Nearby Catholic schools work to accommodate San Miguel students

| Zachary Bartholomew For The Catholic Spirit | May 25, 2011 | 0 Comments

Teacher Andrew Brandt discusses the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” with his eighth-grade language arts class at San Miguel Middle School in Minneapolis. Photo by Jim Bovin / For the Catholic Spirit

Sometimes the smallest details are what highlight the largest changes. For the students of San Miguel Middle School of Minneapolis, which is closing at the end of this school year, one of those details is a simple handshake.

“We’ve really tried to build and reinforce a culture here, a collection of best practices,” said San Miguel president and co-founder Benjamin Murray. “The kids shake hands with myself, [the principal], and their teachers each morning so that by the time they are sitting in their first class, they have already formally greeted adults three times. It’s the biggest thing they notice missing when they tour their new, prospective schools.”

San Miguel announced in January that it would close after an extensive internal review.

Two other Catholic schools — St. Joseph in Red Wing and St. Mathias in Hampton — also announced in January they would be closing. The Academy of Sts. Peter and Paul in Loretto also recently announced it is closing at the end of this academic year.

San Miguel Middle School, which is independently administered by the DeLaSalle Christian Brothers, faces a large budget shortfall.

“To continue beyond June 2011 would have required massive budget cuts and a loss of teachers, compromising our ability to meet our students’ needs. And we felt that would be unacceptable,” said Murray, who worked closely with the school’s board.

Celebrating progress

San Miguel was founded in 2000 with a class of 11 students. At the time, the high school graduation rate for Latino youth in Minneapolis was 39 percent, Murray said. The school was founded with this in mind, and tailored its instruction to help the youth. Ninety to 95 percent of the school’s funding came from private philanthropy.

In 2002, the school restructured and professionalized its staff, hired as principal Sister Mary Willette, a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and continued to refine curriculum based in the Lasallian tradition.
Sister Mary said she came to San Miguel with a specific goal in mind.

“I’ve been teaching since 1969, but when I came here I wanted to reach a population with significant need.”

San Miguel subsequently raised its graduation rate to 90 percent. Stu­dents experienced extended school days, small class sizes, free or reduced price breakfast and lunches, and field trips to area colleges and universities.

“Some of our students come from families where the highest education level is eighth grade,” Murray said. “We visit different campuses each year with every student so the idea of college becomes more and more real to them over their time here.”

Toward the future

Since the closing announcement, Sister Mary and Marcela Rojas, the school secretary, have worked closely with each family to select new schools for next year.

Murray said the support of other area Catholic schools and the archdiocese in this process has been critical.

“Many of our families desire a Catholic education for their children yet are unable to afford the full cost of tuition,” he said. “Neigh­boring Catholic schools were proactive in contacting us and offering to do what they can to ensure that a Catholic education was accessible to our students. The archdiocese also committed that student aid previously received under the Legacy Grant would follow our students to other Catholic schools.”

The school’s administration has also hosted workshops for its staff on resume writing and interviewing.

On May 12, San Miguel held its final Fiesta Para Los Niños, an event hosted at Chino Latino in Min­nea­polis and hosted by the restaurant’s owner, Pete Mihajlov.

Mihajlov joined other alumni of Christian Brothers schools to issue a $10,000 challenge grant called “Bridge to the Future.” The grant helped secure a total of $20,000 to provide San Miguel students with summer school materials and tuition assistance for those continuing in Catholic schools for next fall.

“Our mission has always been a partnership to transform lives through education,” Murray said. “Our work would simply not have been possible without the generous financial support and volunteer ser­vice of so many who shared in our vision of hope of educational achieve­ment in the Lasallian tradition.”

Next year and beyond

About half of the San Miguel sixth- and seventh-graders will continue in Catholic schools and several eighth-graders will join other graduates at Catholic high schools. They are listed with the number of San Miguel students and graduates enrolled.

» Risen Christ School, Minneapolis (20)
» Blessed Trinity Catholic School, Richfield (2)
» Ascension School, Minneapolis (1)
» Pope John Paul II Catholic School, Minneapolis (1)
» St. Alphonsus School, Brooklyn Center (1)
» St. Helena Catholic School, Minneapolis (1) High schools
» DeLaSalle High School, Minneapolis (10)
» Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Minneapolis (10)
» Academy of Holy Angels, Richfield (2)
» Totino-Grace High School, Fridley (1)

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