University Laboratory High School (Urbana, Illinois)

Coordinates: 40°06′46″N 88°13′31″W / 40.112907°N 88.225402°W / 40.112907; -88.225402

University Laboratory High School
1212 West Springfield Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61801
School type Public, High School, selective admission
Founded 1921
School board none
Principal Dr. Jeffrey Walkington
Grades 7/8-12

311[1] (all grades)

245[2] (grades 9-12) (2009)
Language English
Color(s) Orange and Blue
Team name Illineks

The University of Illinois Laboratory High School,[3] known as Uni, or Uni High, was established in 1921 and is a laboratory school located on the engineering section of the University of Illinois campus in Urbana, Illinois. Its enrollment is approximately 300 students, spanning five years (the traditional grades 9-12, preceded by a composite 7th and 8th grade year known as the "subfreshman" year).[4] The school is notable for the achievements of its alumni, including three Nobel laureates and a Pulitzer Prize winner;[5] in 2006 and 2008 it was recognized as a "public elite" school by Newsweek because of its students' high scores on the SAT.[6] Until the recent SAT testing changes the total SAT scores varied from year to year ranging from 1400 to 1600. The average ACT score is a 32.

Funding and relationship to the University of Illinois

Although Uni is located within the Urbana School District, it is not operated by the school district, nor does it receive any property tax revenue from this or any other district. Public funding comes only through the statewide per-pupil distribution financed in the Illinois state budget. Additional funding comes from donations by alumni and parents of current students. Enrollment is competitive, rather than being dependent upon residency in a particular district.

For many years, the school was funded by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an institution to experiment with educational curricula and to teach university students majoring in education, but the University of Illinois withdrew most of its support in the early 1980s. The school currently gets its money from state aid, allocation from the University of Illinois Provost’s office, fundraising, and fees from students. The "laboratory" aspect persists in certain classes. An experimental math course was taught in the early 2000s and teachers continue to experiment in small, creative ways with their courses to adapt to each grade of around sixty students. The relationship to the University also provides a number of other benefits to the school's students. The proximity to the University campus provides a stimulating political climate, and access to the University's library system is equivalent to that of any undergraduate. The high school library is a branch of the University library system and for this reason has been called "the largest high school library in the world." Additionally, Kenney Gym, the University's former men's gymnasium, is used by Uni for both physical education and as practice and game space for the volleyball and basketball teams. While access to certain facilities that are supported by student fees such as the ARC recreation center is not granted to Uni students, who are not assessed these fees, the school's relationship with the University of Illinois allows students over the age of 15 with sufficiently high grades to enroll in courses at the University.[7] Credit earned in this manner may then be applied to future study at the university level.

$1 Million-plus Deficit

In September 2014, faculty, parents, and students were made aware of a $1 million-plus deficit the school had discovered.[8] An accounting error had caused Uni to take money out of a closed bank account, resulting in the huge deficit.[9]

Admissions and academics

Students apply to enter Uni as part of the incoming "subfreshman" class which, although composed of seventh and eighth grade aged students, completes a year at eighth grade level before continuing on to the ninth grade. Roughly 65 students are admitted each year, keeping the school's total enrollment near 320 students. Admission decisions are based on previous academic history, extracurriculars, a personal statement, and a student's scores on the Secondary School Admission Test.[10] Students may apply during their sixth or seventh grade years. Because the subfreshman year combines two years of middle school into one year, and because many students enter at the ages of 12 and 13, many Uni students graduate at 16 or 17. For this reason, some students then choose to wait a year before enrolling in college. Whether immediately after graduation, or a year later, the vast majority of students go on to enter a four-year college or university.[11]


Uni has had numerous successes in interscholastic competitions, including competitive chess (administered by the Illinois High School Association) and academic competitions. Students also participate in many clubs through the school, both for fun and to give back to their community.


The school's chess team has won the IHSA's team chess tournament seven times (1978, 1979, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1994, and 2009) and has been runner-up three times (1976, 1980, 1989). They came in second in the US National Championship in 1978 on a tiebreak.[12] During the school year, the team participates in the East Central Illinois Chess League, a conference consisting of twelve schools from the central part of Illinois.

