For the Past 7 Years, 100% of Seniors at This School Have Been Admitted to College

Urban Prep Academy, an all-male charter high school in Chicago, has set the bar really high for learning institutions in the US. Despite getting most of its students from the Windy City’s lowest income neighborhoods, it has managed to achieve and maintain a 100 percent graduation rate for nearly a decade. But even more impressive is the fact that every senior in the past seven years has gone on to attended college on a scholarship.

Most recently, the entire class of 2016 celebrated ‘College Signing Day’, with each student announcing the college or university he has chosen to attend. The class has collectively received over 1,500 college admissions, with over $15 million in scholarships and grants. “It’s a great day,” said senior Rudolph Long, speaking to CBS Chicago. “I feel great. We all made it. We all come from good environments so to see us all going to college is nice.”

The all-African-American, all-male charter high school’s unprecedented success has been attributed to its unique mission – to elevate the students’ self esteem while focusing on test scores as well. While most successful schools have stringent admission criteria, Urban Prep makes no distinction between applicants. Any Chicago resident is welcome to apply. A lottery selects 450 students out of approximately 1,500 applications each year, to attend Urban Prep’s three campuses in Englewood, West, and Bronzeville.


While 85 percent of those admitted come from single-parent families in impoverished areas, the school does not treat its students any differently once they enter the campus. Instead, the all-black teaching staff treats students with respect, even addressing them with the title ‘Mr.’ followed by their last names. In fact, a parental atmosphere permeates the school, which many of the students miss having at home.

The school also has several initiatives in place to keep students motivated, like the morning assembly, which is more like a pep rally. The students gather each morning in the school gym to blaring music and inspirational messages. As they line up in rows, a five-piece drum band performs African-themed beats. A video is played, featuring the stories of successful people from around the world, and a student later leads the school in the punctuality pledge.


Principal Dion Steele then addresses the students from the bleachers: “You are black, proud, beautiful young men. There is battle out there, and the battle is yours to win.” He then prompts the kids that it’s “time to show some love,” after which they all greet each other with handshakes, hugs and laughs. Then they get back in lines and Principal Steele announces the highest-scoring groups of various classes. The students cheer for each other. At the end of the 30-minute event, the highly motivated students are directed to their 9am-period.

Urban Prep was founded in 2006 by Chicago educational entrepreneur Tim King, along with a group of African-American leaders in business and education. Their goal was to create a space where no student, no matter how troubled, would be denied a real chance at success. “We take the opposite view,” King said, in an 2012 interview. “We devote time and energy to those students so that they understand they can do well and they can have success if they modify their behavior.”


Case-in-point is Jessie Mack, a student of the school’s first graduating class in 2010, who went on to earn a communications degree from Denison University. He now serves as King’s assistant. “My time here as a student made up for what I missed by not having a father growing up,” he recalled. And the other students echo this sentiment, although many of them never wanted to attend the school in the first place.

“The unbelievable part is watching some of them walk in as [kids] who don’t want to be here… and years later watching them walk across that stage at commencement as mature young men about to go off to college,” said Roosevelt Moneyham III, the school’s recruitment chief. “It’s a powerful thing.”


It’s not just the students who emerge happy, the school’s faculty and management also enjoy the fulfilment of seeing the kids succeed each year. “Every year, I’m just wowed by these young men by what they are doing,” King said. “They really make me proud. We started Urban Prep with the goal of moving the needle when it comes to black male achievement and these guys proved to me, the city and the world every year, that we did the right thing when we founded Urban Prep ten years ago.”

Urban Prep does receive some criticism, mainly from skeptics who are doubtful of the school’s awe-inspiring 100 percent college acceptance claim. “The aura of 100 percent is just a cover for what is a fairly typical Chicago public high school where half the kids don’t graduate,” said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education. “They may say they’re not forcing or encouraging kids to leave, but what is happening? The public has the right to know, especially when they present themselves as a miracle. This is not a miracle.”


She and others are alleging that Urban Prep squeezes out students with academic and discipline problems, which then other schools in Chicago have to work with. In 2012, officials from the famous high-school admitted that that year’s senior class of 85 had numbered twice that when the boys started off as freshmen. At the same time, they dismissed these claims, arguing that instead of encouraging problematic students to leave, they take the time to help them understand that they can be successful if they change their attitude.

Urban Prep students  and their families don’t seem to agree with the critics. “I was always curious about the school because I would see how the guys were dressed, in their jackets and ties,” said Malik Johnson, a 16-year-old student. “You just didn’t see that in my neighborhood. And it’s turned out to be a great place. We love each other, but are too manly to say it. But we’re put in the position to pursue success.”


“The neighborhood doesn’t exactly inspire future success,” said Nakkia Burn, whose son, Trevon Lucas, 15, attends Urban Prep. “He has black male mentors that really care, so the students feel connected to them… And they don’t just push them to get to college; they emphasize getting their degree.”

You can’t be successful without attracting some criticism, but there is a lot of evidence to suggest that Urban Prep’s achievements have to do with more than just getting rid of bad students. For example, in 2012, they spent around $12,000 per student, far more than a typical CPS school. Also, after graduation, the school stays in touch with all the pupils, contacting them at least twice a month by phone, email or on Facebook. It’s definitely not the classic approach to education, but so far it’s working wonders.


Photos: Urban Prep Academy/Facebook

Sources: CBS Chicago, Frost Illustrated, Chicago Tribune