niversity Prep Schools has been impacting Detroit’s students since 2000, when it opened its first school. Since then, U Prep Schools has grown to become one of the longest-standing tuition-free and nonprofit public charter school systems in the city. Most of U Prep Schools’ students live in the city of Detroit, and the school system has the widest ZIP code coverage of all charter schools in the city.
“Oftentimes our students become the first-generation college student in their family,” says Chief Academic Officer Danielle Jackson. “A number of our students come from single-parent homes, but we definitely have a mixture of socioeconomic levels across our schools.”
Jackson is in charge of the academic direction across both of U Prep Schools’ districts. One thing Jackson strongly emphasizes is the importance of community when it comes to education, which is something she draws from her own time as a student.
“I started my early years in education in the public school system. It demonstrated the importance of community to me as a young person, though I wouldn’t have articulated it that way at the time,” says Jackson, who was born and raised on Detroit’s east side. “Then I transferred schools, and my education experience changed dramatically. I did not feel a sense of community. I didn’t feel like my teachers knew me well. I felt quite lost in my upper elementary, middle school years.”
After struggling to find the community within her school, her parents made the decision to put her into an all-girls private school in Detroit, where she was one of 50 in her graduating class.
“That’s when I got that community back,” Jackson says. “I started to understand that it inspired me to be my best self. I left that experience feeling committed to providing that experience – and how can I be part of building a community that does that for students for free.”
Jackson brings that sense of community to U Prep Schools by placing every student in what they call a “crew”- a group of about 17-18 students who stay together for multiple years.
“The idea is that we build accountability. We have a saying ‘we’re crew, not passengers,’ which means that we are interlocking arms and we are crossing benchmarks together. There’s this sense of responsibility for self management, but also for encouraging your other crew members to persevere.”
U Prep Schools operates with the goal of upholding the 90/90 promise, meaning they maintain at least a 90 percent graduation rate and 90 percent of graduates get accepted to college. U Prep Schools has upheld this promise since its 2007 graduating class.
One of the methods U Prep Schools uses – to not only ensure college readiness but also career readiness – is keeping up with its alumni through the first two years of their college education.
“We use their experiences and the matriculation rates to help us understand how we need to adjust our K-12 programing to remove the barriers to college success,” Jackson says.
Though teachers’ and administrators’ hard work plays a major role in student success, Jackson says the biggest influence and important factor to a successful student is parent involvement and a strong educational community.
“Even if our students come from a home where their families may be struggling in one way or another, their families are still very committed to really supporting their students’ success,” Jackson says. “We are among a number of school communities who are on the cusp of really pushing the narrative forward for what’s possible in the city of Detroit and our education system.”
SHAKE, RATTLE, ENROLL
University Prep Schools spans two districts and seven campuses, pulling students from all across the city of Detroit. It’s currently taking enrollments through the winter. Visit uprepschools.com for more information.