Marlon Martinez and his 4-year-old daughter Zamiah are out for their afternoon walk. Marlon holds his daughter's tiny hand, knowing all too well he'll have to let it go next year when she starts school.
“It’s intimidating,” he says. “The neighborhood can get a little rough.”
Marlon, a single dad and college grad, was recently laid off. He knows a good education is critical to his daughter’s success, and worries about what awaits her in the public schools in Seattle’s Central District.
“Kids having guns and stuff like that. It's very scary,” he says.
Father Peter Ely knows these tough streets too, having grown up around here. Now, though, he's a force of change.
“I'm proud to see something happening in my old neighborhood,” he says. “Some prayers are being answered.”
Ely is working to open the Seattle Nativity School - a free 6th to 8th grade Catholic school focusing on science, technology, engineering and math. Low income kids from Central and South Seattle can soon apply for admission, and 60 of the most promising minds will be chosen. After 8th grade they'll be offered free admission to a Catholic high school.
“It's a tremendous opportunity in their life,” says Ely.
But the work won't be easy. Students will spend 9-1/2 hours a day in class, 11 months out of the year. It’s rigorous curriculum that Ely says will pay off.
“We’re not doing the students any favors if we go easy on them. These are kids who will need intense help.”
There are about 60 such schools across the country. This will be the first in Washington. Supporters point to the Nativity School in Portland called Saint Andrews.
“One hundred percent of their kids have graduated from high school, and 100% of those kids were accepted into colleges this year,” says Seattle Board member Renee Willette. "And after high school we continue with the support and mentoring for as long as they need it.”
The school will be funded by donations, foundations and churches. A location in south/central Seattle has not yet been determined. It is expected to open in the fall of 2013. You can find out more at: http://www.seattlenativity.org/