Just 12 miles east of campus in Concord, a group of Saint Mary’s alums has opened a new middle school for boys from low-income families in grades five through eight. Housed in a former office building, De La Salle Academy sits across the street from The Big C Athletic Club and more importantly, the Community Youth Center, where the inaugural 35 fifth- and sixth-graders can cook, play chess, wrestle and more after school.
A division of De La Salle High School three miles away, the Academy is part of the network of San Miguel middle schools sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers—a model that educates children in low-income neighborhoods nationwide, including in Providence, R.I., where Principal Marilyn Paquette ’97 was a Lasallian Volunteer.
“This is going to be transformative for these families. We entered into an 11- or 12-year partnership when they were accepted,” said Paquette during a recent tour of the school construction site just weeks before it opened in early August. The school supports the students throughout high school and beyond.
With Paquette as principal, Mark DeMarco ’83 as president, and Ken Hofmann ’45 and Lisa Hofmann Morgan ’81 as the benefactors, the Saint Mary’s Lasallian mission is in experienced hands. Even the office manager, Fernanda Olivera ’14, graduated from SMC.
Miguel model schools focus on breaking the cycle of poverty through well-ordered and rigorous education, beginning in fifth grade, when children are particularly vulnerable.
“Fifth grade is crucial,” said Paquette, whose passion is to be with students. “We either reach them or we easily lose them.”
The Academy hopes to thoroughly engage the boys with an extended school day, which begins with breakfast at 7 a.m., then small classes until 3 p.m., followed by an hour of homework with tutors and small study groups, and, finally, enrichment activities until 5 p.m.
Each of the families, who mostly hail from the Concord area plus others from Bay Point, Martinez, Pittsburg and Vallejo, signed a covenant with the Academy, promising to donate both time and whatever they can afford (between $50-$250 a month). Families must live at less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level—$43,568 a year for a family of four in 2014—to qualify for admission. About 50 boys applied for the 35 spots.
Thanks to the Hofmanns’ generosity, tuition is completely free for the boys for five years. The school opened with a fifth and sixth grade, and will add a new fifth grade class each year.