NEW YORK — Three exceptional high schools have been named by the College Board as Gaston Caperton Inspiration Award winners for improving their academic environments and helping underserved students achieve equitable access to higher education, overcoming remarkable obstacles in the process. Each winning school will receive a $25,000 award, and six honorable mention schools will each receive $1,000 to apply toward programs that encourage students to attend college.
"Inspiration Schools help show us that all students, regardless of background, can achieve success in the classroom," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "At a time when higher education is absolutely critical to restoring our nation's economy, these schools are providing a pathway to college and giving all their students a greater chance at achieving the American dream."
The 2012 Gaston Caperton Inspiration Award–winning schools are:
- Johnny G. Economedes High School, Edinburg, Texas
- Fort Lauderdale High School, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
- Woodbury Junior/Senior High School, Woodbury, N.J.
The College Board will honor each of the schools at inspirational assemblies attended by administrators, faculty, students, parents and local dignitaries. On May 1, College Board Senior Vice President Peter Negroni will present the 2012 Gaston Caperton Inspiration Award to Johnny G. Economedes High School; on May 8, Negroni will present the award to Fort Lauderdale High School; and on May 17, College Board President Gaston Caperton will present the final award for 2012 to Woodbury Junior/Senior High School.
"Each year there is nothing that I find more rewarding than presenting Inspiration Awards," said Caperton. "They recognize great work that too often goes unacknowledged, and they are a symbol of the great work being done quietly all over the country. The students, teachers and administrators at each of the Inspiration Award–winning schools have put in extraordinary effort to improve their schools, raise their standards and instill a culture of learning. Today, we salute them, we thank them and we offer their example to the nation."
The Gaston Caperton Inspiration Awards celebrate schools for their outstanding college-preparation programs and partnerships among teachers, parents and community organizations. Through their dedication and commitment, these school communities have opened doors to higher education for students facing economic, social and cultural barriers by improving their academic environment, creating a college-going culture and helping a significant proportion of students realize the promise of higher education. Winning high schools demonstrate significant and consistent growth across the entire student population in the number of students taking rigorous courses and the percentage of students accepted to two- or four-year colleges.
The award was created by College Board President Gaston Caperton in 2001. In early 2012, the name of the award was changed from the Inspiration Awards to the Gaston Caperton Inspiration Awards to commemorate Caperton’s service to the College Board and to mark his final year of leadership. To date, the program has awarded approximately $950,000 to high schools throughout the country.
Johnny G. Economedes High School
Located in the heart of South Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, the students, teachers, parents and administrators at Johnny G. Economedes High School (JEHS) define themselves by their resilience and determination to succeed in the face of economic hardship: over 93 percent of JEHS students are considered economically disadvantaged and 78 percent of JEHS students are considered at risk.
Despite the obstacles and because of JEHS’s goal of "college for all," students are graduating and enrolling in college at rates that match and often surpass those at more affluent high schools around the country. Between 2007 and 2011, JEHS increased the number of graduating students from 87 percent to 92 percent and the number of students accepted to college from 70 percent to more than 90 percent.
"I’ve learned that everything in this world is achievable if we are patient, hardworking and determined to attain it," said Monica Castillo, a senior at JEHS. "When I started school here, I began with regular classes. Then I was told I could do better so I was placed in Pre-AP classes, and just when I thought that was good enough, I was challenged with AP courses."
Promoting a college-going culture has been critical to student success at JEHS. Teachers and administrators have been vigilant about broadening academic opportunities for students by increasing the number of AP® and dual enrollment courses and by implementing "Operation Zero Tolerance," an initiative that has dramatically increased supplemental tutoring for students struggling academically and has challenged every student to earn 30 or more college-credit hours before graduation. The rigor and dedication administrators and teachers bring to students every day account for this success, and the JEHS community as a whole continues to work steadily toward its ultimate goal: 100 percent college enrollment.
"If the American Dream can be defined as dreaming that which is impossible and then achieving it, then this school, this faculty and these students are the embodiment of that," said Victoria Garcia, an English teacher at JEHS.
Fort Lauderdale High School
Fort Lauderdale High School (FLHS) is the oldest continuously functioning high school in Florida’s Broward County and brings together a wide variety of students to participate in an academically challenging and supportive environment.
Serving a large number of traditionally underserved students, 67 percent of FLHS students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The faculty works with many young mothers and fathers as well as students living in group homes or facilities for the homeless. Additionally, many students arrive from South American and Caribbean countries with limited knowledge of English and require significant academic support to move through the rigorous curriculum.
"This is a school where the entire community — teachers, staff, parents and students — pull together to ensure student success," said FLHS Principal Priscilla Ribeiro. "This is a team effort every day, and I am honored to be a part of it."
FLHS offers students numerous workshops and extended learning opportunities, and has built mentoring partnerships with businesses and individuals within the community. Examples include "Freshman Parent" nights designed to help middle school students transition to high school with special breakout sessions in Spanish and Haitian Creole to ensure that all families can participate, and "Step Up" — a digital pilot program that provides iPads for a diverse group of students who are placed in rigorous, project-based college-level courses.
