By Teresa Woodard
DALLAS — It was 4:30 in the morning and 40 teenagers were already at school.
"It's pretty early in the morning, time to go on our trip! We're excited!" said a sleepy-eyed 17-year-old Chris Mendez.
Behind him, students were packing for college in their high school hallway. They headed to the airport, and hours later, landed in their futures.
"So we're here at Harvard," Mendez said, speaking to a small camera. "The campus looks pretty old; I could see myself here in the future!"
He was documenting a pretty remarkable high school trip.
Mendez was one of 40 students from Uplift Education charter schools in Dallas to travel to Boston. They went to Harvard and Boston College.
It's the sixth college trip Mendez has taken since sixth grade.
"Georgetown, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, and they're all just amazing schools," he said, naming the other campuses he's visited.
Mendez is a junior at Williams Preparatory, within the Uplift Education charter school system. They like to say the goal isn't a high school diploma... it's a college degree.
"The quote we have across Uplift is, 'It's not if you're going to college, butwhere you're going to college,'" said Uplift Education CEO Yasmin Bhatia.
Acceptance letters and pennants hang in the hallways, and each year students go on college visits. Middle schoolers stay in Texas; high schoolers go out of state.
"It becomes real for them, which is fantastic," Bhatia said.
It's the first time many of these students have seen a college. Bhatia said many Uplift Education students have parents who finished high school, but never had a change to finish college.
Neither of Chris Mendez's parents did.
"I want Christopher to be able to have more than what we achieved," said Chris's mom, Elizabeth Mendez. "I want him to have a sense of security, dignity. And to be able to have choices, comfortable choices. Without a college education, I don't think you can make comfortable choices."
One of Chris's cousins gets her college degree next month. She will be the first in their family.
"The main reason I want to go to college is my family," Chris said. "They give me love and support and I just want to make them proud."
He talks of college as if it is a certainty. If he had to choose now, he'd prefer Texas A&M, he said.
Uplift Education's college track seems to be working, Bhatia noted.
"We have a track record of 100 percent of students across all Uplift schools getting accepted into college... and getting accepted into four-year college," she said.
Chris promises he's next.