Community connections described as the key to successful middle college launch

Urban school districts are always exploring new ways to keep kids in school, and one of the most innovative is the middle college high school model. Designed to serve young people who find it hard to thrive at traditional high schools, these campuses provide students with smaller classes, more personalized attention, and the additional support needed to help them succeed.

HISD opened two such schools this fall, and Diana Del Pilar, the principal of the Gulfton-area campus, shared the benefit of her experience with a panel of visiting educators from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) on Sept. 12.

“Build relationships before you start, so students can feel that there really is a difference,” she told the group, which included AFT President Randi Weingarten. “If you don’t, you won’t have the framework in place to hold the structure together.”

The strength of Del Pilar’s community connections—which she cultivated during her stint as principal of the Heights-based Helms Elementary School—was evident in the panel she assembled for the benefit of her guests, which included HISD’s Director of Dropout Prevention Bea Marquez, Founder and CEO of “Kids Write to Know” Marie Elena Cortés, and President/CEO of Youth Genesis Consulting Sonia Rivera.

“This is just a small sampling of our partners,” Del Pilar noted. “Many of them couldn’t be here today, but we also have a very strong relationship with the local Houston Police Department storefront. They have PIP—or Positive Interaction Program—meetings every month with representatives from all of the nearby apartment complexes, and since this is primarily an apartment-based community, they can get the word out very quickly. Whether it’s food, shelter, clothing, or something else, anything we need is only a phone call away.”

The Middle College High School at HCC Fraga (301 N. Drennan, 77003) is still accepting applications. For more information, please call 713-556-6947.