Charter Schools: The Battle for America’s Education
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Four years ago, every freshman at Urban Prep Academy Charter High School-Englewood was given a watch and told they now had no excuse to be late for class at a school dedicated to putting black males into college.
And no excuses were needed Friday, when Urban Prep’s first graduating class celebrated the news that every senior had been accepted to at least one four-year college.
Urban Prep’s gym thundered with applause as Mayor Daley and Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman joined students in congratulating the last 13 of 107 seniors to exchange their uniform red ties for red-and-gold-striped ones, signifying they have been accepted to college.
“It feels good, real good,” said one of them, Bryant Alexander, 18. “It shows all the hard work I put in. I am the first boy in my family to go to college.”
Urban Prep made history when it opened in 2006 as the first all-boys charter school in the nation, said founder Tim King. King was determined to take African-American boys from “tough backgrounds” and get them into college, just as King had succeeded in doing as president of Hales Franciscan.
Four years later, the school’s test scores are nothing to trumpet — yet.
The average ACT score of Urban Prep’s all-black male student body — 16.1 — is below the Chicago Public Schools average of 17 but above the CPS black male average of 15.4. On state tests, Urban Prep kids fell below even the CPS black male average, with only 15.3 percent of juniors passing last year.
But Urban Prep’s college-acceptance record proves that colleges see kids as more than test scores.
Senior Robert Lee Henderson III said Urban Prep helped him develop a resume that won him acceptance at prestigious Johns Hopkins, even though he scored only a 15 on his ACT.
Urban Prep requires every student to join after-school activities. All are offered internships. Henderson ran with this, eventually becoming, among other things, captain of the varsity football and wrestling teams, vice president of the science club, and a summer intern at the city treasurer’s office and the city comptroller’s office.
Urban Prep’s four years of double-period English, as well as a senior class that helps kids write personal college statements, prepared Henderson for the heavy writing needed just to apply for college.
Johns Hopkins seemed more impressed with his 3.8 GPA and his extracurriculars than his ACT, said Henderson, who will probably attend another college that is offering him a better financial package.
“The ACT does not determine how smart you are,” he said.
Four years ago, Henderson said, he chose Urban Prep over Whitney Young Magnet because “I needed positive male role models.” His father killed his mother when he was 2 years old, he said, and he and his six siblings have been raised by their grandmother in West Englewood.
At Urban Prep, Henderson said, he learned more than math and science, which he hopes to use some day to become a cardiologist. The school’s strict discipline, strong work ethic and “no excuses” philosophy has stuck with him.
“The school puts it in your head, ‘Don’t make any excuses,'” Henderson said. “Freshman year, everybody got a watch, so you’d know to always be on time.”
“I learned how to be a better man, how to have civilized conversations with adults, how to be responsible for my own actions.”
King said he is now determined to make sure every Urban Prep graduate makes it through college. School counselors will stay in touch with graduates throughout college, and Urban Prep hopes to establish a liaison at each student’s college to help check on their needs.
“These kids have shown phenomenal grit and hard work at Urban Prep, and they are going to continue it in college,” King said. “And we’ll be there to help them.”