Congratulations to the LN Charity Awards winners: City Academy, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Food Outreach Inc., along with finalists Covenant House, Friends of Kids with Cancer, H.I.S. Kids, Our M.O.M., Shriners Hospitals and Saint Louis Crisis Nursery.
Sometimes, Don Danforth III gets caught up in the day-to-day responsibilities as president of City Academy, but moments like the recent graduation of this year’s sixth-graders remind him of the importance of the school in the community. “You see the graduates up there on stage, and the alums, teachers and parents in the audience—they’re all so proud,” he says. “Everyone is excited about what they’ve accomplished, but even more excited about what it will lead to—it’s pretty amazing to see.”
City Academy was founded in 1999 by Danforth to fulfill a vision he and Martin Mathews had while Danforth was a volunteer at the Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’ Club. “Martin always said he wanted to create an educational program that would be what I’d want for my own kids,” Danforth explains. In its first year, the school opened its doors in the North St. Louis club to 42 students who faced economic or geographic disadvantages. “We wanted to provide an excellent curriculum to really bright kids who had potential and just didn’t have access to those opportunities,” he says.
Over the past 13 years, the enrollment has grown (135 scholars this year), and City Academy moved into a new building in 2004 to accommodate that growth. As the only independent school in North St. Louis, the school works hard to live up to its mission. “We have very high expectations for our students and teach them the merits of working hard, being students of integrity and good citizens,” Danforth notes. “The academic rigor is not easy, but with the right foundation, there are so many opportunities out there.”
The school serves children from age 3 through sixth grade, and their educational foundation stems from dedicated teaching models. Teachers are specialists in their subjects and use methods like Singapore or Montessori Math, in conjunction with its STEAM program (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math). By using cross-curricular, challenging programs taught by teachers who push their students to achieve, City Academy has set an example for other institutions, Danforth says.
A key part of City Academy’s uniqueness lies in the fact that 100 percent of its students receive scholarship support. While families pay some tuition, depending on need, that covers only 20 percent of the school’s budget. The remaining 80 percent comes from endowment revenue and donations, with more than 700 donors—individuals, foundations and corporations— helping to raise $1.5 million this year. “We’re fortunate that St. Louis is such a generous community,” Danforth says.
Because of the opportunities that the school provides, entry into City Academy is competitive, with five applicants to every one opening in the earliest grades. Although the school looks for students who are eager and ready to learn, it also is looking for a parental commitment, Danforth adds. “The parents have to be engaged, and when they are, it’s a real partnership.”
With the entire school community focused on supporting the students, those scholars are able to find success at the next level. In the past four years, 80 percent of the graduates have gone on to thrive at top-quality secondary schools like MICDS, John Burroughs, Whitfield and Westminster, earning $750,000 in scholarships. Members of City Academy’s oldest graduating class have completed their first year at colleges like Vanderbilt University and Ole Miss.
Seeing those alums return to volunteer or attend graduation excites Danforth about the future of City Academy. It will welcome 160 students next year, and he hopes the school will continue to expand in a careful and thoughtful way. “Early on, the school was an idea, and now 13 years later, it’s become a reality. But best of all, no one’s satisfied with saying we’ve made it—we’re thinking what’s next.”
Volunteer: John Brightman
Occasionally, John Brightman takes potential donors and other visitors on tours of City Academy. A former president of University of Connecticut took one such tour and was duly impressed. “She told me that she had never seen another school like this in the country,” Brightman says. “The way City Academy operates—with everyone on scholarship—helps those who normally couldn’t afford the type of education that any of us would want for our own kids.”
Brightman has been a key part of the North St. Louis school’s success since the beginning. A longtime friend of Don Danforth III, he got involved as soon as the founder shared his idea for City Academy. Using business connections throughout St. Louis from his years fundraising for John Burroughs School and other causes, Brightman helped Danforth raise the initial $3.5 million needed to start the school. “It was a good challenge, and I’m proud we ultimately ended up meeting it.”
While Brightman, who does nonprofit consulting, stepped down from City Academy’s board in 2010 after many years, he still sits on the development committee, assists with fundraising and visits the school. “The students are a lot of fun, and I enjoy spending time there,” he says. “Whatever they need me to do, I’ll do.”
Brightman has witnessed the growth of City Academy over the years and hopes the model can one day be replicated in other parts of the city. “I’ve always had an interest in education, and this school is uniquely important to our community.”