In the center of New Haven, in the midst of urban blight, sits a middle school responsible for changing the lives of its students. The building houses students in grades 5-8. Established almost a dozen years ago, St. Martin de Porres Academy boasts an exemplary record: 100% of its students go on to graduate from high school, and 100% of those then go on to college, most on scholarship! Thus, students view themselves as achievers from the time they enroll. They identify themselves not by the year that they leave St. Martin’s but rather by their college graduation date. So, this fifth grade is the class of 2027, and this eighth grade class is the class of 2024!
According to school’s website “All of our students live at or below the federal poverty level and qualify for free and reduced lunch . . . 40% of our students are African-American, 55% are Hispanic, 3% are Caucasian, and 2% are Asian.” Students must demonstrate a financial need because each student is on scholarship. The school is funded by donations.
What is the “secret” of the St. Martin’s success story? How can other schools use St. Martin’s as a paradigm for a positive educational experience?
St. Martin’s adheres to the Nativity Miguel Model middle school. The students spend extended days and extended academic years in Nativity schools. For example, the students at St. Martin’s have a 7am-5pm school day. The rigorous schedule keeps them away from dangerous influences in the neighborhood. These schools “provide a rigorous and holistic curriculum, wrapped in an environment of support. Those at the school became the student’s ‘family.’” Of course, the school works in partnership with parents, who are required to provide a firm commitment to their children’s education. Although many students arrive in grade five one or two years below grade level, the holistic education that they receive permits them to move on to private and parochial high schools. Teachers have high expectations for their students.
Like other Nativity schools, St. Martin de Porres follows eight core standards:
2. Serve the economically poor and marginalized
3. Provide a rigorous, holistic education
4. Partner with the family to maximize results
5. Extend the school day and year
6. Commitment beyond graduation; graduate support through high school
7. Effectively administered
8. Engaging in a process of ongoing assessment and inquiry (St. Martin de Porres’ website)
The sixth standard is quite evident at St. Martin’s. The school makes a twelve year commitment to each student. Graduates of the school can return for academic support at the end of their school day. At least twenty students take advantage of this opportunity every day. The commitment and support of the faculty, staff, volunteers, and donors are vital to the success story that is St. Martin’s, a school that changes the lives of its students and their families.