The Louisiana prep school behind viral Harvard acceptance video

Unconventional school
Unconventional school 04:45

In our continuing series, "A More Perfect Union," we aim to show that what unites us as Americans is greater than what divides us. This week we go to a school where a video of one of its student's learning he was accepted into Harvard University went viral. As it turns out, celebrations like that are commonplace there.

At T.M. Landry College Prep in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, the holiday celebrations started early. One student learned he had been accepted to Stanford, another to Harvard. Then Wesleyan, Dartmouth, and Brown. Ten students accepted to top tier schools -- all in one week, reports CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca.

"My fingers were shaking," said James Dennis, of learning he was accepted to Yale. "Just completely indescribable, like the overall feeling of joy -- it can't even be expressed in words."

T.M. Landry College Prep students CBS News

Kayla Amos cried when she got accepted to Columbia, but the future business major says she shares her success.

"The whole team puts in the work throughout the years to get that one person to the school, so the whole team feels relieved," she said. "T.M. Landry is just a family, that's the way to sum it up."

James Dennis CBS News

It's a family under the guidance of Michael and Tracey Landry, who founded the school 12 years ago.

"When my wife and I started the school people laughed at us," Michael said.

The skepticism is because T.M. Landry is a no-frills school located in an old fabrication shop in a low-income area near Lafayette. Though it's a college prep school, it's not the kind that's filled with rich kids. 

"Their parents have made sacrifices to send them here. We make sacrifices to make sure that they can stay," Tracey said. "The average income is $32,000."

Tuition costs up to $675 a month. There are teachers, but no textbooks, no homework and no specific class schedule. Students from kindergarten to high school help tutor and encourage each other to learn. 

"Because you're with all these other people that are all striving towards greatness just like you are, it's almost like you have no choice but to conform to it," Dennis said.

"Go big or go home. If you don't go big in regards to being the best student that you possible can be, one day you can end up still being that kid who goes to jail or who dies early because you went out the wrong way and you went into the streets," Michael said. 

Michael and Tracey Landry CBS News

Londe Dennis, James Dennis's mother, says it's not about being smart, it's about "working very hard." She works part-time at the school to help pay tuition. She was there when James learned he was accepted at Yale.

"I was grateful, I was thankful and I was proud," Londe said through tears. "I never thought this was possible."

But there is disappointment. One senior received news this month that he is on a waiting list. The Landrys also sometimes struggle to make payroll. All that makes the payoff even more rewarding when a student is accepted into college.

"We have no sports, we don't have homecoming, proms ... so for me, that's like seeing your child just win the game," Michael said. 

"That's my lottery. That tells me that we're changing people, we're changing society, we're giving hope," Tracey said.

With more admissions decisions coming in the spring, the school expects more celebrations for education.

T.M. Landry College Prep students CBS News