Inside the walls of a rented church off Seattle’s MLK Way, awaits what many consider a Godsend.
“Words can’t even explain how I feel,” said a beaming Jaeden Thomas, as he walked in to his new school Tuesday morning. It was the first day of 6th grade for Jaeden, and he couldn’t wait. “I'm shaking inside of my body. I feel like I'm gonna jump out, but I feel really good.”
Jaeden is one of 15 students hand selected to be the inaugural class at Seattle Nativity School, a new Catholic middle school where students get a private education -- for free. The students are all low income, but highly capable.
Jaeden is one of four kids from a single mom in the city's rough Central District. He's a strong student, but hated school last year because he was bullied. He’s confident this year will be different.
“It feels better knowing I'm going to get a good education and that I'm safe here,” he said.
Students were recommended for enrollment by Boys and Girls Clubs, heath centers and other community organizations.
“They have to have that spark,” said the school’s executive director, Renee Willette. “They have to want it.”
The opportunity comes with a quite a commitment from the kids. There is a month of mandatory summer school every year. Students log nine-hour school days and are held to rigorous standards. The school’s mission is to break the cycle of poverty by empowering kids and setting them up as role models so that others see there is a way out as well.
“We hope that once they graduate from high school and college that they’ll come back to this community and continue to empower future generations,” said Willette.
Nativity schools are faith-based middle schools modeled after the first institution founded by the Jesuits in 1971 at the Mission of the Nativity on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Since then, more than 60 Nativity Schools have opened to pursue similar missions throughout the United States.
Seattle Nativity is the first of its kind in Washington. Organizers raised $1.5 million to open the new school. They plan to expand it to cover grades 5 through 8 over the next few years. They also hope to provide free private school tuition for students through high school, and mentoring all the way through college.
As Jaeden settled into his first day of school, he said he had a hope in his heart like never before.
“It’s a new start,” he said. “A new chapter, a new life.”
For more information visit http://www.seattlenativity.org/home/