St. Ignatius Church plans middle school for boys Jesuits' focus would be poor, black city residents.


As the Schmoke administration pushes a proposed middle school for disruptive students, a Catholic parish is trying to start a middle school for boys from poor families.

St. Ignatius Church wants to model its school after a successful Jesuit-run school on New York's Lower East Side that surrounds its students with attention -- days, evenings, weekends and summer vacation.

The Rev. William Watters, pastor of the Jesuit parish at Calvert and Madison streets, wants to open the school by September 1993.

St. Ignatius Academy, as it would be called, eventually would accept 60 boys in the three middle-school grades, with each grade split into two sections.

The school hopes to open a sixth grade its first year, followed by a seventh and an eighth grade in each of the two succeeding years.

Father Watters, who came to St. Ignatius last year from planning TC a Jesuit school in Nigeria, said he wanted to reassert the traditional Jesuit approach of providing educational, social and spiritual missions together.

In the past, as Jesuits prepared to start a parish in a diocese, they often would build a school before building the church, he said. "If there's going to be upward mobility, there's got to be good education," he said.

The school would be exclusively for students from poor, mostly black families in Baltimore.

Father Watters said he wanted a middle school because studies show that many children from poor families start to fail in early adolescence. The school would serve boys, because that is the Jesuit tradition, he said, and because poor black boys in disproportionate numbers are struggling in school and getting into trouble.

The school would be open to non-Catholics. It would teach the Judeo-Christian heritage, as well as other religious traditions, but with "a special understanding of Roman Catholicism."

Families would be charged a nominal tuition fee, Father Watters said.

"I don't want to instill in the school or in the boy and his family that everything is scot-free. That would poison our program."

St. Ignatius Academy would operate next to the church in a building that housed Loyola College and High School, and the priests who taught there, beginning in 1855. Loyola later expanded to what is now the Center Stage building at the southern end of the block, before moving to other sites.

Plans for the academy are still in formation. Father Watters hopes to start the school with about $100,000.

To raise support, John Moag Jr., a St. Ignatius parishioner who is also the parish lawyer, is arranging for Father Watters to meet with leaders in local politics, education and foundation giving.

"You're going to find this is a most welcome concept," Mr. Moag said.

Father Watters plans to ask the St. Ignatius parish council this Sunday to start considering approval. Parishioners so far have been enthusiastic, he said. Father Watters is also seeking approval from the regional authority of his order, which could send financial support and assign more priests to work with the school.

The faculty would consist of priests and members of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, a lay group that assists in the work of Jesuit missions among the poor.

Those working at St. Ignatius Academy would live there or nearby, an essential feature of the school's attempt to guide its ,, students most of their waking hours.

In the proposed schedule, classes would run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., with an hour after that for supervised homework at the school. The next hour would be for sports. At 5:30 p.m., students would study again before going home for dinner. At 7:30 p.m. they would return to school for as much as three hours of tutoring.

The boys would also come to school on Saturdays and Sundays for study, athletics, cultural events and worship.

In the summer, Father Watters hopes to use a Jesuit retreat center in the Catoctin Mountains of Pennsylvania for tutoring, recreation and for fostering camaraderie.

St. Ignatius Academy may draw its students from public and parochial schools, particularly the Queen of Peace School in East Baltimore, which St. Ignatius parish supports. Students also might come from a tutoring program Father Watters wants to start this summer.

The academy could accept boys who behave badly in school if their problems arise from boredom with their current school environment, Father Watters said, but the academy would probably not take boys with problems that might chronically disrupt the education of their classmates.

St. Ignatius Academy would be modeled after the Nativity Mission Center, a middle school Jesuits started in 1971 in a Hispanic section of New York's Lower East Side.

The Jesuits started a similar school in Boston two years ago, Father Watters said, and another one in the Harlem section of New York.

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