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Urban Prep Academy Sends 167 Young Men to College

One by one, seven young men walked to the front of Urban Prep Academy’s gym.

Wearing blue blazers and khakis, they changed their usual red ties to red and gold striped ones handed to them with the help of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, ties signaling they too got college acceptance letters. The seven were the last of the 2013 class of 167 seniors of Urban Prep’s Englewood and West campuses to find out which college they might go to. The other 160, who received their letters in past weeks, were already standing at the front of the gym.

After Darion Belt, Donald Blackwell, Brandon Drummond, Terrick Middleton, Boo-shay Norton, Vernon Spells and Malcolm Williams, were in red and gold Thursday afternoon, hip hop music boomed and classmates, teachers and parents jumped to their feet.

The applause was deafening.Urban Prep, a network of all-boy charter high schools that focuses on getting African-American boys into college, has boasted for the fourth year that every one of the seniors who made it this far are on track to graduate and are heading to college.“At Urban Prep, college is not a dream, it’s a reality,” co-founder and CEO Tim King said. “College acceptance is the new black.”Indeed, the combined senior class of 167 racked up a total of $6 million in grants and scholarships to some 125 unique colleges. Two students were accepted to 20 schools each. Two others account for more than $600,000 each in scholarship offers from all of the schools they got into.“Let us start celebrating as a city the kids who graduate and make it to college,” the mayor said in the gym of the Englewood campus, 6201 S. Stewart, just as the city celebrates big sports championships.

Emanuel, who’s been praising Urban Prep as far back as his inaugural address, cheered the students for being accepted into so many institutions and racking up tons of scholarships, but said the numbers of colleges and grants couldn’t speak to the obstacles the young men overcame.

“None of those numbers match the 100 percent graduation or 100 percent college acceptance rate,” Emanuel said. “What this 100 percent proves is it need not be the exception but it should be the expectation for every child in the city.”

The 100 percent, though, only pertains to the school’s students who made it this far. The senior classes started out much larger as freshmen. West Campus’s first ever senior class of 76 began high school four years ago with 125 freshman, according to CPS enrollment figures. Englewood Campus shows similar trends, with 91 seniors starting freshman year as 172 strong, according to the same data. In 2012, the school had 65 percent of freshman graduating within five years, according to CPS data, better than the district’s 61 percent average.

“Choice means people choosing to come to the school and people choosing to leave the school,” King explained. “There are going to be students who come to Urban Prep and realize, ‘This is not for me.’ “They choose to leave, they’re OK with that. What we’re not OK with is being a place where students come, and then we try in some way to get rid of them.”

Equilla Oates, mom of West Campus senior Steven May, said the school expects tough things from its students, just as she and Steven’s dad are tough on their son at home — yet very involved.

“With Urban Prep, you have to be­ — when you do the interview at the beginning, you sign a contract saying that we as parents will be involved in our son’s education, that the school is not here to raise our child.”

Oates is overwhelmed and excited for her son, and for “all the black men here at both campuses, as a community to see our black boys doing something positive”…

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