All manner of vendor varieties set up shop at Ypsilanti Township’s Lakeshore Family Festival over the Fourth of July weekend, but perhaps none were younger than those from the Ypsilanti Boys Preparatory Academy.
During Friday afternoon, 10-year-old Keyshaun Wyatt-Morris and 11-year-old Amir Osborn sold Italian Ice from a “Little Jimmy’s Italian Ices” cart the school had bought, which the students were running with guidance from their headmaster, Lawrence Hood.
The business is a small part of an unconventional school curriculum which Hood, and those parents who send their children to the school, believe is giving their kids an edge on education as they grow up.
“This helps show them what it means to be in business for themselves,” Hood said of the Italian Ice cart.
Osborn said it his first taste of a real world operation, and he is learning a lot from it.
“You have got to be professional with people,” Osborn said.
The school first opened its doors two years ago inside the Ypsilanti Free Methodist Church, but has since moved to a new building on Walnut Street where 50 kids in the preschool through seventh-grade ages are now enrolled.
“Our parents really love the program,” Hood, who has only used word of mouth as marketing and advertising, said. “To go from five students to 50 students in a couple years with no advertising kind of speaks for itself. We don’t cater to one type of student – some of our students are at-risk and some are gifted and talented. We have the whole gamut, and our at risk students have had great success.”
Wyatt-Morris said he saw his grades go from B’s and C’s in public schools to A’s and B’s at the Ypsilanti Boys Preparatory Academy because the classes are more engaging.
“We really go above and beyond what they teach in other schools,” he said. “We have karate class instead of gym…classes that show what makes a man.”
Students dress in a shirt and tie, take karate instead of physical education to learn more about self-discipline, take piano lessons, and Osborn and Wyatt-Morris wrote their own business plans before applying what they learned to the real world with their Italian Ice operation.
Students also prepare themselves for the future in an intensive digital arts program that includes graphic design, video editing and music production.
The six-week “Passports To Manhood” through the Boys and Girls’ Club immersed the students in the digital arts, and Hood believes his students have received valuable preparation for growing fields.
“It’s a pretty unique program,” he said and added that it was such a success that it will be part of the curriculum for the next school year.
Students at the Academy also participate in community service programs once week. In a program through the University of Michigan, students visit with elderly people who have dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and do arts and crafts and music classes.
“It goes really, really well,” Hood said.
The students get their fair share of math, science and reading, but Hood believes it’s the delivery that affords them an opportunity to blossom where a traditional environment may not.
“Some students who come here have behavior problems, but once they get here their setting is really different and expectations are different and they respond really well,” Hood said. “The lessons are designed as a more hands-on approach, and with them being engaged in activity and learning throughout the day we see less opportunity for outbursts.
“Basically, they’re learning everything they need to know to become successful young men.”
For more information, contact Lawrence Hood at 1-734-330-4466.
Tom Perkins is a freelance writer for the View/Courier. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.