Historic all-girls school opens Male Academy







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St. Mary’s Academy ushered in a new historic era recently opening the doors to its Male Academy. Serving boys in grades four through seven, the school seeks to promote character development, spirituality and academic success in an atmosphere that is supportive and disciplined.


St. Mary’s Academy principal Sr. Jennie Jones said Friday that prior to Hurricane Katrina, St. Mary’s Academy offered instruction for girls in grades six through 12. For one year after Katrina, it was part of MAX, a school that included students from St. Augustine, St. Mary’s and Xavier Prep. In the fall of 2006, St. Mary’s moved its operations to the former St. James Major School campus in Gentilly, while its campus on Chef Menteur Highway was still being rebuilt.


There were not many schools at that time, so we were asked to include an elementary school, according to Sr. Jennie.


Cornelius Clay, Jordan Johnson and Bobby Barnes are among the first students of St. Mary’s Male Academy which opened its doors this school term.


“So in 2006 St. Mary’s Academy opened grades pre-K through 12, with grades pre-K through eighth grade as co-ed,” she told The Louisiana Weekly. “We were expecting about 200 students but ended up with 600.”


Since St. Mary’s outgrew the St. James Major campus in one year, it moved back to eastern New Orleans and utilized temporary classrooms brought in by FEMA.


After three years, St. Mary’s began sending its seventh- and eighth-graders to St. Aug but was unable to do so after the Archdiocese of New Orleans reorganized its high schools to only include grades eight through 12.


“We had to keep our boys,” Sr. Jones told The Louisiana Weekly. “We decided that not only would we keep them but we would nurture them and walk them through those middle-school years and get them prepared for high school.


“I think if we could get that group and develop them and show them how a young man carries himself and give them positive role models, that’s going to affect the city with all the violence and other problems. We’re starting small but have big plans for the male academy.”


“St. Mary’s Male Academy offers a unique opportunity for middle school boys to better prepare themselves for high school and beyond,” said Dean of Boys Chad Smith, citing the importance of reaching boys at an early age and providing a holistic education. “We offer the perfect balance that supports the development of the entire person; physically, mentally, academically and spiritually.”


Asked about some of the goals of the Male Academy, Smith told The Louisiana Weekly, “We want them to be prepared for high school…By taking them in fourth grade and nurturing them through seventh grade, that’s a huge advantage for us as well as the high schools in the city of New Orleans because we’re going to give them the character development that they need. They’re going to know about respect — respect for females, respect for males, respect for themselves and respect for all people. We want these young men to be developed with strong character, a spiritual foundation that they can fall forward with when they have issues.


“We want them to be well-prepared to take on anything that comes their way, not just for high school and college but for the world beyond,” he added.


Smith said it’s imperative that these young men are given a solid foundation while still in their formative years. “Send them to us while they are young,” he told The Louisiana Weekly. “…We want these young men to be strong, respectful, responsible, dynamic, confident, with integrity and engaged in community service.”


Smith said the 45 males currently enrolled in the academy have three male instructors that serve as role models as well as educators. Over the course of their day, the young men are required to change classes and make sure they have the materials required for each of their classes.


“The responsibility and organization factor is huge at this point in their lives,” Smith said. “We want to give them every opportunity to develop into successful, dynamic young men.”


He said there is a need for computers for the young men to conduct research and carry out classroom assignments. We are always in need of up-to-date computers and sports equipment,” Smith said. “Some of these young men may need uniforms due to their economic situation. But as far as the school is concerned, there is a strong need for computers. …We want to get them prepared for the next level.”


Smith said the male academy also plans to teach the young men how to run a newspaper and radio station. “I would definitely like to pass that on to them,” he said.


Smith said the male academy has “a strong team of individuals that work with the male academy.”


Donnie Lancelin, a 2008 St. Aug grad who serves as Assistant Dean and a classroom instructor, said Friday that he is committed to instilling discipline and structure in the lives of his young charges.


“I’m really big on discipline,” Lancelin, told The Louisiana Weekly. “There needs to be order in order for anything to succeed. These guys have to be in order, have to know how things work on a daily basis. I like to see them do things the right way.


“Discipline is really big for me,” Lancelin continued. “Once they get self-discipline, then they can move on to accomplish other things, but discipline must come first.”


According to a report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education, Louisiana ranks 43rd in the United States for Black male high school graduation rates. In 2012-13, 53 percent of Louisiana Black male students completed high school in four years, compared to the national average of 59 percent.


The core principles of the St. Mary’s Male Academy include a challenging college preparatory curriculum that includes theology, science, robotics, history, English, art, reading, music, physical education and technology. ACT Prep, study skills, higher order thinking and testing are also offered. Externally, the sense of pride is reflected in a host of activities that include soccer, football, basketball, cross country and baseball. Plans are also in the works to provide swimming and golf.


“Our school is rooted in the same educational tradition of the Sisters of the Holy Family, who founded both St. Mary’s Academy and St. Mary’s Male Academy,” said Smith, a graduate of St. Augustine High School and Dillard University. “We expect our boys to develop into men with morals, character and intelligence.”


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