Academic Teams

Uni High has several academic teams that compete each year and typically place highly in their respective competitions. These include Science Olympiad, Scholastic Bowl, WYSE Academic Challenge, and various math competitions.

Recently founded in 2013, the Uni High Scholastic Bowl team has twice qualified for the IHSA State Competition, placing 4th in 2014 and 1st in 2015.[13] Throughout the season, which roughly runs from September to March, the team participates in a variety of tournaments and competitions.

Since 1997, Uni has been an annual participant in the University of Illinois' Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering Academic Challenge, which consists of a series of tests in various academic fields, including biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering design, English, mathematics, and physics. The competition is open to high schools in Illinois and Missouri. For nine consecutive years from 1998 to 2006, as well as in 2008, 2009 and 2011, Uni was the state champion in the smallest division (enrollment under 300). In 2007, Uni competed in the next larger division and placed 2nd, despite the school's smaller enrollment in the 9th through 12th grades.[14]

Service Clubs

Uni High's Habitat for Humanity club works with the Clarksdale, MS Habitat affiliate. They hold several fundraisers throughout the year in order to send money to Clarksdale, as well as having an annual trip to Clarksdale every February where students work on houses. The club is led by history teacher Bill Sutton. Several Uni alums have moved to the Clarksdale area to work with Habitat for Humanity or to work in various schools and after-school programs.[15]

Uni has a Food Pantry club that volunteers at and raises money for the Wesley Food Pantry. The school also has a club called United for Uganda, which raises money for a grassroots organization in Uganda called Come Let's Dance. During the 2013-2014 school year, the club started a program through Come Let's Dance to sponsor a child in Uganda's education each year.

School Traditions


X-Week is an annual fundraising tradition at the school. Members of Student Council choose one or two charities, which are usually local, to donate the money to. Each day, a different class hosts a fundraiser. The senior class hosts the annual Senior Auction during the Friday of X-Week every year. They auction off a wide variety of items, which usually include class notes and baked goods, as well as more eccentric options such as a movie night at a teacher's house or the opportunity to go on a safari with a few members of the senior class. The culminating event of X-Week is Big Show, a comedic, student-led production.[16]

The Wylde Q. Chicken Award

The Wylde Q. Chicken Award, sponsored by the graduating class of 1972, was first awarded in 1998 and is meant to recognize "spontaneous creativity," "unbidden originality," and "extraordinary acts in ordinary circumstances." It is awarded annually at the end of the school year; recipients are chosen by a panel of judges from the class of 1972 along with past winners of the award.[17] Previous winners have included a series of promotional posters for the 50 states in the first floor restrooms,[18] the staging of the American Revolution in comic strip form,[19] and a Gilbert and Sullivan-style adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth.[20]

Senior Project

The Senior Project is a program that began at Uni with the graduating class of 2014. The project was developed by Assistant Director of Student Life Karl Radnitzer, who got the idea from a similar program at New Trier High School in Winnetka, IL. The project's goal is to allow second semester seniors to explore interests in a more career-oriented way than they would in a typical classroom setting. The project connects students with mentors in the Champaign-Urbana community who can help them explore their academic interests outside of the school building. Students come up with ideas for projects and submit them for approval to a Senior Project committee. If a project is approved, students then spend their second semester doing work for their project around three times a week.[21] Students have worked in various labs at the University of Illinois, at the Crisis Nursery, at Carle Hospital, and at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.[22]

Agora Days

Another example of creative freedom is Agora Days, a four-day school week in late February when students, parents, faculty, alumni and friends of the school can teach hour-long classes about a wide range of topics, which have included popular cake decorating and massage classes. Students are required to take a number of academic-oriented classes, but classes based on playing sports and watching films or TV series also exist. Students have the same eight-hour schedule on each of the four days. Agora Days has been a Uni tradition since 1977.

