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Everybody Gets into College at Southside Charter High School

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Everybody Gets into College at Southside Charter High School

Urban Prep students recite the creed they’ve said every morning, which includes the words, “We are college bound.”

One of Chicago ‘s charter schools is marking a milestone today. All seniors at the Urban Prep Academy for Young Men have received acceptance letters from four-year colleges. The district’s rate is about half that. Urban Prep is the city’s only all-boys public high school. Its students are all African American. Many are from the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

To understand why the college acceptance letters are such a big deal, consider a startling statistic: For every 100 African-American boys who start high school in Chicago Public Schools, just three will have a college diploma by their mid-20s.

KING: That’s why we started Urban Prep.

Tim King is the founder and CEO of Urban Prep Academy for Young Men. He’s been working for four years to get these kids into college.

KING: It happened because we set the goal, we made it a priority, and we did everything we could to meet that. And any school can do that in my view. Any school—regardless of the student population that they’re serving.

Sound of assembly

This morning, at a rousing, full-school assembly attended by the mayor and schools chief Ron Huberman, Urban Prep celebrated its achievement.

ANNOUNCER: Kentucky State , Northern Illinois, Grambling State , and DePaul University …Let’s give it up for Mr. Bryant Alexander!!

music: “Everyday a Star is Born...Clap for ‘Em...Clap for ‘Em”

Students here wear black blazers, white dress shirts, and red neckties to school. But once a student is accepted into a college, Urban Prep gives him new necktie, with bold, gold stripes. Quinton Davis has had his for months.

DAVIS : It feels good to see all the seniors walking around now with the striped ties, because all of us have been accepted.

Urban Prep has maintained a single-minded focus on getting kids into college. The first field trip kids took was to Northwestern University . Urban Prep hired a college counselor—even for its freshmen. There were threats too: detentions for kids who didn’t turn in financial aid forms and filling out college applications was mandatory.

DAVIS: I think it was required that we did 10 colleges, but I think when I started getting accepted, I liked the feeling, so I just kept going and kept going. I filled out about 25 applications, so you know. The feeling of getting accepted felt great.

Davis will be the first in his family to see college. Like almost everybody else here, he attended a low-performing elementary school.

DAVIS: I just wanted to get out of eighth grade at the time, and maybe finish high school.

Sound of math class at Urban Prep.

An extra long school day—plus Saturday school for some—has helped kids catch up academically. And it’s paid off. ACT scores are better than the district’s average for black males. Still, a 16—Urban Prep’s average—is not high enough to get into most competitive four-year colleges.

The school’s lead college counselor, Kenneth Hutchinson, tells colleges these students are more than their tests scores. But he says many of the kids don’t like to play up the fact that they’ve overcome some heavy challenges, from homelessness to family drug addiction. Hutchinson tells them this:

HUTCHINSON : If there are two roads to success—maybe the stairs and the elevator—and you took the stairs and someone else took the elevator, your success means a lot more.

Not everyone has made it to today’s celebration. One hundred fifty freshmen started here four years ago; 65 of those students have left.

BECK: Coming from my grammar school, it was about eight of us that came on to Urban Prep. Unfortunately, there’s only two of us left.

Tyler Beck was honored today for winning a prestigious scholarship, but he’s haunted by the kids who didn’t stick with Urban Prep. Some are now in less demanding schools, others are on the streets.

Urban Prep founder King says his job with the senior class is only half through.

KING: We think the next step is to make sure that once they’re in college, they don’t fall off.

That’s been a challenge nationwide, and a particular danger for students who still may be behind academically.

Urban Prep is assigning every graduating senior a counselor who will stay in touch with him during college, and see that he makes it through.

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