Yellowstone Schools Gives Students More Than a Traditional Education

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 8/17/2018, 4:30 a.m.
Approaching anything, in the same way, expecting different results only leads to the same tired outcomes. A new perspective with …

Approaching anything, in the same way, expecting different results only leads to the same tired outcomes. A new perspective with a fresh action plan puts a different spin on issues and allows for varied effects. Many schools in the private and charter systems are providing that innovative viewpoint to education by cutting through the red tape of the norm and breaking through with the change of the unexpected.

I know the benefits of a private school education. When it came time for me to begin to school, my parents did their due diligence in researching the best school for me and it landed me at the black-owned private school Wonderland, now known as Beatrice Mayes Institute. Right off school officials tackled education differently with more of a family appeal. Teachers were more like parents. Students were taught to strive for accuracy in excellence. And just going their you knew more was expected of you. I treasure my time there and wished others could have similar experiences. However, the cost of tuition made that hard. BMI has since become a public charter school so more students can experience the gift of a private school quality education without the price tag.

More and more schools have tapped into those same learning foundations I received as a kid and students are being made better for it. Yellowstone Academy and Yellowstone College Prep are two schools that take similar approaches to education in this matter on one campus. Instead of relying on public policy to educate children, they provide innovation to education to give students more.

For years children zone to schools in downtown Houston were being robbed of a quality education. Area schools had F ratings because despite their best efforts they still were not preparing students properly to advance in secondary education. In 2002, things began to change for these underserved children when the Yellowstone Academy was established in Houston’s historic Third Ward.

“Yellowstone was founded with the belief that all students are born with a purpose. They are destined for success. And they need to be given access to great educational opportunities,” said Ryan Dolibois, Superintendent for Yellowstone College Prep.

Opening their doors with 65 pre-K three and four-year-olds, Yellowstone Academy began to change the game with a private faith-based school addressing the academic, emotional, and social needs of students. That model has now expanded to reach more students with a first of its kind program in Texas that houses a private and charter school on the campus acting as an academic success pipeline. In a shared service agreement, Yellowstone Academy, as a private school, educates students in pre-K through 4th grade and Yellowstone College Prep, as a public open-enrollment charter school, educates students in the 5th through 8th grade. The ultimate will be reached in years to come as a new grade level is added each year so the school can teach students in 5th through 12th grade. The uniqueness of this model is that both schools are on the same campus and share teachers, administrators, back office operations, and many other support systems for students to build a rich education model of their motto. The success of this model has translated with over 90% of those original 65 students graduating from high school and over 80% going off to college.

Private vs. Charter

The debate about which is better, private vs. charter, is never ending. That’s why Yellowstone is so beautiful because it is like a happy merger. Yellowstone Academy that serves pre-K through 4th is a faith-based private school where administrators chart their own course designing their own curriculum and way of operating. Since there is no governmental influence, funding is not received from taxes for the school but rather for tuition and donors. On the flip side with Yellowstone College Prep as a public open-enrollment charter school, it receives limited funding from the government but is still able to operate independently of the public school system. Both schools are required to meet state standards and do.

What that looks like at Yellowstone Schools is that students know that they are fully supported and loved because they get more than just a traditional classroom education. Students’ days are longer beginning at 7:15 am through 3:45 pm. On average they are in class 10,000 minutes more per year than students in traditional learning environments. Since they really focus on building relationships at Yellowstone classes are kept small with 20 students. Teachers really get to know not just their students but also the families behind their students as well in these smaller settings. Parent involvement is highly welcomed and encouraged.

Education is not taught within the walls of the school as students go out into surrounding the city on community field lessons to really view what success looks like and to see how they fit in that space. In addition to that, there are a number of support services for students like transportation to and from school, breakfast and lunch served daily, a school uniform program, and access to a full time on campus social worker to handle other issues. Yellowstone tries to take away any hindrance to education students may have. Dolibois said they have found when students are supported in this matter that their mindset changes and they are more successful.

Another important piece to this puzzle is the character development that is ingrained in students. With the younger children in the private school sector that is taught through Christianity. Students attend Bible classes daily and have weekly chapel with area pastors to form their moral code. Older students do not participate in faith-based learning but do get taught about good character to build a firm ethical and moral foundation. Dolibois said this type of focus is one of the main reasons that parents continue to select Yellowstone Schools for their children.

And yet there is still another element to the success of Yellowstone, the community. Some children have their parents pushing them to grasp their dreams. Some have parents, extend family, and some friends supporting them. But how many students have an entire community on their backs telling them not to give up? Yellowstone kids do because of great volunteers. Last year over 400 volunteers representing over 40 zip codes provided countless hours of service to Yellowstone. Volunteers can be seen mentoring students, helping to beautify the school, making contributions, and pitching in wherever is needed. So volunteer involvement is huge at Yellowstone and is critical to its success story.

A number of programs are volunteer run at Yellowstone. The lunch buddy program allows volunteers to sit one-on-one with students during lunch as mentor/mentee session. Other volunteers enrich students’ lives academically as tutors in the subjects they specialize in to improve their grades. Corporate sponsors adopt grade levels on a monthly basis and come into the classroom to offer students with their dollars and time. By the time students reach 8th grade, they become part of the Brotherhood and Leading Lady programs where they meet with mentor volunteers on a biweekly basis to get them ready for life after middle school and to focus on their collegiate and professional goals.

“That is one of the advantages of this model. If this was just a private on its own or if it was just a charter on its own, we wouldn’t have the same operational efficiency that we are able to offer. So out of the gate, day one, this charter school is able to offer all of that stuff for close to $1 million or less of what it would be than if we were just operating without the model we have created,” said Dolibois.

The school is always actively seeking volunteers. Be part of this year’s crop of supporters by attending one of two volunteer orientations at the school on August 30 or 31st at 10 am on the school campus. Preregistration is encouraged but not required at

Yellowstone Schools capitalizes on using their staff, village, and the entire community to give students a very rigorous and relevant education far beyond what they would receive in a traditional school environment to produce a well rounded student. Yellowstone Academy and Yellowstone College Prep strives every day to give students more of what they need and want to thrive today and beyond.