University Prep Academy Debate Team Wins First National Tournament, Ranks Seventh in the Nation

Debate team becomes first African-American team to win tournament, receives fourth bid to attend Tournament of Champions

Detroit, Mich. (March 4, 2014) – University Prep Academy (UPA), one of two districts in the University Prep Schools charter system, took first place at the 2014 California Invitational held February 15-17 at the University of California, Berkeley. Now ranked seventh in the nation by the National Debate Coaches Association, the UPA debate team is the first-ever African-American team to win the Cal High School Forensics Tournament.

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University Prep Academy Debate Team Shines Brightly Amongst Tough Competition

Debate team topples top-ranked opponents, shows increase in ACT scores

Detroit, Mich. (January 16, 2013) – University Prep Schools, one of Detroit’s longest-standing charter school systems, recently announced its own University Prep Academy (UPA) is ranked 27th in the nation by the National Debate Coaches Association. The team could soon be the first all African-American team to compete at the prestigious Tournament of Champions (TOC) at University of Kentucky in April.

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Room for Debate

One student group from a Detroit high school is making significant inroads in the art of persuasion


For many students, athletics is a typical, almost expected, extracurricular pursuit. But a charter high school debate team in Detroit is widening the playing field.

Based on their recent success at national debate tournaments, the University Preparatory High School competitors could become the first all-African-American team from Michigan to ascend to the Tournament of Champions at the University of Kentucky, considered the most elite debate competition on the national circuit. They’re also setting out to prove that debate can be as compelling as traditional sports.

“Debate here is like basketball somewhere else,” says Rayvon Dean, 17, a student at the charter school in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood where members of the debate team are taking the art of persuasion very seriously these days.

Their practice schedule rivals those of other varsity athletes. Team members are required to meet every day during school hours, twice a week for after-school practices, and on weekends to prepare for competitions — and that’s just for starters. Landing a spot on the team isn’t easy, and Dean is quick to point out that at home, “the prep never stops.”

Even then, prospective debaters must come to the table with the right set of skills and dedication, says debate coach and U.S. history teacher Sharon Hopkins, who’s always looking for sharp, outspoken students who are capable of winning a debate.

Being on the debate team, however, has its rewards for students far beyond intense one-on-one competition. Hopkins notes that her debate students often have the highest ACT test scores among their peers. Experts say debating also improves reading comprehension and increases knowledge of current events. It can also help prepare students for the real world — where it’s crucial to be able to make a case and match wits against others. Compared with traditional learning techniques, Hopkins says debate offers something “completely different.” University Prep’s mark on the debate scene is being supported through an initiative of the Detroit Urban Debate League (UDL), a part of the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL), which established the academy’s debate program in 2010. Serving economically disadvantaged schools with high minority populations, the NAUDL has been instrumental in aiding black student debaters, who it says have been historically under-represented in tournaments.

One constant hurdle is the cost of sustaining debate programs. Research materials and the travel requirements are expensive, and many schools simply don’t have the cash. Holly Reiss, executive director of the Detroit UDL, says it’s “hard to make debate a priority” in a financially ailing city like Detroit.

The Detroit UDL, which has partnerships with institutions like Wayne State University and the University of Michigan, assists 15 schools in Detroit and has 15 more on their waiting list. But the organization has its limits. Although the Detroit UDL covers travel expenses for debates around Michigan, it can’t always offer enough financial assistance for schools to attend national competitions. University Prep had to raise its own money to compete on the national stage, and Hopkins even gave back her small coaching stipend to help the cause.

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Heart of Detroit: Ed Parks of University Prep

Heart of Detroit: Ed Parks of University Prep
High school campus renamed in Parks’ name

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DETROIT-It began a decade ago with 112 sixth graders. Today, University Prep graduates 90 percent of its high schoolers and sends 90 percent of them to college.

It does so with a simple philosophy.

Ed Parks is the board president of University Prep and a beloved figure around campus.”There is nothing wrong with the kids,” said Parks. “The kids can do it and they have proven they can do it.”
But a decade ago, Parks was retiring from Plante Moran, the accounting firm.

“How did you end up here instead?” asked Mitch Albom.

“Well, uh, I am not very good at golf,” said Parks.

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UPA and UPSM Schools Get New Leadership, New Vision

Philadelphia import and renowned educator, Mark Ornstein, appointed CEO

Detroit, Mich. (September 4, 2013) – University Prep Schools (U Prep Schools), the management team behind the University Preparatory Academy (UPA) and University Preparatory Science & Math (UPSM) school districts, recently announced the appointment of new CEO, Mark Ornstein . A Philadelphia transplant, Ornstein was named CEO on July 1, 2013, after a months-long, board-conducted nationwide search. Prior to joining the U Prep Schools team, he served as deputy administrative director of Delaware County Intermediate Unit (DCIU), a Delaware County-based regional education services agency. Ornstein also served as the deputy director for the School District of Philadelphia before taking on the leadership role at DCIU.

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Detroit graduates keep freshman promise

June 18, 2010

The students include a future journalist, a politician, a mortician, a minister and a software engineer.

Come September, most will be in college. And most know exactly what they want to do: graduate with skills they can use to save Detroit.

Three years ago, I wrote about the 128 University Preparatory Academy High School freshmen who signed a pledge to finish high school, attend college, then return to help rebuild their hometown.

Last Saturday, 124 graduated from the public charter school, three are earning GEDs, and Principal Danielle Jackson said, “We haven’t given up on” the last.

The students called themselves Detroit’s Great Hope. They’re Detroit’s future.

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