Schoolmates: Many La Jollans help guide inner-city students at Nativity Prep

By Kathy Day
Tucked away in a neighborhood of San Diego that many La Jollans likely have never visited sits a small school that’s having a big impact on students from some of the city’s less-fortunate neighborhoods. Despite the distance from La Jolla, Nativity Prep Academy has about 200 people living in 92037 who support the middle school on 55th Street either with their time or money.

2011 graduates Cindy Bautista and Brian Lopez. Courtesy

Some pitch in from a distance by sponsoring a student’s tuition or an activity, others tutor or mentor, and some like Mike Daniels, the school’s president and long-time board member, go all in.

A founder of the Monarch School, which serves the city’s homeless youth, Daniels said as that program grew he wanted put his talents to work in another start-up situation that was results-oriented.

“I have a passion for inner-city kids,” he said. When he learned about Nativity Prep Academy, a Catholic, college-prep school that serves low-income families in Southeast San Diego, he knew where to focus that passion. Now he’s on campus about two-and-a-half days a week and boasts shamelessly about how well the program is working – two classes of its graduates are now in college.
The school enrolls sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students who show potential for success. But it doesn’t just enroll them, it covers their full tuition and transportation needs and provides tutors and mentors.

Mike Daniels, Nativity Catholic Prep president

On top of that, it continues the financial commitment to the students into high school, Daniels said. That means paying for them to attend prestigious private high schools, like Bishop’s, Francis Parker and Cathedral Catholic, or it supports them at charter high schools like High-Tech High.

In 2010, Nativity Prep moved from a commercial building on Market Street to Holy Cross Catholic Church, which had closed its own school. With classes limited to 20, and only 180 students, the setting is old-school in more ways than one.
Students greet visitors with a handshake and a smile as they introduce themselves. Teachers are smiling, even as active students tend to raise the volume a bit while they study together.

And there’s a strong ethic aimed at “spiritual, moral, and emotional development of students as well as academic, physical, and social needs,” as outlined by the Nativity/Miquel Network of schools, of which the San Diego campus is one of more than 60.
Those values are instilled through being on campus 10 hours a day, 10 months a year – and attending a required summer program that includes a week at a YMCA camp. Students also have P.E. classes, sports teams, art and music, field trips, and computer and science labs.
Many of the teachers have been there for seven or eight years, including principal Brendan Sullivan who started in the school’s second year.

Fun at lunch time.

Another La Jollan involved with Nativity Prep since it started in 2001 is Richard Kelly, who served as principal and president at University High School before it closed and became Cathedral Catholic in Carmel Valley.
Now the chairman of the board of trustees, Kelly said he read an e-mail from the school’s founder, David Rivera, and “was so taken with the concept” and its Jesuit philosophies that he had to get involved.

Although most of the cost is picked up by the school, parents must pay $100 a month, which Daniels noted “doesn’t seem like much but to these families it can be a significant amount.” They must also commit to attending three parent-teacher conferences each year and help with fundraisers.

For Daniels, a landmark moment came at an event where he was seated next to an 11-year-old student he hadn’t met before.
When he asked if she had thought about her goals, she answered that she wanted to attend The Thatcher School, a preparatory boarding school in Ojai where every student is assigned a horse to care for, and then go to Harvard. “When you have a conversation with an 11-year-old living in poverty who gets it, it’s awe-inspiring,” said Daniels.

“We hope and believe they can get to a four-year university,” he added, noting that because they continue support into college, that prospect improves.
Along the way, students get help from people like La Jolla resident Judy Halter. The mother of four heard about Nativity Prep through her Georgetown University alumni involvement and then met Kelly through a neighbor. She’s taught current events, art and literacy as a volunteer at the school, but last year saw a need for coaching the students after they entered high school.
“We started to realize the kids need more support,” she said, so she organized a “college coaches” program. Volunteers meet with the grads once a month and are particularly supportive during the freshman year “trying to get them to be courageous and engaged at their schools.”

They monitor the students’ grades, have held parenting classes to help explain the college application process, and recently sponsored a motivational speaker. They also help with paperwork – college and exam applications, financial aid forms — and pay admission fees and test fees.

Halter noted that as colleges become more competitive, “it trickles down to this population. … Our population needs to be educated. … This is a way to play a part and make a change in people’s lives.”


Want to learn more?
The school welcomes visitors and volunteers, call (619) 544-9455, or log on to nativityprep.org
• Join Nativity Prep students and staff for their complimentary annual “Breakfast for Champions,” 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 7 at
Mission Tower Room, Del Mar Fairgrounds. RSVP at (619) 544-9455, ext. 227

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Posted by Staff on Feb 14, 2012. Filed under Life, Philanthropy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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