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La Salle Middle School: Where college starts in 5th grade

By December 13, 2017Uncategorized

College starts in middle school at La Salle Middle School, a public charter school located at 1106 N. Jefferson in North St. Louis.

“When we welcome a family in at 5th grade or 6th grade, we say, ‘We are committed to you through post-secondary,’” said Melissa Brickey, executive director of De La Salle, Inc., the nonprofit that supports the school.

La Salle Middle School continues to offer academic assistance, test prep courses, and college application help to its graduates as they traverse high school. That might explain the school’s remarkable statistics: 97 percent of La Salle graduates go on to graduate high school, and 84 percent of them enroll in college.

All of the students at La Salle are African-American kids from St. Louis, and 96 percent of them qualify for free and reduced lunch. Though any city child may apply for the school, “priority is given to students from North St. Louis city,” Brickey said.

The school gets state funding for almost all the expenses of running the middle school, Brickey said, but unlike other middle schools, La Salle’s services continue after students graduate 8th grade – and that’s where the nonprofit comes in.

“We start at 5th or 6th grade and say, we’re going to stay with you until you finish – and we do,” Brickey said. “We keep very close contact, and to me that is the thing that is most unique about our mission.”

That uniqueness is evident in the building’s construction. There is a dedicated Graduate Lounge, outfitted with comfortable chairs, a piano, and snacks. Current students aren’t allowed to enter – it’s exclusively for graduates who return to La Salle.

Though the school has been open for 16 years, this is only their second year in the new location on North Jefferson, and construction has been ongoing.

“Since the construction, the number of kids who want to be architects has skyrocketed,” Brickey laughed.

Jermonie Smith , a 7th grader, said his favorite part of the La Salle experience has been class trips. La Salle kids begin to visit colleges as early as the 5th grade. By the end of their time there, according to Brickey, they’ll have visited 10 different colleges – more than most high school students ever get the chance to see.

Jermonie is already excited about college, though he has seen so many already they are becoming difficult to keep straight.

He said, “We visited Mizzou, Harris-Stowe State University, SLU, and … what was it called? Yeah, Maryville … and. .. I don’t remember!”

He hasn’t decided which school he’d like to attend yet, though as a seventh grader he still has a lot of time to choose.

The head of school at La Salle, LaShanda Boone, is new to the school this year.

“That first day I got the same kind of jitters a student would get on the first day of school,” Boone said. “But the students took to me, and I took to them. This is essentially where I know I should be. I knew that from the first day I walked in for my interview.”

The school environment just felt right to her, she said. The students’ opinions are taken seriously there. Students were even involved in the selection process for their next head of school. They asked her about her vision as head of school, and how she would do her job, and even what the last book she read was (it was “The Hate U Give,” which she recommends).

“After the interview, when I stood up to shake the students’ hands, the first one bypassed my hand and gave me a hug,” she said.

That close relationship with her students is still part of what she loves about the school. Every day, she shakes each student’s hand as they walk inside, and at the end of the day she makes sure she’s outside to wave goodbye to them.

“At dismissal time, I make sure that I’m outside, talking to the parents, making sure that they had a good day,” she said. “And if not, then we need to fix it! The next question to ask is: ‘Is there something we can do tomorrow to make your day better?’”

Registration for La Salle Middle School is open at http://lasallemiddleschool.org. If you have any questions about registration, contact Sherida Williams at (314) 531-9820 or swilliams@lasallemiddleschool.org.

Article from the St. Louis American by Sophie Hurwitz