They start their day with a prayer.
Then it’s off to class at The Washington Middle School for Girls in the nation’s capital. One hundred students attend this Catholic day school. They come from low-income homes with complex family backgrounds. Many are being raised by a single parent or grandparent.
Sister Mary Bourdon founded the school 14 years ago. Private donations cover most of the costs, including the $15,000-a-year tuition and a federal lunch program that gives students a hot meal each day. The school is located in a community where teen pregnancy is high and many girls are at risk for leaving school early.
“This is where we wanted our school to be, where we could reach young girls during their middle-school years and intervene in a way that sets them on the track to a healthy and happy adulthood,” Bourdon said.
Sister Bourdon says students often enter the school below their grade level and are not motivated. “One of the first things we do is get the teachers who excite them about learning,” she said. “They get personal individual attention.”
Class sizes are small, giving teachers like Kelly Lockard an opportunity to work one-on-one.
“If I am able to develop that relationship with them and if they are able to feel comfortable with me, that helps with the intrinsic motivation,” she explained. “And it helps with them just relaxing and being comfortable to be able to ask whatever questions they need to ask about about math or about life.”
Neaje is excelling and wants to be a doctor someday. “In my previous schools, they didn’t have as much as this school has and the love and the care that they show for me. We all have high expectations for ourselves,” she noted. “And so do our teachers.”
Makayla is another success. She came to the school three years ago shy and lacking self confidence. Now she’s eager to learn.
“When I’m here, I feel challenged. I don’t feel like I am getting the lowest education or this isn’t good enough for me. I feel like I am being pushed to my limits to do my best,” she said.
Makayla says this school has given her hope for what she wants to achieve in life.
“I think there should be a lot of other schools like this one,” she added. “Because it provides you with a good education and it helps you be the best that you can be.”
Ninety-seven percent of the students here graduate from high school, compared with less than half at DC public schools. That’s success for a private school helping young girls fulfill their dreams.