Aaron Brown, 20, said being able to attend Laurel Prep Academy and play on the basketball team has kept him out of trouble and given him a second chance to shoot for his dreams.
“If I couldn’t be doing this, I’d probably be trying to get some money somehow, probably doing something I shouldn’t be into,” said Brown, one of 20 students at Laurel Prep Academy, a private prep school program that opened this year for “fifth-year” high school students.
The school, run by the Laurel Boys & Girls Club, lets students who have not met their diploma requirements complete online high school courses and continue competing in basketball, according to club president, academy founder and basketball coach Levet Brown, who is no relation to Aaron Brown.
Laurel Prep belongs to the East Coast Prep School Athletic Conference, composed of similar schools in the region that compete against each other. Fifth-year high school students who can no longer play basketball at Maryland public schools — they have turned 19 or played the maximum four seasons — can play at Laurel Prep.
“That conference allows fifth-year seniors and what they call postgrads to compete in athletics. And that allows those kids to be evaluated by college athletic programs,” Brown said.
Brown said he has seen many students with athletic skills struggle with academics.
“Some of them, the system has failed them, and some of them have failed themselves,” Brown said. “They need someone to mentor them, lead them through the process.”
The courses are taught through National High School, an online high school program that also offers credit recovery. It is accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement.
The Laurel Prep Wildcats opened their conference season last month with back-to-back wins (105-57 and 88-57) against Mt. Zion Prep of Baltimore on Oct. 25-26, and a win (98-67) against Redemption Christian Academy of Northfield, Mass., on Oct. 27.
Playing basketball isn’t a requirement to attend the academy. Four students don’t play on the prep school’s basketball team.
Harriet Cox, Laurel Prep’s academic administrator, said the students have an online instructor and must attend online lectures. Students’ work is monitored on computers at the club, and three volunteer tutors assist them on-site.
“We help them with their study habits, things like that,” Cox said. “We help them understand what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Brown said tuition runs between $2,000 and $7,000, depending on how much work a student needs to make up. All current students are attending on scholarships from the club’s fundraising efforts.
Aaron Brown said he failed Algebra II in high school, but now, as a “fifth-year senior,” he hopes to do better and get a college basketball scholarship.
“At the end of the day, we all want the same thing: improvement,” he said. “We’re all trying to get somewhere, get into college. It just depends on how hard you want to work at it.”