Alumni Spotlight: Barnard Grad Provides After-School Programming for YES Prep Students

Isamar Lopez

Isamar Lopez graduated from YES Prep North Central in 2010 and from Barnard College in 2014. In college, she majored in dance with a focus on physical therapy. She now works as the ACE (after-school programming) coordinator at YES Prep North Central.

What was your path to working at YES Prep?

I always wanted to come back to YES Prep; I just needed to find my place. I started as a substitute teacher at YES Prep Fifth Ward. I also worked as an assistant to North Central’s Community Engagement Specialist and taught dance for their ACE program. From this experience, I learned that I didn’t want to be a teacher, but that I did like the administrative and leadership side of education. When the coordinator job opened, I applied, and it’s really the dream job I never knew I wanted. I get to find teachers who are inspired and driven and want to offer after school clubs. I get to support them and work with students who are interested in all sorts of things. It has helped me realize that I want to attend graduate school for educational leadership.

What clubs and activities does North Central’s ACE program offer?

We have a robotics team, which is really popular across the district. We also have middle school flag football, which isn’t a sport offered under our athletics department. We have drill dance team for middle and high school. We also have chess, board games, outdoor sports, Minecraft, Driver’s Education, photography, and karate. One of my biggest projects is hosting the first ever dance competition for the YES Prep district. We have eleven different groups that will be performing on February 3, and I’m very excited to get the word out.

How does being an alumna of YES Prep help you to be successful as an ACE coordinator?

With ACE, we do family engagement, and I think that families view me as a resource. They ask me about how the college process works, what their students will need in college, and so much more. I developed a financial literacy program for students and parents so they can help figure it out together. I want them to know that it can be done and that it’s possible. I’m a testament: I came from the community, I traveled for school, and now I’m back to help.

What was your transition to college like?

The financial part was difficult, and I was really homesick my first year. I didn’t think I would be because I had chosen this school and wanted to be far away from home. I was in contact with my college counselor, and I’d call him and say that I wanted to come home. He kept telling me to give it a year. So I gave it a year and I loved it. It was amazing to have the support of the college team even though I was far away.

What’s one of the biggest lessons you still carry with you from YES Prep?

Back when I was a student, we didn’t have a word for this, but now it’s what we call “grit.” Our teachers pushed us to work hard no matter what. They made sure that education was our main priority and that we had the tools necessary to be successful. Now, we’re all on different paths, but we’re always looking ahead and seeing what we can push ourselves to do next. Volunteering was another large part of our education– always giving back to the community.

What’s your favorite YES Prep memory?

Being able to visit colleges through spring trips really opened my eyes to what I wanted in a school. At first, I thought I didn’t want to go to a liberal arts college, but then I visited the large public schools and realized they were too big for me. Throughout my time at YES, I was having constant conversations with my teachers and peers about where I wanted to go in life. And that meant that by the time I was a senior, I knew what I really wanted out of my college experience.

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