Subfreshman Oral History Project

Every year, the subfreshman social studies class spends part of the second semester working on an oral history project. Social studies teacher Janet Morford's class works with WILL radio station to conduct interviews on a certain topic, which varies by year. Past topics have included inside views of the military, people with disabilities, counterculture, and the right to marry.[23] Subfreshmen are split into groups of four to conduct interviews. Each group member is assigned a role in the interview, and the groups spends several weeks researching relevant information on their subject's life before conducting the interview. A group of older students, called WILL Interns, work with the interview material produced by the subfreshmen and turn it into an hour-long documentary.[24]


The interior of Kenney Gym, which Uni High uses as their main gymnasium

Despite the school's small enrollment, Uni offers five no-cut sports for boys (Cross Country, Soccer, Basketball, Track & Field and Tennis) and six no-cut sports for girls (Cross Country, Swimming, Volleyball, Basketball, Soccer, and Track & Field), which all usually compete in the IHSA 1A division.[25] Members of the subfreshman class also have the opportunity to participate in Cross Country, Track & Field, and Basketball.

Main entrance to Uni (2013)


The building which houses University Laboratory High School was constructed from 1917 through 1918 and was designed by Holabird & Roche in the Late Gothic Revival style, with James M. White as the supervising architect. An earlier design for an "H"-shaped structure with two wings had been rejected in 1914, and it was not until May 1916 that the go-ahead was going to begin construction on the new design, which was estimated to cost $143,500.

When the building was completed, it was almost immediately converted into a general hospital for the Students’ Army Training Corp and School of Military Aeronautics for the duration of World War I. It was turned over to the high school in time for the beginning of the 1921-22 school year.[26][27][28]

Notable alumni and faculty

Three alumni are Nobel Prize laureates:

Other notable alumni include

Notable faculty include



  1. "Illness Update: Uni Remains Open"
  2. Illinois High School Association website
  3. Official website
  4. Members of the Uni High community usually refer to subfreshmen as "subbies." (Use of the term "subbie" in the Online Gargoyle, Uni's student newspaper)
  5. Chicago educator named new director of University High School
  6. "Best High Schools: In A Different Class: The nation's most elite public high schools fall outside the Newsweek list"
  7. "Concurrent enrollment"
  10. Admissions brochure
  12. IHSA Chess Team Champions and Runners-Up
  13. "Scholastic Bowl | IHSA Sports & Activities". Retrieved 2015-05-04.
  14. WYSE Academic Challenge
  18. 2006 Wylde Q. Chicken Award Winners
  19. 2005 Wylde Q. Chicken Award Winners
  20. 2004 Wylde Q. Chicken Award Winners
  26. "1212 W. Springfield Avenue, University High School" "100 Most Important Buildings" on the City of Urbana website
  27. Heitzman, Frank E. "Champaign-Urbana Architectural Survey 1974"
  28. "Preface: A History of Uni" on the school's website
  29. "Philip Warren Anderson". autobiographical sketch. Nobel Foundation. 2005. Retrieved 29 November 2010. I read voraciously, but among the few intellectual challenges I remember at school was a first-rate mathematics teacher at the University High School, Miles Hartley, and I went to college intending to major in mathematics. I was one of several students sent to Harvard from Uni High in those years
  30. "Hamilton O. Smith". autobiograhic sketch. Nobel Foundation. 1978. Retrieved 29 November 2010. We attended University High School, a superb small college preparatory school with an array of exceptionally talented students drawn largely from university faculty families.
  31. "James Tobin". autobiographic sketch. Nobel Foundation. 1981. Retrieved 29 November 2010. I was born in Champaign in 1918. From the neighborhood elementary and intermediate schools, I went to the University High School in the twin city, Urbana
  32. Benson, Heidi (17 April 2005), "Historian Iris Chang won many battles / The war she lost raged within", SF Gate (San Francisco, CA, USA), retrieved 29 November 2010, Iris and her brother went to University High — known as Uni High — on the campus where their parents taught. The small, academically elite school has produced many Nobel laureates.
  33. Oakes, Elizabeth H. (2007), Encyclopedia of World Scientists, 1 (revised ed.), New York, NY, USA: Facts on File, Inc., ISBN 0-8160-6158-0, (p.570) After graduating from University High School in Urbana, Illinois in 1965, Patterson enrolled in the University of Illinois at Urbana.
  34. "Dr Max Beberman is Dead at 45; A Creator of New Mathematics", New York Times (New York, NY USA), 26 January 1971
  35. "Chapter 1: Max" by Prof. Ralph A. Raimi
  36. A Guide to the Max Beberman Film Collection, ca. 1950-1960, Briscoe Center for American History, U. Texas at Austin
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