'Urban Prep' Sets Up Students for Success

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For years, Tim King dreamed of doing something to shatter a troubling statistic about African American males in his hometown of Chicago.

"Only 2.5 percent of black boys who are in public schools actually graduate from college," King said.

Last fall, King turned his dream into reality when he founded Urban Prep Academy, the city's only all-boys public charter high school.

It's mission -- to provide young men a high quality, college-preparatory education for free.

"Our number one goal is to make sure our students are prepared to not just get into college, but prepared to succeed in college. And so for us, college is the only option, and we make sure that our students know that," said King, who leads the school.

And here, wearing a blazer and tie is not just for show. It spells success.

"We wanted to do that so all the students realized that they are part of something special, that Urban Prep is not like your typical high school. But we also do it because it elevates the level of seriousness in the school," King said. "Students recognize and understand that they're coming to their job, and that when you come to work, you come dressed up."

"As far as tucking in shirts and not having sagging pants, they look at us and see that we don't wear our clothes that way. We're shirt and tie every day, it's a place of business," Ben Blakeley, vice president of student programs, said.

But for some, attending an all-boys school meant a big change.

"When I first started I was going crazy. I couldn't do it all these hours with no females at all," student Jerry Hinds said. "And then I asked myself this question, 'Would females get me to where I need to be to be successful?' And I answered that question myself and I said,'No.' So I focused, I got my work done. I did what I had to do, and I didn't have to worry about walking in class trying to impress the prettiest girl in the room."

Here at Urban Prep Academy boys become men and teachers become surrogate parents. It's a place where negative stereotypes and low expectations are defied and students are taught to believe.

They proudly begin each school day reciting the schools creed -- which includes this line, "we will not falter in the face of any obstacle placed before us." But for some students, that's hard to do.

"Some of the stories are heartbreaking. You hear the typical, the father's an alcoholic, you know, my older brother is in jail, three cousins got shot yesterday," Dion Steele, history teacher at Urban Prep, said.

"Our young men come from experiences that are really negative in schools, whether they were just failing or just had indifferent attitudes and past experiences with schools that were bad ones," Dennis Lacewell, vice president for academic programs, said.

Urban Prep also gives students the chance to visit college campuses -- a totally new experience for many of them.

"We make sure to expose our young men as much as possible to colleges and universities, different functions besides the norm, and what they always see themselves as. Because if they always see themselves as entertainers or athletes, then that's all they'll aspire to be," Lacewell said.

The school's mission is working -- students are excelling.

"When I was in grammar school, I was passing with C's. In the Chicago public school system you can pass with a D, so I basically had C's and D's," Urban Prep student Marlon Marshall said. "But now, once I came to Urban Prep, I was in the top 10 last year and I had all A's and B's."

"We give our students the Explorer test and this is the ninth grade version of the ACT test," Lacewell said. "Last October, our incoming freshmen were at a 34 percentile as far as ninth grade level, but when we took it again in May, we were at 75 percentile and that obviously shows growth."

The students of Urban Prep's first graduating class will receive their diplomas in 2010. Many, like Walter Hall, are already mapping their future.

"I plan on going to Georgetown University and major in business so I can own my own construction and real estate business."

*Original broadcast on February 12, 2008.

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