“In the All Hallows HS vision, all students are children of God, deserving the best.”
For more than 100 years, All Hallows High School in the Bronx has been educating immigrant and lower-income boys. Early on, the students were Irish; later, they were Italian; today, they are Hispanic and black. But despite demographic changes in the area and dramatic cultural change in the Catholic Church, All Hallows maintains its traditions, practices and aims.
Before charters, many viewed Catholic schools as the model for inner-city education, since they achieved so much success with children from low-income families — the type many public schools failed to educate. The earliest charter schools tried to mirror Catholic practices, but what made Catholic education effective was often lost in translation: It’s much more than strict rules.
All Hallows is a school that works, though many would think that it couldn’t, given its demographics. It serves 510 young men from Harlem and the Bronx. Sixty percent come from single-parent homes; 78% are Hispanic; 20%, black.
By the standards of public education, All Hallows is under-resourced. It spends about $11,600 per student — less than half of what neighboring public high schools spend and about 64% of outlays at charters. All Hallows teachers earn dramatically less than their public school counterparts. The 90-year-old school building is compact, vertical and spartan. Its gym has no bleachers for spectators, though its walls are adorned with banners commemorating glories.
Even so, the school achieves at high levels. In recent years, 85% of students entering the school in ninth grade made it through 12th grade, and almost all the 12th-graders went on to college, ranging from city and state schools to highly regarded private universities. Almost every year, a graduate or two goes on to the Ivy League or other highly selective universities.
All students must take part in the Christian Service Program by volunteering at local nonprofits. Freshmen must provide 10 hours per year of service; sophomores, 20 hours; juniors, 30 hours; and seniors, 40 hours. Students who double the minimum service requirements get extra academic credit.
All Hallows imposes no religious screen for students seeking admission. The school asks only that non-Catholic and non-Christian students respect its traditions. Liturgies are celebrated at various points in the year, and prayer is part of the religious program.
“We don’t evangelize,” school administrators told me, “but last month, 22 students received their first sacraments at the school.” At times, the decision to enter formally the life of the Church comes about from being surrounded by others practicing their faith, rather than as the result of proselytization. That’s called “practicing Christian witness.”
Some public schools, tied to the political winds and dominant culture of today, can easily conceive of specific programs to respond to the needs of every conceivable student group — all in pursuit of equal outcomes. At All Hallows, students are viewed as fundamentally equal, regardless of their backgrounds or characteristics, so there is no need to place them on a hierarchy of oppression or victimization.
The school focuses on the commonality of its students. It offers no virtue-signaling list of initiatives; instead, it maintains that it will provide students with a “challenging, structured curriculum.” In the All Hallows vision, all students are children of God, deserving of the best education possible. The school has no need of the latest theories of social justice — its own enduring approach to social justice has moved mountains for more than a century.
Schools like All Hallows provide an invaluable service to their communities. Their success predates the most recent era of education reform, now fading in many quarters. These religious schools continue to operate, thanks to the generosity of alumni, civic-minded individuals and targeted scholarships. Donors and supporters are doing what states have failed to do: sustain schools that provide real educational opportunity to disadvantaged students.
It’s not too late for New York’s political leaders to demonstrate their commitment to the students of the Bronx, Harlem and other communities, in the form of a tax credit for contributions to scholarship funds that support schools like All Hallows. This wouldn’t be a diversion of public education funds but rather a targeted investment in institutions providing a great public benefit.
This piece originally appeared at the New York Post
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