IDEA Public Schools: A pathway to college

This blog is the third in a series about how organizations across Central Texas are working to help improve graduation rates for low-income students. Among all Texas metros, Austin’s low-income students have the lowest post-secondary outcomes – only 8 percent of low-income students obtain a college degree. We know that a higher education degree is a pathway out of poverty, so our partners in Austin are creating new models to address the complex combination of challenges that students face on their journey to a degree. This blog series will feature student stories and share the new models our partners are using to create pathways to success for students. Read the whole series here. 

Christobal Velez, a proud, soon-to-be IDEA Public Schools graduate, began at IDEA Allan College Preparatory as a sixth grader.

“From day one, I was told that I would go to college,” said Christobal.

The bright scholar looks to be the first in his family to attend and graduate from college, and his sights are set on Brown University in Rhode Island. Christobal, one of three Advanced Placement scholars in the IDEA Austin region, has passed more than four Advanced Placement courses already.

Preparing students for college in Texas

We want every student to have the same experience as Christobal – the idea that college is a reality for each and every one of them.  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.  In fact, in Central Texas alone, only seven percent of low-income students will graduate from college in six years. And it’s our mission to increase that graduation rate in the areas we serve.

IDEA Public Schools is a public charter school network that currently educates more than 3,000 students at six schools in the Austin area.  By 2022, IDEA plans to expand to serve 20,000 students at 26 schools in and around Texas’ capital, including campus openings in both Pflugerville and Kyle next fall.

IDEA’s goal is to help close the achievement gap wherever they operate schools and ensure all students have access to college.  This access means developing in students the skills to be life-long learners, resilient hard workers, and innovative thinkers. IDEA believes that as a nation, if we are to continue to be leaders in a global economy and marketplace, then quality educational options for all children is a necessity.

IDEA was founded in 2001 in Donna, Texas, a small town in the Rio Grande Valley.  For 12 years in a row, every IDEA senior has been accepted to college, and more than 99 percent of IDEA seniors have matriculated to college. The public charter family achieves stellar results through a focus on personalized learning, core subjects, critical thinking and college preparedness.  By the time they graduate from high school, every IDEA student in Austin will have taken 11 Advanced Placement courses. Students will also have completed a 4-year-long course called “The Road to and Through College,” which strives to define a student’s passion and purpose and align them with the college or university that is the best fit for them.  Additionally, college field lessons for students begin as early as 1st grade so as to foster a college identity from a young age.  These are just a few ways IDEA approach is unique.

In 2019, IDEA Austin will graduate its first class of seniors at IDEA Allan College Preparatory. This group of seniors look to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors and continue the legacy of 100 percent college acceptance.

Christobal’s story

While Christobal is now excelling academically, he admits that his road in school was often a bumpy one.  He was born in California, but he and his family moved to Mexico shortly afterward and lived there until the fifth grade.  During this time, Christobal’s father mostly lived in the Unites States to find work, and traveled between summers to come see him, his mom, and his sister.

“As I got older, my environment in Mexico became tough,” Christobal said.  “My dad saw that it just wasn’t safe for me there anymore and he brought me to live with him in Austin where I started in the 5th grade.  I moved in with my father in the apartment he shared with my uncle and his family.”

Shortly after the move, Christobal’s father applied for his son to attend IDEA Public Schools, and Christobal was accepted.  The move to his new school changed everything. Though the workload was demanding and rigorous, Christobal worked hard to get up to speed, asking lots of questions and leaning on his teachers who were always there to help. Little by little, he was closing learning gaps and beginning to excel.

The scholar admits that there have been many late nights when he’s been up studying, going over work, and sacrificing a bit of social life to make sure he makes the top grades in school.  However, Christobal knows that this effort will pay off in the long run.

“As an AP scholar, I gain college credits with each exam that I pass.  Due to my financial situation, I need these AP credits.  Passing these AP exams means the difference of thousands of dollars towards my education, and that’s something I simply cannot take for granted.”

In IDEA Austin, all scholars are required to take at least 11 Advanced Placement classes before graduating high school, so that they are prepared for the rigor of college.  This is a pillar of the schools’ college readiness efforts.

Thanks to the support from his school and his family, Christobal will be ready to excel in college in 2019.

“My journey has had its challenges, but my passion for education is loud and confident,” he said.  “I am grateful for my families—my immediate family, and my IDEA family.”