“Whatever hurts my brother, hurts me.” That is the motto of St. Benedict’s Prep School, an inner city school in Newark, New Jersey, which is not only changing the perception of the much maligned black hoodie, but also teaching students how to be leaders in the home and the community.
60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley featured the unique school recently in a segment entitled The Resurrection of St. Benedict’s. He points out that St. Benedict’s looks far different than other inner city schools across the nation. Instead of contention among the students, there is camaraderie. Instead of animosity, there is an aura of love, especially personified at their daily ceremony when all 550 young men chant, “I love you,” to their brother on either side of them.
So why is Saint Benedict so unique? Why does this school graduate 98% of their students while other students languish in failing schools in Newark and around the country?
Father Edwin Leahy, the headmaster explains that St. Benedict is run by students – a population made up overwhelmingly of black and Hispanic young men from low income families. “It’s a population that never gets to have control” Leahy says. St. Benedict’s Prep School puts the students in charge of their own schooling and their own well-being. The young men know they are responsible for changing their station in life. At the end of their freshman year and a grueling 55 mile long team-building hike, students are honored by the privilege of wearing their school colors – a black hoodie.
But there is a second angle to this story, one taken by Maureen Sullivan in her Forbes article, “Why Are Democrats Against Allowing Poor Boys To Attend The Great School Profiled On ’60 Minutes’?” Her point is partisan, but the sentiment remains: if students need and desire to attend a school such as St. Benedict’s Prep School, which has a higher graduation rate, lower dropout-rate, and higher college-readiness percentage, shouldn’t the choice be theirs to make? Does it not make sense for the government to allow students to spend their K-12 education dollars in the way that suits the students best, just like they’re allowed to do for college?
While President Obama and the Democrats running to be his successor try to “interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline” by encouraging more school funding, St. Benedict’s stands as a testament to the fact that funding is not a guarantee for success. St. Benedict’s requires $12,500 to educate one student for one year – most of the money coming from donations by non-profits and businesses because 80% of students receive financial aid. In contrast, Newark’s traditional schools spend almost $17,000 per student. So the crux of the matter in this instance is the ability to choose which education environment empowers student’s to learn best.
Sullivan writes, “Brother Leahy outlined the program, which he says can work in any city in America. ‘We see every child as an individual. We address our students’ nonacademic issues head-on, believing that ignoring them leaves many struggling students stuck in anger and depression that prevent real learning. We invest in both individual and group counseling that give our young men a chance to understand their personal challenges and learn to handle them effectively. We expect our teachers to be available to students, to encounter them as they are and provide the personal attention they deserve and need to grow. We instill and foster leadership and responsibility.’”
St. Benedict’s Prep School is powerful example of innovative education that is preparing young men to be husbands, fathers, citizens, and community leaders. How important it is to provide students with access to the education environment that best suits their needs!