While Chicago’s West Side may be one of the nation’s most dangerous neighborhoods, a school has emerged as a beacon of hope in the area.
For the past twenty-six years, every graduate of the Providence-St. Mel School has gone to college. “St. Mel has earned its reputation as a school that works,” said Bill Keyes, President of the Institute for Responsible Citizenship, on June 16 at the Heritage Foundation.
“[Providence-St. Mel is a] premier learning institution for African-American students,” he said. The school draws its students from the West Side and surrounding areas.
Today, Providence-St. Mel serves 600 students in a K-12 environment. Founded as a Catholic high school, it was sold by the Church in the late Seventies and became an independent private school. “I was going to find a way to keep the school open,” said Paul Adams, who became the school’s principal in 1972. The school remained open, though without a religious affiliation.
The school’s long-term goal aims at not only educating its students, but at changing the community. It has adopted as its vision: “We see that the generational cycle of poverty and despair that grips our community on Chicago’s West Side—with one of the highest rates of crime, unemployment, and poverty in the nation—can be broken through a disciplined and demanding education.”
At the core of St. Mel’s education is hard work and responsibility. “We believe in the creation of inspired lives produced by the miracle of hard work,” reads the school’s mission statement. No student at the school attends for free. While students are on scholarship, each student must make a contribution, often as little as 50 dollars towards his education.
Providence-St. Mel has long embraced many strategies that current school reformers tout.
According to current principal Jeanette DiBella [pictured], the school has achieved its success by embracing accountability standards and by setting high expectations for students. “We expect our students to be successful,” she said.
As principal DiBella plays more than a managerial role. She is the instructional leader of a curriculum that is based on data. The school utilizes testing to determine the areas to which instruction is to be directed.
The school also bases its teachers’ salaries on merit. “We pay our teachers according to demonstrated contribution,” DiBella said.
Standardized test scores at the school are 22 percent above the national average, and the average ACT score is 23, higher than Illinois’s average of 20.3. Seventy-two percent of Providence-St. Mel’s alumni graduate from college.
Larry Scholer is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.