"Since the day I first came to this school, it was clear that the goal for me was to be successful and to go to college," said FLHS senior Adiel Benitez. "I’m ready and confident to start at the University of Florida in the fall."
FLHS celebrated an impressive 82 percent graduation rate for the class of 2011, and 94 percent of graduates went on to attend postsecondary school.
"This is a very special place," said FLHS faculty member Marie Hautigan. "Our goal is to reach out and attract the most students possible and educate them to become tomorrow’s successful leaders."
Woodbury Junior/Senior High School
Just a few miles outside of Camden, N.J., Woodbury Junior/Senior High School serves a small, diverse community of students and families. Faced with a high rate of student mobility and with almost 60 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, administrators and faculty have created a breadth of effective programs to promote and support students’ successful transition to college. Seventy percent of students in Woodbury’s class of 2011 were enrolled in AP or honors-level classes, and 50 percent of seniors took one or more AP Exams before graduation. The result of these efforts has been immensely rewarding: 95 percent of the class of 2011 graduated, and 89 percent were accepted to college.
Woodbury offers a multitude of academic opportunities, including "The Workplace," an after-school teacher-staffed homework and student assistance center that helps between 50 and 100 students daily with class assignments; math and literacy support classes to increase student success in advanced-level course work with additional instruction; summer enrichment programs to provide a collaborative environment for completing summer assignments; algebra for all eighth-grade students, with a double period offered for additional support; and personalized education plans that allow students to receive credit for relevant and challenging out-of-school experiences.
"The narrowing and ultimate elimination of the achievement gap — the crux of our strategic plan — is the impetus for the work that is done on behalf of our students," said Woodbury Principal Denise Dunham. "The strategy to remove instructional barriers so that every student is provided the most rigorous instruction has manifested a multitude of successes for all of our students. The credit is equally shared by stakeholders inside and outside our school walls."
Understanding that family and community involvement is a vital component of student success, Woodbury counselors have staggered schedules for after-work availability to accommodate working parents, host several parent–teacher conferences required for parents each year, and offer college-preparation nights for each grade. If students are not demonstrating proficiency on state tests, counselors meet with parents regularly to create personal plans for improvement and success. Woodbury’s volunteer Minority Task Force Committee generated an idea that has taken root in the school — annually hosting three visits to colleges for 100 percent of Woodbury students in fourth grade, eighth grade and 10th grade — as well as other initiatives designed to promote a college-going culture.
"A focus on sustained professional development targeting key curricular and instructional initiatives has been critical to providing the basis for long-lasting, meaningful changes in the learning environment," said Woodbury Public Schools Superintendent Joseph Jones." We have a strong, dedicated, student-focused faculty and administration committed to this work."
Awards Reflect Importance of Access to Higher Education
"As I prepare to retire from the College Board, I am truly honored to have these awards rededicated in my name," said Caperton. "The students, teachers and administrators at each of the winning schools represent everything that is right about the way we educate our youth. And they prove that with hard work and determination, there is hope for all the children of America."
A distinguished panel of Gaston Caperton Inspiration Award judges selected this year’s winners based on the schools’ success in increasing the number of students (from all school demographic groups) being prepared for college.
The 2012 Gaston Caperton Inspiration Award judges included:
- Brian Cashman,general manager, New York Yankees
- Edwidge Danticat,award-winning author and professor
- Mike Marriner, founder, Roadtrip Nation
- Jennifer Raab, president, Hunter College, CUNY
- Roy Romer, former Colorado governor and former superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District
- Wes Moore, national best-selling author
Gains in college readiness are measured based on a variety of factors, including the percentage of students taking college-preparatory core curriculum courses; the percentage of students accepted into two- or four-year colleges; and the growth in student participation in rigorous classes such as AP. The Gaston Caperton Inspiration Award–winning schools did much more than meet basic eligibility requirements. They were selected for their innovative ability to inspire student success.
The following schools are recipients of Honorable Mention Awards, including a $1,000 stipend:
- La Puente High School, La Puente, Calif.
- Rio Rico High School, Rio Rico, Ariz.
- Springfield Central High School, Springfield, Mass.
- Los Fresnos High School, Los Fresnos, Calif.
- United High School, Laredo, Texas
- Edna Karr High School, New Orleans, La.
More information about the Gaston Caperton Inspiration Awards is available at www.collegeboard.org/inspirationawards.
About the College Board
The College Board is a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity. Founded in 1900, the College Board was created to expand access to higher education. Today, the membership association is made up of over 6,000 of the world’s leading educational institutions and is dedicated to promoting excellence and equity in education. Each year, the College Board helps more than seven million students prepare for a successful transition to college through programs and services in college readiness and college success — including the SAT® and the Advanced Placement Program®. The organization also serves the education community through research and advocacy on behalf of students, educators and schools. For further information, visit www.collegeboard.org.
Kate Levin The College Board 212-713-8052 firstname.lastname@example.org