There's no doubt that Andre Agassi will go down in the history books as one of the greatest tennis players of all time. But anyone familiar with the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas may argue that he deserves as much acclaim as an educator as he does as an athlete. "Agassi Prep" is a charter school that opened in 2001 in West Las Vegas, one of the most economically depressed, crime-ridden, and forgotten parts of the city. Named a National Model Charter School by the U.S. Department of Education, Agassi Prep emphasizes self-discipline, respect, and individualized attention to help students master core subjects and prepare for college. The school's commitment to excellence and resulting accolades are hardly surprising, considering its founder and his determination to give back to his community.
A native of Las Vegas, Andre Agassi was a tennis prodigy as a toddler. He enrolled at a tennis academy at age 13 and turned pro by the age of 16. His original trademark long hair and unconventional outfits made him an instant attention-grabber. His extraordinary skill, perseverance, and drive made him a sports legend. Twice ranked number one in the world, Agassi won a gold medal in the 1996 Olympics, and became one of only five men in history to win a career Grand Slam. Now 34, he's at an age where most of his contemporaries have retired. But he is still on the road playing tennis some 30 weeks each year. He remains a world-class player, most recently thrilling fans at this year's U.S. Open. No longer the iconoclast, Agassi has settled down a bit. After a short-lived marriage to actress Brooke Shields, Agassi wed fellow tennis great Steffi Graf in 2001. The parents of two young children, the couple has a house in the San Francisco Bay Area, but as Agassi tellsLive and Learn, Las Vegas is definitely home base.
Las Vegas is also the city where Agassi founded the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation in 1994, dedicated to improving the lives of children. To date, the Foundation has raised more than $36 million for a variety of projects, including a Boys and Girls Club. "Early on, we concluded that the best way to change a child's life was through education," says Agassi. Thus, the idea to establish Agassi Prep was born.
As a charter school, Agassi Prep receives the same amount of funding (approximately $5,100 per pupil) allocated to all Nevada public schools. The Agassi Foundation makes up the difference (approximately $2,500 per pupil) between Nevada's funding and the national average.
Charter schools must provide their own brick and mortar facilities, and that's where the Agassi name kicked in as a fundraising powerhouse. The Foundation has raised $20 million to construct Agassi Prep, starting with an elementary school building for third, fourth, and fifth graders that opened in August 2001. A middle school opened in 2003, and a high school and gymnasium will open in 2006. Eventually, the school will also offer kindergarten.
The 300 students attending Agassi Prep in grades 3 though 8 were selected by lottery. The majority are African-American, from underserved West Las Vegas. Tuition is free, maximum class size is 25, and there is a long waiting list for admission. "Our kids are getting a private school education at a public school cost," observes Kenn Ruffin, one of many enthusiastic parent volunteers.
More important than free tuition is the school's rigorous focus on college preparation, says Ruffin. Students have homework every night, their class day is an hour longer than in public schools, and the school year also lasts an extra two weeks. When it's all added up, a student attending Agassi Prep from kindergarten through high school will have two years more schooling than in the public schools.
It's hard to imagine a more stimulating learning environment. Agassi Prep's sleek, modern buildings of beige stone, glass, and steel grace an eight-acre campus that was formerly a rundown city corner. Classrooms feature touch-screen "smart boards," modern, modular desk units, and "TiVo"-ready television monitors. Classrooms are light and airy, with high ceilings, large windows, and vibrant color schemes of orange, lime green, and royal blue. Add to this four computer labs, an art studio, theatrical facilities, and science labs, and you have a school that many educators across the country can only dream of.