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Public Statements

Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. BURRIS. Mr. President, I wish to commend my senior Senator from Illinois for his comments on health care and what we must do in this body to pass health care. It is long overdue. It is time for us to work with our colleagues in the House of Representatives to make sure we cover those 50 million Americans who are uninsured.

URBAN PREP ACADEMY

I wish to do a little presentation here for some young men from Chicago. In 2006, a brandnew school opened its doors to the community of Englewood on the south side of Chicago. This school is called the Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men. It was designed to provide quality education to an area desperately in need of a new approach.

Local schools were failing. Last year, 93 percent of the public high school students in the neighborhood were classified as low income. The public school attendance rate was around 60 percent. The local high school ranked 81st out of 98 Chicago public schools in terms of preparing students to succeed on college entrance exams such as the ACT.

Until 2006, there were few places to turn. Most residents were unable to afford to send their sons or daughters to expensive private schools. It seemed inevitable that these young people would face an uphill fight to graduate from high school, let alone move on to get a college education and find a good career. It seemed as though there was no alternative and no way to break the cycle.

But then, in 2002, a group of African-American business persons, educators, and civic leaders came together under the leadership of a young man by the name of Tim King, and they decided to find a solution. They started a nonprofit organization designed to give local residents the tools to succeed in college and to build a better future for themselves. They saw beyond the low-income level and the stereotypes and the destructive cycle that kept the neighborhood schools from succeeding. So, in 2006, the Englewood campus of Urban Prep Charter Academy admitted its first class of students.

Many charter schools are able to cherry-pick their students, selecting from the cream of the crop to ensure a high success rate, but the founders of Urban Prep rejected this idea. They looked at the kids in the Englewood public schools and they saw that every one of them had the potential for success, if given the opportunity. So they selected students based on a lottery system rather than strictly by the numbers. Some 400 names went into the barrel and the names were drawn from the barrel.

Today, the very first class of Urban Prep students is preparing for their graduation date. While other local schools have had attendance rates of only 60 percent, Urban Prep maintained an attendance rate of 91 percent. The local public school ranked 81st at preparing their students for the ACT with an average score of 13.4, but Urban Prep is ranked third, with an average ACT score of 16.5.

When the class of 2010 enrolled in Urban Prep in 2006, only 4 percent of these students were reading at grade level. But today, as their commencement date draws near, I am proud to say that every one of them--100 percent of the first-year class--has been accepted to a 4-year college. Not only that, they were accepted with scholarships, 4-year scholarships.

This is an extraordinary success story. This is a testament to the vision of Tim King and the faculty and staff that he and other local leaders have assembled. I applaud them for their dedication and I congratulate them on this outstanding achievement. Most of all, though, this is a testament to the students of Englewood and to all of the other communities in Chicago--the students who broke the cycle and proved they do have the talent, the skill, and the drive to succeed, if only they were presented with the opportunity. Thanks to Urban Prep and the leadership of those who founded this organization, these students got that chance.

But the story doesn't end here. In August of 2009, a second Urban Prep campus opened its doors in East Garfield Park, and later this year a third school will open in South Shore, extending the reach of this great organization and expanding the opportunity for Chicago students to realize their dreams.

So in the coming months, as my colleagues and I take up President Obama's update on No Child Left Behind, I urge them to remember success stories such as this one. As we reexamine our educational priorities, I hope we can move in a direction that will provide investment in public schools that need assistance as well as organizations such as Urban Prep. Organizations that grow out of local communities demonstrate a shared interest in seizing the best future for our children. We need to invest in communities such as Englewood and East Garfield Park and South Shore and dozens of others in Chicago and across the country. We need to make sure more and more students have the opportunity to succeed so they can go to college, find a career, and become productive members of our society and, as I always say, become an asset to society and not a liability to society.

It really does take a village to educate these young people. It takes a
steadfast commitment to education and a vision such as the one Tim King shared with others in his community back in 2002. As a member of Sigma Pi Phi fraternity, we played a minor role in assisting Urban Prep with our fund-raising efforts to contribute to the purchase of a uniform for these young men. We also make ourselves available to go there and work with them during career day to point out our successes and opportunities to challenge them to do no less than what we were able to do. So the men of Sigma Pi Phi worked with these young men at Urban Prep and we made sure that we made a similar contribution to the overall efforts.

Let us renew our investment in America's education system. Let us affirm our priorities for young people today and make sure every one of them has a chance to get the education they deserve. Together, we can build more success stories such as Urban Prep, and that is what we must do. Urban Prep is a public school so, therefore, we do not have to be dedicating all of the resources commitment to the private schools. We can educate our young people in the public system.

I thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.

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