To say the least, it’s not the standard phone message. Hello, this is Maya. I am a seventh-grader at De La Salle Middle School, and I am somebody. You’re somebody, too, and your call is very important to us. When phoning De La Salle Middle School at St. Matthew’s (DLS), callers immediately experience one of the foundational messages of the program, making it easier to see how this inner-city institution is changing futures, one somebody at a time.
“We’ve regarded it as one of the best-kept secrets in St. Louis,” says DLS president, Corey Quinn, of this North City establishment. “While I think of that as a good place to start, it’s not a reputation I want us to have moving forward. It’s a little gem that’s been undiscovered. It’s a very small school located in a neighborhood that most people would not find themselves wandering through. But when found, it’s the bright, shining place that gets its hook into you and makes you fall in love with it.”
That hook catches deep, as Korey Stewart-Glaze can surely attest to: The 2004 DLS graduate has returned to campus after finishing college to work as the recruitment coordinator. “I believe you should give back to the ones who help you,” he says. “I want to help the inner-city youth get out of the inner-city, and experience a great high school and a great college.”
By the numbers alone, DLS is making an impact: The organization boasts a 96-percent high-school graduation rate, compared to 47 percent in the area overall. The Roman Catholic middle school runs longer days and a 191-day calendar, meaning students log 1,710 annual hours, compared to 1,122 at most public schools. And while an approximate 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, 64 percent attend a tuition-based high school after completing their middle-school years—partly in thanks to scholarships provided by DLS.
Class programs vary from standard schooling to include unique classes, such as an entrepreneurship program through PNC Bank. “Our students learned some of the basic concepts of starting their own business,” explains Quinn. The students studied business lessons revolving around real-life topics such as selling margins and profitability.
“I think that one of the things that we do best—and also is hardest to measure—is that we instill a sense of hope in our students,” explains Quinn. “We don’t just take a kid and reprimand him or her for misbehavior. Instead, the student ‘processes’—he or she is asked to remove themselves from a situation, reflect and write about it. Then, they go back to the teacher and work through that together, so the long-term result is the child understanding their emotions and dealing with those emotions in different ways.”
Former students still benefit from the program, as DLS’s Graduate Support Team is there to assist with high school selection, standardized test preparation and college selection. “Our kids listen, and our kids really want to learn because they know that the adults who are guiding them genuinely care about who they are and what they become,” says Quinn. “There’s a real sense of shared respect and a common goal: everyone wants to see our kids succeed.”
With the first DLS students graduating college last year, Stewart-Glaze included, the measurable results of the program continue to increase and the ‘I am somebody’ attitude grows. “It’s a road of different concrete, because it’s the shining light of the area,” Stewart-Glaze says of DLS. “It’s the good that came out of the neighborhood.”
Quinn adds the school is trying to enlist the support of a broader segment of the community. “If more people would join us, we’re certain we can be successful. I want to extend an invitation for anyone to come down and take a chance, no appointment necessary. We are completely transparent. I promise, anyone who does that will be greeted by a student who shakes their hand, looks them in the eye and says, Welcome to De La Salle.”
ON THE COVER: Former De La Salle student Tia Franks recently graduated from the school and will be attending a dance program in New York this summer before moving on to Whitfield School. For more information, call 531-9820 or visit delasallems.org.