Jesuit school targets city's poorer children

ACADEMY OFFERS BOYS WINDOW OF HOPE

September 12, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

Eleven-year-old Cory Williams saw his future brighten when ++ he began classes two weeks ago at St. Ignatius Loyola Academy, a new, tiny Jesuit school in downtown Baltimore that wants to help poor city children eventually become leaders.

"It's a good chance for me to succeed in this tough world," Cory said as he and 19 other sixth-grade boys -- dressed in blue or white shirts, neckties and dark pants -- assembled for a day of classes.

Cory, who had attended Waverly and Yorkwood public elementary schools, applied to Loyola Academy at his parents' urging.

All 20 students received $5,000 scholarships from St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, which started the school with $200,000 in grants. Parents will pay $10 each month. The school plans to add seventh and eighth grades in the next two years and hopes to expand its student body to 60 students.

The Rev. William J. Watters, church pastor and president of the ** academy, said the boys enrolled this year were selected from 175 applicants from low-income households.

"People from middle-income and upper-income families have the benefit of sending their children to private schools, but children from low-income families don't have the opportunities to go to special schools," he said.

Father Watters said the children were accepted based on a written examination, performance in a 5 1/2 -week summer program run by Loyola High School and an interview. Of the 55 finalists, he said, he sought boys who were motivated to learn.

He said their scholarships will be renewed during their three years at Loyola Academy if they avoid academic and behavior problems.

The school, on the original site of Loyola High School and Loyola College at 740 N. Calvert St., has two small classrooms, a music room and a 2,000-book library. There's a headmaster, an assistant headmaster and three teachers.

After a week of shortened days, the school last week began its regular schedule of classes from 7:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Classes actually end at 2:30 p.m., but are followed by a half-hour of clean-up detail, then a couple of hours of recreation at Loyola College, where students are supervised by student-athletes.

The boys also will benefit from being neighbors of cultural institutions. The Peabody Conservatory of Music, Center Stage and Walters Arts Gallery eagerly volunteered to become involved in the school's arts curriculum, said the Rev. Leo A. Murray, the headmaster.

"We just wanted them to be in a different environment, to know that there's a different way to live," said Father Murray, adding that many of the children have been exposed to violence in their communities.

Loyola Academy starts each day with a prayer, but officials said they would respect the religious beliefs of non-Catholic students. Father Watters said the school is open to boys of all faiths but that he preferred those who regularly attend religious services. Only five or six of them are Catholics, he said.

Several students asked their classmates to pray for their families during a recent morning prayer. After prayer, the group of students divided into two classrooms.

In one room, Andrew M. Conneen, a recent graduate of the University of Illinois, led his 10 pupils through a writing drill.

Next door, James P. Wilson, a retired nuclear physicist in the Navy, asked his students to determine the value of digits in six-figure numbers in a math exercise. Two or three eager hands flew into the air with each invitation to come to the chalkboard to write the answers.

"I've always wanted to teach," said Mr. Wilson, 56, who taught for two months in a private high school in Washington 23 years ago and served on submarines in the Navy. "I've always had a desire to go back and teach again."

Mr. Wilson, who commutes by bus from Bel Air, and the other two teachers are each paid yearly salaries of $10,000 -- the headmaster and assistant headmaster earn $12,500 a year.

By comparison, the starting salary for teachers in schools run by the Archdiocese of Baltimore is $16,500 a year, and beginning city public school teachers without master's degrees earn $22,605 a year.

Father Murray said Loyola Academy's goal is to get the boys ready for a college-preparatory high school and to help them set high goals.

"I'd like to say that I see them as the leaders in their communities eventually," he said. "I hope they will be able to improve the living situations of the communities where they are."

Christopher Edwards, 11, who attended Coldstream Elementary School last year, said he wasn't eager to attend Loyola Academy because he will miss girls.

"I wanted to go to Hamilton [Middle School], but my mother wanted me to go here because of the scholarship," Christopher said.

Dennis McIver, 11, said he, too, will miss girls, but will enjoy the recreation and arts programs.

"We have an advantage unlike public schools," said Dennis, who enjoys math and science and hopes to become a baseball player an architect. "I expect more learning than anything."

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