In a downtown neighborhood that has struggled for decades, one unique school is demonstrating how a challenging curriculum, high expectations and personal attention set the stage for students to thrive.
Grand Rapids University Prep Academy, UPrep for short, is modeled after a Detroit charter school that graduates more than 90% of its students and guides 90% of those grads onto college and trade schools. UPrep’s principal, Daniel Williams, says the school’s effectiveness begins with its focus on the individual.
UPrep was launched in 2008 with broad community support for its innovative approach to urban education and unique public/private partnership with the Grand Rapids Public Schools. There is abundant recognition that UPrep’s 90/90 goal will help build an educated workforce, one of the hinge pins of civic progress and a strong community.
The administration’s biggest hurdle was adapting GRPS’ former City High School to accommodate new ways of learning, which prompted a $9.2 million capital campaign for a new building in 2012. UPrep’s new permanent home on South Division opened in fall 2013. Its state-of-the-art design supports the rigorous college prep curriculum and fosters the collaboration and group projects that anchor the UPrep model.
The school also significanlty contributes to development of the southern edge of downtown Grand Rapids into an area that has been historically underused. Students are within walking distance of downtown Grand Rapids and all that it offers so internships, job shadowing, field trips to places such as Rosa Parks Circle and job fairs at Grand Valley State University continue to be part of the students’ neighborhood-based educational experience.