Urban Prep celebrates college acceptance

March 19, 2010 8:22:54 AM PDT
More than 100 young men at the Urban Prep Charter School in Englewood have college acceptance letters. Four years ago, many of them were not reading at grade level.

It's proof that if you work hard enough - with a bit of help - nothing is impossible.

It's been a long, tough road for these 107 young men, but their diligence is paying off.

"I came here and the teachers were pushing me to go on to college, get good grades," said Milan Byrdwell, graduating senior.

"If we need a teacher or whatever we can call them. We can email them. We can instant message them. Some of our teachers are even on Facebook," said Tyler Beck, graduating senior.

Urban Prep Charter Academy for young men in the Englewood neighborhood is graduating its first class of seniors. Every one of them has been accepted into a four-year college or university. Mayor Daley and other dignitaries joined them Friday to celebrate the milestone.

"It's not gonna be perfect when you leave high school. Nothing's gonna be perfect. There are gonna be challenges. You're gonna fall down. You need a helping hand and that's what the Urban Prep is 'a helping hand," said Mayor Daley.

As part of the ceremony, graduating seniors receive red and gold striped ties.

"This tie means I've been admitted to college, a four-year college or university. And when I first got it, I was so excited because I knew my days would be brighter after receiving this tie," said Marlon Marshall, graduating senior.

Students say the uniform itself -- which includes everyday wear of a blazer, khaki pants and a red tie -- has been a visible symbol of accomplishments to come.

"It distinguishes us," said Jerry Hinds, graduating senior. "This uniform says 'oh he's wearing a tie. He wants to do something with himself."

At a time when Chicago public schools are only graduating about half their students in four years, school founder and CEO Tim King says there is no magic formula for success. The key is hard work and perseverance.

"We have a longer school day. Our students are engaged in extracurricular activities during the course of their day. We have a summer program, Saturday school. It's really a rigorous program and our students always step up to the challenge," said Tim King, founder and CEO, Urban Prep Academies.

Urban Prep is the country's first all-boys public charter high school. In addition to the Englewood campus, they also have a location in East Garfield Park and plan to open a third in the South Shore neighborhood next school year.

The way, the gift from the school to this senior class for their accomplishment -- is a free prom.