Lynn McBee, CEO of the Young Women’s Preparatory Network, says the seven campuses in the foundation’s system have found much success in their mission to educate young women. The foundation partners with independent school districts to create all-girls schools with a focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) curriculum. The foundation now has more than 4,100 students in its schools. Seventy-five percent of them come from economically disadvantaged homes and of the146 high school graduates in 2014, 100 percent were accepted at a four-year university or college; they received a total of $15.8 million in scholarships.
A portion of the ticket proceeds from Women in the World Texas, to be held Wednesday in San Antonio, will benefit the Young Women’s Preparatory Network.
Why do you think the mission of the foundation is important?
There are so many things, but I think the main thing is it is life-changing work for these young women and their families. It’s got a retroactive effect too; we’ve had families where the parents have gone back to school as a result of seeing what their daughters have accomplished.
You have such a large portion of students who are economically disadvantaged, and you still turn out a success story every year. What’s the magic formula?
We’re kind of like an in-district charter. We’re in the tent with the school district, and we work very hand-in-hand as well about building the right team. And then we get our team that we put together, and we include a college adviser, which is really a person who is — I don’t want to use the word mother hen — but she is the one who is really the shepherd of the group. And not just the girls but also the families, to talk to them about what it really means for their girl to go to college. They have College 101 for the parents, because while the girls can have the aptitude and they can have the rigor, they don’t have that social piece because they are coming from a place where they need that kind of in-depth shepherding.
So that college adviser, they makes sure the girls not only get into college, but they get the best financial aid package so there’s not that economic piece of it that comes into play, because that can be stressful and a reason the girls come home. We really do everything we can to provide services to the girl and to their family, so they are set up for success.
Do you think providing that economic support is a key part of your success?
I think that’s certainly a big part of it. We have situations where our girls will be up at college, and the parents will call and there’s been some kind of problem, like someone got sick in the family or there is a broken-down car. And the girl’s first reaction is, well, “I can come home and get a job and help you because, I can.” They are very employable — these are really high performing girls. And that’s not what we want to happen. So we try to work with the family and say, that’s not what you need to do and come to us if there is some kind of problem like that and we’ll help you work through it.
Many, especially those who come from an economically disadvantaged background, still face a glass ceiling. What kind of advice would you give to young women to overcome that glass ceiling?
You know, it’s interesting because we’re all-girl schools. This all-girls setting really does provide the place for girls to not be fearful to raise their hand and asks questions and really learn. I think we kind of removed that piece of them ever thinking that there’s a glass ceiling. They’re in this environment — I think they would find it strange to think: “What do you mean I can’t do this?” In these all girls-environment, they raise their hand.
I would say our girls, if you met any of them, I mean they are polished and poised and strong. The fact that they can’t do something, it’s just not even on their radar.
Do you think this hybrid model of combining private philanthropy and public education that your foundation exemplifies is a future model of public education?
It’s an interesting model, and it works. It’s just — change is hard for any kind of institution, and for an institution as big as the public education system, change is really hard. So I think getting people comfortable, getting everybody comfortable…you know, we just want to teach. We just want enhance, to make it better. So we come at it non-threatening. We’re not going to come in and take charge, we want to work with what you have and try to make that system better.
Editor’s note: This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.