How One High School in Cleveland Is Changing Education

May 8, 2012 § 3 Comments

Photo by Molly Vaughan

Today, something remarkable happened. The lives of 83 of the most awe-inspiring Clevelanders realized a promise made to them four years ago.

It is, seemingly, a simply promise but is, at the same time, one that is made complicated due to thousands upon thousands of extraneous circumstances totally beyond their control.

Today, 83 seventeen and eighteen year-olds, were accepted into college. That’s one-hundred percent of the senior class at Saint Martin de Porres High School.

For every 100 students that enter the 9th grade in Cleveland only 52 will graduate from high school, and of those 23 will go to college,  and worse yet only 7 of those students will graduate from college within six years.

Yet we, at Saint Martin de Porres High School, have had the most improbable success. How, you might ask?

Highly selective admission standards? No, we don’t even have an admissions exam. High tuition cost? No, the average family contribution is around $800 per year. In fact, there are only a few simple requirements to our school’s success:

1.) The families of our students must be of modest economic means; the average household income for a family of four at Saint Martin de Porres is around $29,000. Ethnically, which is, sadly, an all-to-clear barometer for educational attainment, our school breaks down; 76% are African-American, 9.9% white, 8.5% Latino, 5.6% bi-racial/multi-racial. I do not need to spell it out to you, but it goes without saying that our success is statistically jarring.  When you compound both the economic breakdown of our families along side the richness of racial diversity of our school, all under the guise of a broken education system, what our school is accomplishing is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

2.) Our students must enter into an agreement to work, one day a week, to pay for their tuition. Our students, through a highly innovative program known as the Corporate Work Study Program, are our school’s single largest fundraisers. Together, our student body brings in roughly 60% of our schools operating budget. Four students share one full-time job at a corporation in and around the city of Cleveland. Students fulfill an entry-level job doing clerical work at law firms, hospitals, and software companies along with countless other businesses participating in our corporate work study program. In return for their employment, five days a week, that company pays $26,000 directly to the school. This, unlike many other well-intentioned philanthropic contributions, is not a charity case, those funds are not written off as a tax-deductions or as a donations. Their contribution is an investment. It’s an investment in our students, in a model of education that is effective, and in a more equitable future for the city of Cleveland.

3.) Our students must WANT to go to college. Admittedly, many incoming freshman haven’t even considered college as a viable option, but their parents certainly have – otherwise they wouldn’t be here in the first place. Furthermore, due to our school’s unwavering vision of success, college preparatory education, and culture of college-readiness; complete with a college counseling department, and an alumni director, our students are well prepared to be successful upon graduation. Our school functions on the idea that, if you are a student at Saint Martin de Porres, you will get into college. This is an idea that is hammered into your head from day-one. Let’s not fail to mention the countless hours teachers, administrators, faculty and staff spend developing an inter-disciplinary curriculum, staying after school, being on call 24 hours a day, and taking a sincere interest in the well being of our students.

For anyone who has worked within education, you know it is not all roses, regardless of the school you work at. Our students deal with adversity in and outside of school. They are teenagers, after all; the jocks, the nerds, the art kids and the perpetually late. There is jealousy between boyfriends/girlfriends, fights over who is, or isn’t, talking to whom and every other far-too-imaginable high-school drama-filled moment you can remember.

There is, too, the unimaginable (I speak for myself in this regard). For starters, the idea of a traditional family structure for a student at Saint Martin is seemingly non-existent; sometimes it is mom and dad, but often it is just mom/dad, or an auntie/uncle or grandmother/grandfather. Students working after school, in addition to the corporate work study job, is not uncommon either. Nor is it uncommon to hear about a two-hour plus commute to just get to school through a labyrinth of train and bus transfers.

These are just some of the extraneous circumstances that our students handle with unbelievable grace, poise, and maturity.

I have no children, but I feel like a proud father. It is a weird feeling and one I don’t really want to try to figure out. To put it plainly, it’s the best pay-off any volunteer could hope for, that at the end of a year of service, full of high-highs and low-lows, you at least know that you have played an incredibly small part of something so much bigger than you had ever imagined. The vision and unwavering commitment to both success and the mission of the school can serve as a lesson to any organization, school or otherwise, to beat odds that, honestly, makes no sense.

One of the motto’s of Saint Martin is ‘transforming urban Cleveland one student at a time’ but really it’s more like ‘exceeding expectations left-and-right while blowing the minds of suburbanites who pay tens-of-thousands of dollars for a private education and then don’t get half-as-good-of-results as we do!’

If you can’t tell, I am unbelievable proud. If you are a business owner, or happen to have expendable income, I couldn’t think of an organization more worthy of your investment than Saint Martin de Porres High School.

Oh, have I mentioned, this is the fifth year in a row we have gotten 100% of our students into college?

Daniel Brown, Co-Founder of MSCS and proud resident-volunteer at Saint Martin de Porres High School.

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§ 3 Responses to How One High School in Cleveland Is Changing Education

  • [...] more about St. Martin, its effective practices, and Cleveland’s educational landscape, read this article at the Midwest Sustainable Cities [...]

  • This is pretty amazing! I’m from Cleveland and was fortunate enough to go to a private school. I realize that this isn’t possible for everyone, and I applaud an institution willing to think outside of the box when it comes to providing a top notch education for its students. It seems to me that this school really places the needs of its students above all else.

  • Anne Chemali says:

    How nice!!! We have been modest contributors to this endeavor. What is touching is the sleflessness of the leadership in this organization. What a great sense of community :-) BRAVO!

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