El Paso Leadership Academy
Becoming the Answer
“I saw a huge crisis in education in this country: one that my mom, my sister and I all lived through.” Growing up in one of the poorest communities in Texas, Omar Yanar learned firsthand that while a quality education was key to economic mobility, it was also an opportunity that too many children were kept from. Omar was often treated poorly by his teachers, behavior he soon realized stemmed from discrimination. Omar later became a teacher himself, continuing to witness the systemic failures of school districts and the need for urgent change. “Low-income students, particularly black and brown kids, were being failed by their schools. I kept wondering, “why isn’t anyone doing anything?” I took that frustration and decided to do something.”
“I founded EPLA to provide marginalized students a shot at an equitable education. I wanted to create a place where these kids are loved and pushed to be their best, to not have to go through what I did.” Omar founded El Paso Leadership Academy in El Paso, the same community his mother grew up in, where Omar knew the need for educational change was crucial. The school’s education model emphasizes soft skills as much as it does academics, lessons students in the community might not have access to otherwise.
A School to Love
In order to expand and provide its students with a facility that fully suited their needs, EPLA needed a new building. Omar reached out to Civic Builders, who provided EPLA with a $13.75 million Facilities Investment Fund loan to transform the school’s vision into a reality. “We deeply appreciate our partnership with Civic Builders because I don’t know who else would have taken a chance on us. With Civic’s support, we have revamped what a school looks like. Instead of hallways, we have common spaces for students to work together to feel more communal.” The school’s 21 classrooms and numerous facilities are designed to prioritize the wellbeing of the students. “It has become a school we all wish we went to. If you make a space that kids love, that they want to be in, then they’ll feel comfortable and stay.”
A Small Chance
As an advocate not just for change in El Paso but on a national scale, Omar hopes to show other educational leaders a new way of thinking through EPLA’s own growth and success. “It becomes so easy to disparage low-income black and brown kids in this country, to say “it’s too difficult for those kids to succeed, it can’t be done.” But we’re doing it. If it can be done in one of the poorest communities in this country, then there’s no excuse.” From both his own childhood and experience leading EPLA, Omar knows well what access to a meaningful education can mean. “When kids get a small chance, they can accomplish incredible things. And every kid deserves that chance.”