Research finds that attending Opportunity School has a positive lasting impact on children as they grow into adulthood.
In 2019, Opportunity School and West Texas A&M University’s Education Department studied the long-term benefits and outcomes for individuals who experienced high quality early education at Opportunity School. The specific research question was: “What has been the lasting impact of Opportunity School on former students’ lives?”
WTAMU’s research team included Drs. Betty Coneway, Sang Hwang, and Leigh Green who collaborated with educators and staff at Opportunity School to gather data and information to conduct the study. Ninety-eight former students and parents completed surveys. Only individuals who were involved or attended the school between 1969-2000 were interviewed to ensure the participants were age 18 or older. The research was funded by grants from the Waite and Genevieve Phillips Foundation and the WTAMU Development Foundation.
Dr. Coneway said that it took almost a year to organize the contact information they received. “The early years classroom rosters were handwritten and in address books. We had lists that were typed on a typewriter and then it finally progressed to lists on a computer,” said Dr. Coneway. “After handing over the information to our research assistants we ran into some roadblocks of non-working numbers. How were we going to track down these students?”
The research team used Facebook, word-of-mouth, alumni and even paid people searches, but the most helpful resource were High-School Alumni Facebook pages. Once contacted, the research team asked questions to gain information about the individuals’ educational attainment; their employment, income, and marital status; their criminal history; school memories, and perceptions of the impact of their Opportunity School experience.
The study found Opportunity School students excelled beyond high-school.
· 94% of former students in the study attended college or vocational training beyond high school.
· 48% received a degree, either an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate degree.
· 61% of former students were the first person in their families to attend college.
When asked if Opportunity School was influential in helping the student achieve educational success, 87% of the former students said it was either very or somewhat influential.
That influence doesn’t just extend to educational achievement.
· 95% of former Opportunity School students have never committed a felony.
· 92% have never been convicted of any crime.
· 68% of the former students are living above the poverty line and are not single parents.
The research gathered during this study shows that Opportunity School has been an ongoing positive educational experience. Opportunity School made an impact on the family, not just the individual student.
Former student Monica Ybarra said she is so thankful for the home visits because the teachers supported her family by engaging her siblings and parents in the learning process. “Opportunity School allowed my parents, who were very low income, to provide a different kind of education to their children. The school was very engaged with the family. They gave us not only home visits, but always invited my parents up the school and on field trips.” She still remembers going on a field trip to the Amarillo Symphony and appreciates that Opportunity School provided so many cool experiences through field trips.
Monica believes that Opportunity School played a very influential role in her educational endeavors. She was a first-generation college student. She attended West Texas A&M University and then went on to earn her Doctor Juris (J.D.) and graduate Cum Laude from Oklahoma City University School of Law. She is a litigation attorney in Oklahoma City, but still visits Amarillo often to see her family.
“The responses showed that the students and families had an overwhelmingly positive experience. It really shines a light on the program and the impact that this school makes. I can tell it was a community that supported each other,” said Dr. Coneway.
No formal research had been conducted to discover the lasting effects of attending Opportunity School so this partnership provided some insight to those involved with Opportunity School and in the early childhood education field. The education department just started their next research project with Opportunity School and it will be over the impact of being a No Excuses University Preschool.