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Urban Prep seeks freshman students after winning legal fight

Photo caption: URBAN PREP ACADEMY is now seeking freshman students after winning a lawsuit against Chicago Public Schools, which was transferring Urban Prep’s enrollment of 400 students to CPS. Judge Anna M. Loftus ruled in favor of Urban Prep, declaring CPS violated the state’s moratorium, which banned school closures, consolidations or mergers until January15, 2025, when the new elected School Board is seated. 

If you want your male student to get a quality, holistic public education that includes courses in Black history, civics, self-pride, conflict resolution, and how to respect women, the doors to both the Urban Prep Englewood and Bronzeville campuses are open to anyone living in Chicago.

That was the message from Dennis Lacewell, chief academic officer of Urban Prep Academies, who late on Saturday, August 5, said parents can bring their sons to either Urban Prep Englewood, at 6201 S. Stewart Ave., or to the Bronzeville campus at 521 E. 35th St.

Lacewell is busy reaching out to the 300 returning students who may have not received the good news that Cook County Judge Anna M. Loftus ruled in favor of the all-male Black school managed by African American administrators.

Loftus ruled against CPS’s planned takeover of Urban Prep because it violated the Illinois moratorium law 105ILS5/34-1869, which states that the “Board shall not approve any school closings, consolidations, or phase-outs until the Board of Education is seated on January 15, 2025.”

However, earlier CPS did close the downtown Urban Prep school citing low enrollment. Lacewell said that was ironic since low enrollment plagued all public Chicago schools, but they didn’t contest it because CPS was trying to eliminate all of their Urban Prep schools.

But now that the legal dust has settled, Lacewell and Troy Boyd, chief operating officer of Urban Prep Academies, are moving forward for the sake of the students they want to prepare for college.

Urban Prep has a brand and a mission to continue graduating Black boys and sending them to college. He said for 2020, the graduation rate for the average of their three schools was 91.5. In 2022, the graduation rate was 90.5 for the three schools. He is waiting for the numbers for the 2023 but said it will be similar.

Lacewell said 100 percent of the students were accepted to four-year colleges, but he is still gathering data on those who have enrolled.

However, he said, “100 percent of our young men received actual acceptance to a four-year college as all Urban Prep graduates have since 2010 and this year as well. We had 100 percent of our graduates accepted to college, which makes 14 years in a row that all of our seniors received 100 percent acceptance.”

According to Lacewell, the College Board found that only 30 percent of Black males who graduated from high school had earned the minimum requirements to be accepted to a four-year college. Lacewell compared that to Urban Prep’s record and said, “It’s a big deal that our boys received 100 percent acceptance.”

Having just graduated 100 seniors who all have college scholarships, Lacewell said with 95 percent of Urban Prep students returning, he is looking to receive more freshmen. However, all students are welcome at either campus. “We have plenty of space,” he told the Chicago Crusader.

While school starts on Monday, August 21, Lacewell said Urban Prep begins its orientation for freshmen students on Thursday, August 10, and on Friday, August 11, for 10th, 11th and 12th grade returning students.

Freshmen Academy for incoming freshmen will be held on Monday, August 14, to acclimate students to “Urban Prep culture” before the arrival of the returning students. “So, parents can bring their sons now to either campus from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday to begin the process,” according to Lacewell.

Asked what comprises orientation at Urban Prep Academies, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that operates a network of all-boys public schools, including the nation’s first charter high school for boys, Lacewell explained that students review the school’s expectations for the upcoming school year, uniform requirements, and contact information.

At Urban Prep, all students must wear uniforms comprised of Khaki-colored pants, including a belt, and white long-sleeve shirts, a red tie and black or brown shoes. Urban Prep officials purchase the school blazers. “We go over the school’s expectations and the code-of-conduct.”

Asked why it is important to wear uniforms, Lacewell said, “We want our young men to learn the importance of business and not being foreign to this profession. We teach them that school is their business, and we are here to conduct business and are in full uniform.”

When asked to explain the school’s code-of-conduct, Lacewell said it entails teaching young men how to conduct themselves, have core values “not just to exhibit and live by not just at Urban Prep but throughout their lives.”

The school’s eight core values, or R.I.S.E.S.F.A.R., are: resilience, integrity, selflessness, exceptionality, solidarity, faith, accountability and relentlessness.

“Those are the core values that we have to exhibit through life to be successful as responsible young men and fathers. We have to live these core values throughout our communities.” Lacewell said core values are constantly being discussed and taught to the students.

Also at Urban Prep, students are taught conflict resolution, instilling the art of de-escalating a situation and walking away rather than engaging in violence.

Asked if Black history is taught, Lacewell said, “We have this phrase—know your culture, history and your identity. In their freshmen year, they take Africana Studies. In their sophomore year, they take African American literature. In their junior year, they take African American history and in their senior year, our young men take Civics and Social Activism.

“Throughout our curriculum, our young men will know their culture, their history and their identity because you have to know those three things in order to truly become productive citizens benefiting our communities,” he said.

“We want to get beyond teaching our young men how to be an assimilationist, an integrationist or simply focus on capitalism,” Lacewell said. “We have to understand that to be a great contribution to our community, we have to have a true understanding of self.”

Taking a quote from Tom Burrell’s book, “Brainwashed,” Lacewell stated, “Black people are not ‘dark-skinned white people,’ so we have to understand the importance of knowing our culture, history, and our identity because that changes how we move and how we are productive in this society.

“It’s not about focusing on just making money and being accomplished. It is focusing on community and on improvement as a whole as Black people,” said Lacewell.

When asked if he teaches the young boys how to treat ladies, Lacewell said, “We have four pillars that make up our culture—the 4 ‘R’s’—relationships, respect, rituals and responsibility. It is our responsibility as men to make sure we’re respecting all people, particularly women.”

He said the students are taught by Black men and others. “We want our young men to have respect of their interactions with the opposite sex, with Black women and how important that is.”

Lacewell said they address their students as Mr. and use their last names, and the students are reciprocal. “It is part of the 4 ‘R’s’ in respecting each other.” He teaches them that they may be upset with each other but [should do] it respectfully. “We don’t have to use inappropriate language and curse out someone. When you refer to each other as Mr., that de-escalates the situation,” he explained.

This is the creed of Urban Prep that helps mold positive, Black boys turning them into well-rounded and disciplined young men with the majority anxious to go on to college and some to specialty schools. Their motto is “We believe,” and this is what they are taught.

“We are the young men of Urban Prep. We are college bound.

“We are exceptional—not because we say it, but because we work hard at it. We will not falter in the face of any obstacle placed before us.

“We are dedicated, committed and focused. We never succumb to mediocrity, uncertainty, or fear. We never fail because we never give up.

“We make no excuses. We choose to live honestly, nonviolently and honorably. We respect ourselves and, in doing so, respect all people.

“We have a future for which we are accountable. We have a responsibility for our families, community and world. We are our brothers’ keepers.

“We believe in ourselves. We believe in each other. We believe in Urban Prep. WE BELIEVE.”

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