City school's support is blueprint for success

St. Ignatius: Jesuit middle school prepares inner-city boys for high school, college, sound life choices.

January 04, 2002|By Linda Linley | Linda Linley,SUN STAFF

Alan Small is a role model. So is Edward Brown, and his brother, David Brown.

Like many teen-agers, these three are reluctant to be in the spotlight, but parents, guardians and teachers point to them proudly and recite their accomplishments.

Small, 18, is a freshman at Morgan State University studying engineering physics.

Edward Brown, 19, is a freshman at Middlebury College in Vermont studying English, and David Brown, 17, is a senior at Georgetown Preparatory School in Bethesda, waiting to hear from 14 colleges where he has applied for admission.

All three are among the first graduates of Baltimore's St. Ignatius Loyola Academy, which was founded in 1993 with one sixth-grade class.

The teen-agers and their families credit St. Ignatius, a private Jesuit middle school for inner-city boys on Calvert Street, with keeping them in school and teaching them to make the right choices.

"I made the right decision coming to St. Ignatius," Small said. "I got a good education. Now, the students here will be looking up to me to see what is right and what is wrong."

Since that first class graduated in 1996, 110 boys have graduated from St. Ignatius, said headmaster Jeffrey R. Sindler. He said all of the graduates from 1996 and 1997 also graduated from high school or earned a high school equivalency certificate. Of those, three-fourths went directly to college; 10 percent entered the military.

St. Ignatius has had a high success rate with boys from homes at some of the lowest income levels in the city. Most were raised by a single parent.

Sindler said that St. Ignatius eighth-graders also have a 95 percent acceptance rate at parochial and private high schools in the area. This year's eighth-graders are looking at about 30 high schools in the area and out of state.

"We started out with 15 to 16 graduates in the first years, but now we have 23 to 25 graduates each year," Sindler said. "Occasionally, we lose a student or two because their families move, but we do everything we can to keep our kids."

Parents sign a yearly contract with the academy that stipulates they must be involved as regular volunteers for school projects. The parents also are required to pay small monthly activity fees for their children.

Part of the family

"St. Ignatius is like a family for the Smalls," said Geneva Small, Alan's grandmother. Alan's brother, Michael, also graduated from St. Ignatius and is a freshman at St. Frances Academy high school on Chase Street.

Alan Small, who recently finished his first semester at Morgan, believed he had done well on his final exams. "They were a lot easier that the ones I used to take at St. Ignatius," he said late last month during a potluck dinner at the academy for graduates, students, friends and relatives.

A 1997 St. Ignatius graduate, Small said he liked the smaller classes and the one-on-one tutoring there. He believes that the regimented curriculum helped him win a scholarship to Archbishop Curley High School. He graduated from Curley last year.

Edward Brown said he wants to attend graduate school after he finishes at Middlebury, where he is on a full scholarship. "The teachers at St. Ignatius stuck with me all the way, even when things weren't going well," he said.

David Brown doesn't mind being characterized as a role model, but he doesn't want to be put on a pedestal.

"I'm willing to talk to the students at St. Ignatius about my experiences," he said. "I'll try to be honest with them and tell them to be better prepared."

Brown, who has attended Georgetown Prep since 1998, is waiting to hear whether he will be accepted to Oberlin College in Ohio, his first choice. He has received acceptance letters from Boston College, St. Louis University and Mount St. Mary's College.

Discipline and skills

The school was started by the Rev. William J. Watters, S.J., pastor of St. Ignatius Church, to help inner-city boys get a quality education and gain the discipline and skills to get into a college preparatory high school. The school is open to all religious denominations; about 20 percent of the students are Catholic.

Watters, who is also president of the school, said the students "feel at home here."

"We help them make the transition to the private school world when it is time to cross that bridge," he said.

Students have come to St. Ignatius, now in its ninth year, from more than 20 ZIP codes and more than 50 elementary schools in the city. The school population consists of six Hispanics, a Caucasian and the rest African-Americans.

All of the boys accepted to St. Ignatius receive a full $6,000 annual scholarship after an intensive screening process that begins in January with weekend tutoring in language arts and math for 70 to 100 city fifth-graders. Watters said the school expects to take 26 boys next year.

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