For 75 years, University Laboratory High School, known as Uni High, has had a relationship with the UI. Like a long-standing marriage, it was always evolving, occasionally shaky, but inevitably, mutually rewarding.
Histories of the high school point out that it actually started in 1892, more than 100 years ago, when it was deemed necessary to give some students at the UI from rural areas a year of preparatory training to help them meet the entrance requirements at the UI. The school's format and name changed over the next nine years, until it was closed in 1911.
Within two years, the College of Education asked for a laboratory high school where space would be available to education faculty members for research. In September 1921, the doors on a new building opened to the first class at University Laboratory High School. It was less than half the size requested and planned, but Uni's history had begun.
"The University High School started originally as a training school for teachers," said Warren Royer, a long-time Uni High principal, now retired. "During the evolution of the school, they discovered that the size of school would not admit as many practice teachers as the College of Education was developing."
As part of its ongoing change, one of the first revolutionary steps instituted at Uni was the beginning of what is known as the sub-freshman program.
"In 1932, they developed the ideal of an accelerated program, with a combined seventh- and eigth-grade program. The impression was the [seventh- and eigth-grade] program was accelerated, but it was true for the whole seventh through 12th grade," Royer said.
The school also had to begin to administer an admissions test, because demand for the school exceeded its capacity, he said. Students had to qualify academically for admission to Uni, creating what would eventually be called classes of 'gifted' students.
"[Selecting students through testing] also weighted it against using it as a practice-teaching facility, because this lent weight to special populations," Royer said.
But Royer points out that while the distance between the College of Education and Uni grew over the next few decades, great innovations in education and research were developing at the high school. Max Beberman's New Math, and expanded social studies and foreign language programs gave Uni the reputation as a place where innovative education being developed.
"There were people who felt it was a value to the university to have a program they could point to as, at least in some respects, an example of what a high school might be," Royer said.
It was a close call in 1981, when Uni was nearly closed. The College of Education could no longer afford to fund the school, and because it was a university-driven program, Uni didn't (and still doesn't) receive local property tax dollars. By July 1983, Uni was no longer connected to the College of Education. The high school is now funded through a general state-aid program, UI funds, and voluntary donations by parents. Its administrators now report directly to Provost Larry Faulkner.
While no longer directly affiliated with the College of Education, Uni still has connections to that college and others across campus.
"People might not be aware of the collaborative projects we do with the school in departments across the university," said Shelley Roberts, principal and director of University Laboratory High School. "We have the greatest numbers of researchers coming from the College of Education, both graduate students and professors. But we also have people coming over to do research from the department of human resources and familystudies, the department of kinesiology and the math department. Some of our teachers go to the College of Education and help teach in some of the preservice education courses. We have student observers and student teachers in our classes. We also have people on our faculty who have taught courses in the College of Education and have adjunct status in departments across campus. I hope one of the things we do is contribute to the UI."
The availability of innovative education can and does attract and retain faculty to the UI. And students also benefit from Uni's close relationship with the UI. Students work in various departments across campus, including the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and a variety of faculty and staff members on campus have been available to students as mentors for independent study projects. Uni students also have access to most of the UI's facilities, including the library, the Illini Union and book store and the athletic teams use UI facilities on a space-available basis. Uni students who have a 4.0 grade-point average on a 5.0 scale and are at least 15 years old can take concurrent courses at the UI.
"It's a reciprocal relationship," Roberts said. "It's nice to have things go both ways."
Because it is independent, Uni is not tied by curricular regulations most public schools must follow. It also does not have to adhere to any district boundaries and brings in students from not only Champaign and Urbana, but also surrounding communities. Despite the belief that Uni is a school for children of UI faculty and staff members, only about half of the student body has a connection by family to the UI.
The changed affiliation of the school to the Provost's office also has helped with retaining teachers at Uni, Roberts said.
"The faculty used to be transient. Many were graduate assistants in the College of Education," Roberts said. "In the last 10 years, we have developed a career faculty, which has added continuity to the school. The lab mission of the school is at the core of their professional lives. They've taken the spirit of the lab school fostered in the school of education, but put it back in the hands of teachers, rather than college researchers."
University Laboratory High School is still evolving as its teachers develop even more progressive educational programs for their students and as the relationship to the UI grows and blooms. The school is celebrating its 75th anniversary with a weekend of reunion activities beginning Oct. 18 through Oct. 20, for both alumni and students. The school is touting its record with Nobel prize-winning alumni, and celebrating the achievements of all the young people who have gone in and come out of its doors.
"The reunion lets people know our legacy and what this institution stands for in this community," Roberts said.