Worcester, Massachusetts partnered with a local university to build a high school with a 100% graduation rate in a neighbourhood plagued by poverty, unemployment and crime. The free school encourages inner-city kids to go to college by giving them direct access to the Clark University campus. The school is part of a wider collaboration between the city and university, which has leveraged more than $120 million for neighbourhood rejuvenation.
Results & Impact
Virtually 100% of University Park Campus School students graduate from the school. The state average in government-run schools, regardless of socio-economic background, is 87%. Some 97% from UPCS are accepted into university
Clark University, the City of Worcester
University Park Campus School focuses on intensive personal instruction and college preparation. It gives students direct access to Clark's campus through labs, the library, and classes, and the university offers UPCS students free tuition if they are accepted. The school was founded jointly by Clark, local community development corporations and Worcester Public Schools in 1997. The 45 to 48 spots per grade are filled by lottery
Low-income people, students
Cost & Value
Clark University's revitalisation efforts have leveraged $120 million for Worcester over 30 years
Running since 1997
The biggest obstacle faced by Clark was convincing local families that the school would work for them. Parents were concerned about the workload, and kids did not want to leave their current schools. Clark worked with a coalition of of community groups to address concerns, and hired a principal from Main South who knew the kids and the neighbourhood well
More than 100 universities from the US and abroad have visited Clark University to learn about the University Park Campus School model. However, most have struggled to replicate the school's success without the community trust Clark had earned over decades. Another neighbourhood school, Claremont Academy, also in Massachusetts has successfully implemented some of the UPCS practices
A city and university in Massachusetts have helped revitalise a deprived neighbourhood by jointly opening an extraordinarily successful school.
The project is part of a 30-year collaboration tackling high levels of unemployment, poverty and crime in the city’s Main South neighbourhood.
“We realised we had to get more involved in our community in order for us to strengthen the neighbourhood,” said Jack Foley, Vice President for Government and Community Affairs at Clark University.
Foley and his colleagues decided that the most effective way to break the cycle of social and economic decline in Main South was to focus on education. “A lot of the kids in the neighbourhood may not have role models who have gone on to college – they think college is for rich kids. The way we’ve addressed it is by talking to kids in the neighbourhood in the second and third grade and saying to them, ‘You can go to Clark for free’,” said Foley. When you take cost out of the equation, Foley said, it removes a major barrier.
The University Park Campus School (UPCS) was founded jointly by Clark, local community development corporations and Worcester Public Schools in 1997. Tuition at UPCS is free, and admission is open to anyone in the neighbourhood. The 45 to 48 spots per grade are filled through a lottery system.
The biggest obstacle to creating UPCS was convincing local families that the school would work for them. Kids did not want to leave the public high schools they were comfortable in, and families worried that the workload would be unmanageable. The university worked with a coalition of community groups to allay concerns, and hired a principal from Main South who knew the kids and the neighbourhood well.
The vast majority of students enter at least two grade levels behind in reading and math, and two-thirds have limited English skills. The classes are diverse: 37% of students are Latino, 18% are Asian Americans and 11% are African American. The school, which sits just a block away from Clark, focuses on intensive personal instruction and college preparation.
Students are allowed direct access to Clark University campus, through labs, the library, and classes. As a result, the inner-city students begin to see higher learning as within their reach, said Foley. Clark offers UPCS students free tuition if they are accepted, and more than 100 UPCS alumni have taken the university up on their offer.
The school has an excellent track record: 97% of students graduate in four years, 100% graduate in five and 97% are accepted into university. Working families are moving into Main South for a chance to send their kids to one of the top-performing urban schools in the country, leading to economic growth.
The school is part of a wider collaboration between city officials, Clark University, community groups, local churches, public schools and businesses to improve housing, social programmes and economic development in Main South. The initiatives have attracted more than $120 million in private and public funding to the area over 30 years.
The partnership between Clark and Worcester that founded UPCS is recognised as a model for overcoming the achievement gaps in inner city schools – one of the most difficult problems faced by the American education system. More than 100 universities from the US and abroad have visited Clark since UPCS to learn from the model and attempt to replicate it in their towns, although several have struggled to do so without being able to build on the trust engendered by a long collaboration. Another neighbourhood school, Claremont Academy, has successfully implemented some of the same practices and culture as UPCS.
(Picture credit: Clark University)