The picture sticks with you: black boys in black blazers, red and yellow ties, ecstatic for themselves and each other. They’re all going to college. It’s 2011 and the second year in a row that seniors at Urban Prep Academy have accomplished this feat. Started in 2006, the school enrolls African-American males in grades 9-12, across three Chicago campuses. Students typically arrive reading several years below grade level.

An extended school day and twice the English credits required by most high schools are designed to get everyone on course. And whereas many schools wait until junior year to begin earnest conversations about post-graduation plans, college advisors are assigned on day one at Urban Prep. Between the first and last days, the administration makes countless efforts to foster enduring achievement. But in a world where expectations for black men are so low, an idea captured in the motto might be more important than any action: “We Believe.”

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