Sunday, Mar 26, 2017
(Photo courtesy Sacred Heart Preparatory)
A summer school teacher with Sophie Scholars at Sacred Heart Preparatory in Atherton.
Sophie Scholars program offers helping handJuly 25th, 2016
By Valerie Schmalz/Catholic San Francisco
A University of Notre Dame study that said just 3 percent of Latino children attend Catholic schools while Latinos comprise 35 percent of U.S. Catholics—and 67 percent of practicing Catholics aged 18-34—caused James Everitt to sit up and take notice.
As an administrator at Sacred Heart Preparatory in Atherton, Everitt was already committed to the school’s policy of providing generous financial aid to low income families but the Notre Dame report in 2009, “To Nurture the Soul of a Nation: Latino Families, Catholic Schools, and Educational Opportunity,” drove him to do more, he said.
In just a few years, the Sacred Heart Sophie Scholars Program has changed the lives of several dozen students and young adults and is on track to double in size in the next year.
The Sophie Scholars program is a middle school enrichment program that prepares students from under-served neighborhoods for the competitive environment of Sacred Heart Preparatory. It is named for the 18th century Frenchwoman St. Madeleine Sophie Barat of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the religious order which founded Sacred Heart Preparatory.
A major piece is the program’s close cooperation with Catholic elementary schools, Everitt said. “It has been important for me for it be a really Catholic program,” said Everitt, who after nearly nine years as principal recently was appointed director of Mission Initiatives and Institutional Planning.
Sophie Scholars enrolls sixth, seventh and eighth grade students primarily from two Catholic schools, Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Redwood City and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Palo Alto which draws its students from East Palo Alto. It also works with the Beechwood School, a private school supported by the California Family Foundation, and with the Holy Family School in Redwood City. Some public school students are also accepted.
“The kids have the skills. They’re already pretty talented,” said Elaine Barry, director of the Sophie Scholars Program, who noted the rising juniors who complete the Scholars program and are enrolled in Sacred Heart Preparatory currently have an average GPA of 3.7 which is about a half of a point higher than the average student there. “It’s just access to time in the classroom. When given access, these students soar. They meet or exceed their peer group in high school.”
The goal is for 20 students per year to successfully complete the Sophie Scholars three-year middle school program and be accepted, virtually tuition-free for four years of high school at Sacred Heart Preparatory, Everitt said. “Our goal is 20 kids a year in the freshman class. We’re close,” Everitt said.
The rising junior class at the high school, the class of 2018, is the first set of graduates from the Sophie Scholars Program in its current expanded and more intensive iteration, Barry said. The program has been in existence in some form for more than a decade.
Sophie Scholars have proved their mettle: There are about 29 students now in college, and college graduates are working at Tesla, the Mexican consulate, as engineers, in computer science and as recruiters, she said.
The Sophie Scholars program attend a six-week summer program each summer. During the school year, they meet once a week with a Sophie Scholar tutor and also attend enrichment activities and a Saturday class. To qualify, Sophie Scholars must have demonstrated academic talent and commitment, and be eligible for the federal free or reduced lunch program.
Barry is also director of the Barat College Access Fund which provides an average of $15,000 a year to Sacred Heart Preparatory graduates who were Sophie Scholars. The fund was created by teachers who realized former Sophie Scholars were falling short in the financial aid needed for items such as texts, airfare, even tuition and room and board.
Dania Reed now works as a recruiter for a start-up company called MapR. She said because of the Barat fund, she graduated on time. “I am forever grateful for the help of Dr. James Everitt and the staff at SHP for having such an amazing fund set into place and truly keeping their promise to help me get into college but also being a vital part in helping me finish,” Reed said.
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