Student affinity summits: Saying ‘YES!’ to identity and belonging

Houston youth gain a pathway to college through YES Prep school network

If you’re one of the 16,500 students attending a YES Prep school in Houston, the coming spring means affinity summits are around the corner.

You could say it leads to a “peak” in excitement.

“Aside from sporting events, these summits allow our students at all our different schools to come together and interact with one another,” says Leigh Levine, Director of Advancement at YES Prep.

Usually there are north of 600 students from Grades 6 through 12 attending the summits—all hailing from the YES Prep charter network that’s 23 schools strong in the Houston area.

At the summits, which are usually one-day events taking place over a string of weekends, students participate in discussions with mentors in their communities, learn about their cultural heritage, and develop skills to navigate the college environment.

“We have different school leaders that volunteer for the summits and flesh out a full program for the students,” says Levine. “It’s really an opportunity to participate in insightful conversations while connecting students with others that are facing similar situations—all in a safe space to engage and discuss.”

The summits began in 2015 with the Brotherhood and Sisterhood summits as inaugural events, which aim to serve African-American-identifying male and female students, respectively.

Today, YES Prep runs five affinity summits, with the roster now including the LatinX Leadership summit, the Pride Plus summit, and the Asian, Pacific Islander, American (APIA) summit.

Diversity and representation are exceedingly important to YES Prep, 97% of whose students are persons of colour. To Levine, the summits are a real source of “pride” in expanding the school networks’ anti-racism work.

“Overall, there’s a lot of excitement at the events—it’s a great energy.”

This year, Enbridge gave $50,000 to YES Prep as part of our commitment to improve quality of life in communities near our operations. The funding goes directly towards the Affinity Summits and helps cover costs such as transportation, catering, venue costs, entertainment and possible speaker fees.

At the center of these summits is one of the core principles of YES Prep: to eliminate educational inequities and advance social justice.

“We traditionally serve students from communities impacted by poverty to offer them high quality education that they might not have access to otherwise,” says Levine. “Many assume that everyone has the ability to go to college—but we need to provide a college-ready education so that these students have a pathway to get there if they so choose.”

In fact, she cites statistics that show only about 11% of students of color from low-income communities eventually graduate from college.

“It’s meaningful for me to know that students can come away from these summits feeling empowered by their identity in a long-lasting, impactful way.”