The school opened in 2008 and serves 6th-12th grade. It is tuition free, and draws students from across Bexar County. When I visited the campus nearly two years ago, I was impressed by the drive, confidence, and focus of the girls. They were college bound with their eyes to the future. They spoke of tensions and pressures from boys and friends, but the camaraderie they felt among their sisters at YWLA was evident. The young women were tasting success, and they just couldn't get enough.
That is what the U.S. Department of Education's Blue Ribbon designation is all about. They are looking for the highest achieving elementary, middle, and high schools that are closing the opportunity gap through rigor and outstanding academic performance. They recognize public and private schools. Only 26 Texas public schools have been nominated.
- Aldine ISD – Victory Early College High School
- Amarillo ISD – South Lawn Elementary School
- Austin ISD – Blackshear Elementary School
- Canyon ISD – Canyon Intermediate School
- Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD – Country Place Elementary School
- Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD – Kent Elementary School
- Crawford ISD – Crawford Elementary School
- Dallas ISD – Harry Stone Montessori Academy
- Dallas ISD – Trinidad Garza Early College High School
- El Paso ISD – Lamar Elementary School
- Falls City ISD – Falls City Elementary School
- Garland ISD – Kimberlin Academy for Excellence
- Grandview ISD – Grandview Elementary School
- Harper ISD – Harper Middle School
- Highland ISD – Highland School
- Houston ISD – North Houston Early College High School
- Jim Ned ISD – Lawn Elementary School
- Klondike ISD – Klondike ISD
- Los Fresnos ISD – Olmito Elementary School
- Malakoff ISD – Malakoff Elementary School
- McAllen ISD – Achieve Early College High School
- Mt. Vernon ISD – Mt. Vernon Intermediate School
- Roma ISD – F.J. Scott Elementary School
- San Antonio ISD – Young Women’s Leadership Academy
- South Texas ISD – South Texas Preparatory Academy
- Vega ISD – Vega Elementary School
All of these schools have an economically disadvantaged population of 25% or higher, demonstrating the potential of students at all income levels. For SAISD, where that percentage is far higher, having a school among the nominations shows that their efforts are not in vain. The creativity and flexibility generated by the in-district charter movement could successfully inform the rest of the district, if leaders are willing to make bold moves.
Success of YWLA has led to the the first-of-its-kind all male public school, Young Men’s Leadership Academy (YMLA) in SAISD, which began accepting applications Jan. 16.
Standardized tests are the measure of academic achievement to receive the designation, which some consider reductive. However, I must say, that there is nothing reductive or one-dimensional about YWLA. Their test scores are a byproduct of a culture of excellence ranging from the administration to the peer accountability. Their teachers are creative, their curriculum is rigorous. Students know how to make the kind of impression that employers are looking for, and employees can respect. They're thirsty for knowledge. Those girls have "future leader" written all over them, and I didn't even get to see their test scores. A Blue Ribbon designation would be an affirmation of what is obvious walking through the halls.
*Featured/top image: YWLA students (from left) Karen Villuendas, Tina Valdez, Ilana Villagran, and Belen Bonilla: a sisterhood of support. Photo by Bekah McNeel.