifer Reyes

Why YES Prep: The charter I worked with for the four years prior to YES Prep had the right mission, but all the wrong people and intentions. I was ready to leave and actively looking for a new school. A close friend had just started working for YES and convinced me to apply. I did, and eight years later, I am still here. There is something to be said about working with people driven to do the hard work every day to help create choices and access for our students and families. YES Prep is truly a special place. I stay for the mission, the staff, the students, the families, and the community.

Favorite Memory: There are too many favorites to name just one! The class of 2015 was my first class at Gulfton, and I taught them 8th grade English. I then went on to teach them as 10thgraders in World History. I chaperoned their junior spring trip to Seattle, and I had the pleasure of announcing their names as they crossed the stage at their graduation. As I continue to hear about their lives post-YES Prep, I couldn’t be more proud of the young men and women they are growing into.

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