Success at Chinquapin is Quid Pro Quo

It’s easy to spot potential Chinquapin students. They arrive in old cars overflowing with siblings and abuelas. At first, the family is shy and nervous, wondering if what they have heard about the school – that it clears a path out of poverty for those who work hard – is true. Then they see the smiling faces and sense the determination and warmth, and they know they’ve found a school that offers hope for a better future.

Chinquapin began with a vision. In 1969, Bob Moore was the head of the English department at the prestigious St. John’s School in Houston; he believed there were children from poverty who were just as bright as those at St. John’s – and that these children could go to college and prosper if given the right environment. This was a revolutionary idea at the time, but he found funding and opened Chinquapin Preparatory School that year with 16 seventh grade boys from low-income homes.

Since then, Chinquapin has changed the trajectories of hundreds of young men and women. Our alumni attend Harvard, MIT, Bryn Mawr, Notre Dame, and many other fine universities. Now they are teachers, attorneys, social workers, accountants, authors, entrepreneurs, engineers, and more. And they tell us they felt prepared – not only for college, but for community life beyond.

That’s because from the beginning we teach our students that we have to give something to get something in return. Our school motto is Quid pro Quo, something for something. Every day we engage in chores: mowing the grass, sweeping the floors, and washing the pots. Chore crews, lead by our seniors, are across grades, and this time is sacred; even if we could afford custodians, to hire them would destroy our culture.

Today, 85% of Chinquapin students graduate from college with a 4-year degree. The US national average for students from poverty is 10%, making our success rate not just phenomenal, but practically unheard of. Of our students who graduate from college, 36% go on to earn Masters’ or professional degrees.

How do we accomplish this? The sheltered boarding environment plays a role, of course, as do our extended school day and small class sizes. Our staff is committed and passionate; they tutor students during lunch, study hall, and dinner. As a result, our SAT scores are 200 points higher than the state average, and 100% of our graduates are accepted into a four-year college or university. But we also impart life lessons and deal with the growing pains that accompany the teenage years. Our students learn to share, compromise, and succeed as a team.

After 45 years, they’re still coming. In cars with mismatched tires and rusted paint jobs, from downtrodden neighborhoods near and far. They come because they share that vision for a path out of poverty to college and a more secure life. They trust us with their children and with their future. Chinquapin’s success is a testament to what grit can accomplish and a beacon of hope for those willing to work hard.

Laura Henry

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