Close to a thousand students at Ortiz Middle School are checking out the afterschool programs. The girls are flocking around the cooking display and looking into the fashion and hip hop classes. The guys are clustered around tables displaying robotics, low-rider bikes and drums. Adrian Izaguirre is a 7th-grader at Ortiz and participated in Prepared 4 Life last year. He's already planning to attend Texas Southern University to study engineering.
"I feel like I learned a lot of things in engineering. When I was in robotics, I got the engineering award -- excellence. So I was so happy and it was awesome."
This year, Izaguirre plans to join the low-rider bike program, along with most of his guy friends. Prepared 4 Life Founder Michael Holthouse says they offer 15 different after-school programs to engage students' attention.
"Find one of the youth's passions and if it's low-riders, great, let's start from there. And we take them through all the project steps: from budgeting, to setting a goal, to doing their design, to learning the skills to build each piece. And it's the first time in the child's life that they see a project, start to end, that they can use to apply to their own life."
Prepared 4 Life is a relatively new organization. The program moved into three Houston ISD campuses last year. This year they've expanded to six and hope to double again next school year. Holthouse says follow-up with the students will help tailor the program in future years and make sure the character development aspects are effective.
"How will we know if our program is working unless we follow the kids to see the truth? We won't really know for ten years. And this is a long-term solution to a long-term problem."
Holthouse is expecting as many as 3,000 middle school students to enroll in Prepared 4 Life this school year. The programs are free for students because the organization is funded through government grants and private donations. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.