St. Ignatius' school project

December 30, 1992

In a city where thousands of youngsters flounder in schoo once they reach early adolescence, one small project designed to give 60 boys an intense and supportive educational experience may seem only a splash in an ocean. But as a symbol of hope -- and as a demonstration of what can work -- one Roman Catholic parish's plan for a school for poor city boys can have a much larger effect than its numbers suggest.

Few times in life are as difficult as the years of early adolescence, and few periods are more crucial in setting the direction of a young life. Humorist Garrison Keillor once described his experience of adolescence as a time of "feeling like a hormone experiment." The middle school years are a time when most young people make the choices and form the habits that will either see them through high school or result in their dropping out before graduation.

The school planned by St. Ignatius Church fits well into the mission of the Jesuit order, and it is fitting that the new program will occupy the buildings once used by Loyola College. The new school will seek out boys from the city's lowest income levels for the kind of small, supportive, high-quality educational program that is rarely available outside the most exclusive and expensive private schools.

The program will shore up a responsive school environment with common-sense innovations that fit the needs of most every contemporary family -- regardless of social status or economic -- category. School hours will run from 7:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., a reform often proposed for all schools. For families who live in troubled areas of the city, an evening tutorial and a full day of Saturday activities lend crucial support to parents who struggle against the odds to keep their kids away from the temptations of the streets. Another important component is a summer enrichment program that will get kids out of the city for an eight-week stretch.

These features, patterned after similar Jesuit-run schools in other cities, could provide useful research that would enrich the wider debate about school reforms.

In fact, a sound research component could vastly expand the good influence of this program. Rather than limiting itself to a self-contained school restricted to a handful of poor youngsters all of the same sex, it could also serve as a demonstration of educational approaches that can make a real difference for all young people -- boys and girls, poor and not-so-poor.

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