Yellowstone Academy is a non-profit organization formed in July 2001 for the purpose of establishing a high quality faith-based private school for students in extreme poverty. After a year of intensive planning, Yellowstone Academy opened in August 2002 with 64 preschool students in Houston’s Third Ward, an inner-city area located a few minutes’ drive from downtown Houston. In 2006, Yellowstone Academy purchased a former elementary school building from the Houston Independent School District and in May 2009, Yellowstone completed construction of a new gym. These facilities have enabled Yellowstone to add a grade level each year and, as a result, Yellowstone currently has an enrollment of more than 300 students from Pre-K through the eighth grade. In 2012, Yellowstone celebrated its 10th Anniversary as well as its first graduating class of 8th graders. A long-range planning committee is now seeking ways for Yellowstone to expand its reach so that the school may positively impact the lives of even more children living in poverty.
PROBLEMS FACING OUR INNER CITY CHILDREN
Although there is great debate as to the causes and solutions to poverty and the ills of the inner city, few would disagree with the contention that poverty is perhaps the most critical social and economic problem facing cities such as Houston. The social and economic consequences of poverty are evident and pervasive. The long-term impact is particularly troubling for families with children who lack adequate and regular access to health care and proper nutrition and who experience increased exposure to crime, drugs, violence and abuse. U.S. Census Bureau revealed that 28% of Houston children live below the poverty line. Many of these families are caught in a cycle of inadequate education and lack of job skills, resulting in poverty that ultimately leads to dependence on government welfare programs or, in many cases, a life of crime and violence. This cycle is generational in nature, self-perpetuating, and leads directly to the social dysfunctions and economic problems that plague the inner city.
The vision of Yellowstone Academy rests on the view that the situation in Houston’s inner city is neither hopeless nor inevitable. We believe that poverty is more a function of circumstances than inherent attributes such as race or ethnicity. The good news is that circumstances can change, but the individual in these circumstances must also believe they can change and know how to make that change. Yellowstone Academy was created to provide a strong educational platform, coupled with programs to provide life skills and promote self-confidence and self-sufficiency so that our students have opportunities to break this cycle of poverty. Yellowstone Academy’s ultimate goal is to help students become confident, self-directed, responsible citizens who are equipped to succeed in today’s society and economy.
The following is a profile of the students and families that Yellowstone serves:
- 100% of admissions are from low-income families
- More than 80% of our students live in poverty or extreme poverty
- Median family annual income averages less than $10,000
- More than 90% of our students live in single-parent homes
As a child’s school has the highest ‘‘share of time” of any institution in his or her life, both throughout the day and week and over the course of many years, Yellowstone is in a unique position to positively influence the lives of its students. Yellowstone Academy’s innovative curriculum and instruction are designed to address the unique needs and challenges of children living in poverty. Every activity the students experience each day is based on an intentional effort to instill the academic, social, and practical skills they will need to succeed in life. Yellowstone Academy sets high expectations for its students and places a premium on the basic attributes necessary for success in life – character, responsibility, self-reliance, and faith. Yellowstone also connects with the parents of our students on a consistent and substantive basis to promote strong family participation in their children’s educational success and individual well-being.
Teachers provide a safe, secure environment of trust and unconditional acceptance and support. This makes it possible for our students to learn and grow. For those who have experienced significant family instability and have never known a physically or mentally healthy environment since birth, this approach is life-changing. Students are also provided with a number of services at no additional cost to the families. Such services include a daily breakfast and lunch, uniforms, and transportation.
Yellowstone Academy is meeting the challenge to nurture and educate our community’s most at-risk children, who almost all enter Yellowstone 1.5 academic years behind. Last year in public schools in Texas, only 16% of 8th graders on free and reduced lunch were reading on grade level and only 28% were performing on grade level in math. In comparison, 75% of Yellowstone 8th graders were reading on grade level and 63% were reading above grade level. In addition, 92% were performing math on or above grade level. In 2012, Yellowstone celebrated its first 8th grade graduating class. All 24 graduates were accepted at area high schools, including some of our city’s most prestigious private and charter schools such as the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA), Debakey High School for Health Professions, Second Baptist School, Westbury Christian School, and Young Women’s College Preparatory Academy, with 18 of the 24 receiving scholarships.
Yellowstone has also been very successful in recruiting and retaining students from extreme poverty environments. There is a long waiting list, and the average school year retention rate is 94%, with an average year-to-year retention rate of 87%. Beginnig in August 2011, Yellowstone commenced an extended school year program that provides several short breaks during the school year and an abbreviated summer break, with the purpose of reducing the typical retention loss otherwise suffered during an extended summer vacation period. The school is fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and all of the full-time teachers are state certified.
In addition to a creative and challenging curriculum in the classroom, Yellowstone Academy also provides students with opportunities to develop leadership, artistic and athletic skills through a comprehensive co-curricular program. Co-curricular activities include Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, karate, choir, dance team, photography, and drum line. Middle school students also have the opportunity to participate in competitive sports including basketball, volleyball, cross country track, and flag football.
Yellowstone Academy is dependent on the generosity of the community for its ongoing support, as the school receives no government funding. Because Yellowstone exclusively serves students in poverty, tuition resources are limited and based upon a family’s income. Most families pay between $3.00 and $25.00 per month per student.
In 2006, Yellowstone Academy embarked on an $11.5 million capital campaign to cover the cost of its present facility, its renovations and furnishings, and to provide for a new gymnasium. This campaign, which was completed successfully, provides Yellowstone students with the space needed for them to grow physically, mentally, athletically, and spiritually. Yellowstone receives no government support and funds its annual operating budget entirely from contributions from private sources. For the 2012-2013 fiscal year, operating revenue was received from the following sources: 50% from individuals, 29% from foundations, 20% from corporations and religious organizations, and 1% from other sources. Tuition provides less than 1% of the operating budget. The increasing visibility of Yellowstone Academy and the enthusiasm in the Houston community for the school provide the Board with confidence that its financial requirements can be met on an ongoing basis.