Agassi Academy Gives Students a New Start

April 24, 2007 — -- One of the most beloved athletes in the world and husband of fellow tennis great Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi is now helping at-risk kids hit the books in his hometown of Las Vegas by creating a college preparatory charter school.

When it came to tennis, Agassi said the intense feeling of connection to people was what he valued most.

"Over the last 21 years, I found you, and I will take you and the memory of you with me, for the rest of my life," he said at his final U.S. Open match in 2006.

Today, with tennis behind him, Agassi is connecting to people in an even more profound way with the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy.

"I believe that post-tennis can be a platform … to affect people for a lot longer than two hours … to get in the fabric of their lives, to really make a difference," he told "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts.

The academy was created by Agassi's nonprofit foundation and is located in one of Las Vegas' roughest neighborhoods.

"We have eight-hour school days versus six-hour school days," he said. "We put it in the most economically challenged part of Las Vegas, the reason being to reach the kids that needed it the most. … We got a lot of feedback saying, 'Don't put the school here because there's going to be graffiti, there's going to be crime.'"

"I said, 'Wait a second. Let's actually bet on the human spirit. Let's put something here and give ownership to this community and let them take ownership in it and see what happens."

The Department of Education has already named the academy a model for other schools.

The annual price tag is $8,000 per student -- not a penny more than the national average expenditure per public school student.

All neighborhood children are equally eligible, and admission is determined by lottery. The tuition is 100 percent free, with costs covered by Agassi's nonprofit organization.

The school's longer days, smaller classes and mandatory parental involvement are girded by a simple philosophy: "We use our heart to work together."

"Las Vegas has the highest teen dropout rate of school, teen pregnancies. We lead in all the worst stats in the world," he said. "If it works here, it works anywhere. If we are doing it with the national average, we are literally removing the excuses."

"It's not just about the books," Agassi said. "You could have straight A's, and if you interfere with somebody else's education, someone else's goals and dreams for their life, there's the door. … It's a culture. It's a way of life."

"We're going to have a sign there that's going to be going, 'Georgetown, three miles that way,' and an arrow point[ing] to Yale, you know, 2,900 miles that way," he said.

Today's 10th-graders have been students of the Agassi Academy since the first day it opened its doors. In 2009, they will be the first graduating class.

"It will prove that the world can actually be this way, is how it's going to feel to me. Watching these kids go off to college, these children that society has written off -- the most having a future of their choosing is -- is a miracle," Agassi said. "It's a miracle of, of what happens when people come together. People come together, the world changes. That's a fact."

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