A few weeks ago, at the invitation of a local physician, I went to St. John’s Jesuit High School to hear about a program called 2020. It is a scholarship program at St. John’s for students without means. Eligibility is based on income. Most students in the program are minority students. It works.
This program is not a sports recruiting program. It has no affiliation with the St. John’s athletic program, and 2020’s director, the Rev. Tom Doyle, jokes that most of his scholarship guys would be hard-pressed to catch a baseball. Rather, it is a chance — an amazing chance — to get on a very different train.
This program not only offers a full ride for a four-year Jesuit education, but it offers a support system — orientation before freshman year, extra math courses, tutoring, even etiquette. And, under the watchful eye of Father Doyle and his assistant, Mary Ann Barabino, scholarship students are monitored on a daily basis their first and second years.
All the student must bring to the table is the capacity to do the work at St. John’s, the willingness to do the work, and the desire to go to college. If he brings all that, the school will help him succeed, whether he needs lunch money, a pair of shoes, or books.
The commitment of the school to these kids is total, and it is personal.
The 2020 program takes young men who lack money and gives them a second family, a total support system that will not let them fall through the safety net into invisibility.
There are about 60 students in this program, out of a student body of roughly 800.
And there is enough money to fund the program.
The one thing that does not happen for 2020 students is any lowering of standards. Everyone does college prep work. And 2020 kids have gone to some of the best schools in the nation — Notre Dame, Boston College, Ohio State, Northwestern, and Michigan.
Some of these young men come from extremely challenging circumstances. One lived, with his mom, in shelters the whole four years of high school.
And since expectations are high, success is high. Everyone graduates. More than 90 percent go to college.
Years ago I saw a movie with Robert Duvall and James Earl Jones in which Mr. Jones made a great speech: They say no human being can save another human being, his character said. But that’s not true. A teacher, a coach, or a school, can totally alter the life of a youngster who will do his part.
I don’t think St. John’s should get a pat on the back for this program, so much as I think we can learn from it. St. John’s is doing exactly what it should do as a Catholic and Jesuit school. It is applying its values.
I went to high school at St. Charles in Columbus, which makes a similar commitment: You can do the work and are willing to do the work? We will stop at nothing to get you in, graduated, and into college.
That’s the first lesson I draw: Every kid with drive should get a shot.
Second: If we set expectations high, kids will meet them. That’s a lesson for all schools.
I want Donald Sterling’s $2.5 million fine to build another two or three 2020 programs.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6266.