Chicago Students Defy the Odds

Chicago Students Defy the Odds

Four years ago, Tim King, CEO and founder of Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men, led a group of like-minded education, business, and civic leaders to found Chicago’s only public, all-male, all-African American high school. Their mission was clear: to get all their graduates into a four-year college or university.

Mission accomplished. The entire senior class–all 107 students–earned spots at 72 schools, including Connecticut College, Denison College, Howard University, Morehouse College, Northwestern University, Rutgers University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to name just a few.

“We believe that all our students are college bound and never doubted this day would come,” said King.

This is an amazing feat for Urban Prep Academy considering that most of its students live in Englewood–one of the toughest parts of southside Chicago. The community is riddled with drug abuse, gangs, and youth violence. Evaluation and Accountability reports show that the average graduation rate for black males in Chicago public schools is 41.3%. King says that, for African American boys, the dropout rate in the Chicago public school system is 60%, and only 2.5% of African American boys will make it through college.

“We wanted to start Urban Prep to get some positive statistics out there and defy this data,” said King.

Kenneth Hutchinson, the school’s director of college counseling, said that most of the students were academically deficient when they started at Urban Prep.

“Eighty percent were reading at or below a 6th grade level,” said Hutchinson, who was born and raised in Englewood. “But I wasn’t interested in that. I was interested in building strong applicants over the course of their four years here, so they could be competitive at these colleges and universities.”

To get the students prepared for the next level, Urban Prep requires a rigorous college prep curriculum, including required double periods of English, about six and a half more English credits than  the traditional Chicago public school system requires. Students also take four years of math, science, and social studies, and three years of a foreign language. The school day starts at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m., an eight-hour day that King says is scheduled intentionally, to prepare them for the workforce. Over the course of four years, they spend about 72,000 more minutes in class than their peers at other Chicago public schools.

During the summer, students also study at colleges such as Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Stanford University in California, and the University of Chicago. Some even get the opportunity to study abroad at prestigious institutions such as the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom; Kokrobitey Institute in Ghana, West Africa; and the LEAD Global Program in South Africa.

Urban Prep is non-selective in their enrollment and accepts students through a lottery system. Although the school is primarily funded by the Chicago public school system, a big portion of its budget comes from private donors that make it possible for the school to extend its day and pay for expenses that include laptops and uniforms.

Students adhere to a strict dress code of khaki pants; white, collared shirts; black blazers; and a red tie.