A mission to unlock the gate to St. James School — which officially kicked off September 2010—proved successful, thanks to the help of so many caring supporters.
An Episcopal middle school in the Allegheny West section of North Philadelphia — we are here to help change the face of educational opportunity for middle-school aged children.
Why We Worked to Unlock the Gate
A Brief History of St. James School
The neighborhood around the Church of St. James the Less was once called “Paradise” because of the nearby cemeteries. Over the years, that nickname lost its shine as industries and jobs moved out of the area.
Strained families, the ready availability of illicit drugs, and the general failures of neighborhood schools spelled decline and an uncertain future for the neighborhood of Allegheny West.
When the church was vacated early in 2006, its gates were locked and the lush campus with its walled yards became a dark spot in the neighborhood rather than a place of welcome and refuge that it had been for 160 years.
In 2008, the Vestry and people of St. Mark’s Church (Locust Street, Philadelphia) adopted the vacant property. The belief was that it could be a tremendous resource for the neighborhood and that a school might come into being some day. The good people of St. Mark’s Church—along with the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania—agreed it was a valuable effort to undertake.
Understanding the Need for Education
As a graduate of St. Thomas Choir School in New York City, Fr. Sean Mullen (the Rector of St. Mark’s Church) understood the benefits of a small, Episcopal middle school in the heart of an urban city.
“Few of my classmates came from families that would have had access to the education and experiences we were given at St. Thomas Choir School,” recalls Fr. Mullen. “It was at St. Thomas we learned not only all the usual school subjects and the lessons that came from a demanding musical training, but also—and perhaps more importantly—we learned that God loved us, and that we had gifts to offer, nurtured by the church, that were a delight to God and to God’s people. We learned that we could achieve incredibly high standards when we concentrated, worked hard, and used the gifts that God gave us.”
Every child deserves to learn these lessons. Sadly, there is not a single Episcopal school in Philadelphia—no place in this troubled city where the church is engaged in teaching such lessons to children who are greatly in need of knowing them. St. James School is an ideal place for such an important ministry to take place.
Two Summer Camps Prove Interest
Along with St. Mark’s Church, the Youth Ministry office at the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania led and organized a summer immersion program—called City Camp—on the grounds of St. James. The St. James campus on Clearfield Street was overflowing with children for those few weeks during the summers of 2009 and 2010. City Camp was so tremendously successful that children from around the neighborhood were saddened to see the gates in front of the school locked once more. City Camp has grown into a four week program for over ninety neighborhood children led by high school youth from Episcopal parishes from all over the country.
After School — Testing the Theory
In the fall of 2010, an After School program began at St. James. At first only a few students attended evening sessions three days a week. Volunteer math and language tutors/teachers came every Monday through Wednesday to ensure that even the few children who attended would have an opportunity to study, improve their grades and keep their minds active and away from television, video games and temptations just outside their front door.
After School at St. James quickly became a testament to the school’s future with over ten students committed and attending regularly. The program’s focus was homework help and tutoring but also included classes in music, the arts and Spanish. St. James School will continue to offer After School at St. James to neighborhood students in grades 3 and 4.
The Gates Unlocked, the Doors Opened
So now, to continue addressing the serious deficiencies of the neighborhood schools, St. James School—with an Episcopal identity—opened its doors as a middle school in the Allegheny West section of North Philadelphia in September 2011.
Considering that only 50% of Philadelphia high school students graduate on time and more than 40% drop out altogether, a determined group of people have committed to changing these dire statistics by ensuring that students attend, learn, meet high standards and succeed—in school and beyond.
St. James School aims to provide children from this low-income community with the same quality education offered in the region’s best private schools.