There are only a handful of free private schools in the United States. Most of them were founded many years ago by visionary, community-minded individuals who believed that children from working class and poor families should have the same educational advantages as children from families with money. The impact these schools have had on society is enormous. The benefits to thousands of students and their families are priceless.
As you read about these schools and watch the videos, remember that all of these schools believe very emphatically that an education does not consist solely of academics. Each of these schools understands that a child needs nurturing and counselling so that he can make the most of the opportunities before him. These schools expect the child's family to be involved. His education is a partnership of three: home, school and student. That's what it takes to provide the solid foundation a child needs in order to succeed in his adult life.
De Marillac Academy, San Francisco, is an example of the very best sort of educational initiative sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church. Established by Daughters of Charity and De La Salle Christian Brothers the school provides tuition free schooling for middle school age children in one of San Francisco's poorest neighborhoods. More about the mission of the Academy here.
The key to De Marillac's ability to accomplish its mission is the Academy's Schoolwide Learning Expectations. The Academy isn't providing simply a top-notch academic education. It is making very sure that all the supporting elements are in place so that a child can be successful. De Marrilac educates children in Grades 5-9. It serves approximately 80 students.
Like De Marillac Academy on the west coast, Epiphany School in Boston serves middle school age children from Boston neighborhoods with a tuition-free education. Epiphany is a ministry of the Episcopal Church. Here is a brief explanation of how the school works.
Who can attend? "Epiphany School admits students who are from low-income, racially diverse families living in Boston, Massachusetts. The goal is a student body that encompasses a broad range of cognitive diversity. Students are chosen by lottery."
Like De Marillac Academy Epiphany provides more than an excellent academic education. The school offers the essential support mechanisms for families such as counselling, extended hours programs, individualized attention and small classes. Epiphany proudly proclaims that it "never gives up on a child." Epiphany School offers Grades 5-8 and serves approximately 80 students.
In 1895 William L. Gilbert founded the school which bears his name. The Gilbert School serves the residents of Winchester and Hartland, Connecticut. The Gilbert School is one of those rare examples of a private school which serves as the local public school. Gilbert's vision was "to educate the young as will help them become good citizens." You can hear their choir sing in this next video.
The school is free to students in Grades 7-12 who are residents or the Connecticut towns of Winchester and Hartland. The school accepts tuition paying students including international students. There are approximately 550 students.
Stephen Girard was one of the richest men in America when he founded Girard College in Philadelphia The school is unique in that all students board at the school from 1st grade through 12th. For free. Malik Ray, Class of 2011, tells us what Girard College meant to him.
"The school's benefactor, Stephen Girard (1750-1831), left his generous estate to educate and care for needy children. As long as Girard College has existed, all its students have received full scholarships, benefited from strong academic and extracurricular programs and lived safely on an enclosed, 43-acre campus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania." The school serves approximately 580 students in Grades 1-12. Almost 100% of its graduates matriculate to college.
Established in 1887 Glenwood Academy operates day and residential programs for disadvantaged children. Basically you pay what you can afford to attend Glenwood.
"Glenwood Academy is a private boarding school for children in grades 3 -8 that are academically capable and from low income families and/or headed by a single parent or guardian. Glenwood educates 140 students on a campus located in Glenwood, IL, from 55 communities throughout the Greater Chicago and Fox Valley areas. Over 80% of our children are from low income families and 91% of our children are from single-parent households." Here is a day in the life of the Academy.
The school serves approximately 130 students in Grades 3-8.
The Kamehameha Schools were established in 1887 by Princess Bernice Pauahi who was the daughter of the last King of Hawaii, King Kamehameha I. She sought to provide a sound education for the indigenous children of Hawaii by giving 375,000 acres of her family's land to a trust for the purpose of educating Hawaiians. Kamehameha's endowment is the largest secondary school endowment in the United States with a value of approximately $9 billion in 2010. In this next video a Kamehameha parent explains what the school means to her.
The school serves 6,500 students in grades PK-12 on 3 campuses in Hawaii. It also operates 29 preschools which serve 1,500 students.
Yes, that Hershey. The founder of the chocolate company which bears his name also established a school known as The Milton Hershey School in 1909. Sending your child off to a residential school is a major decision. This Milton Hershey School parent explains how she handled it.
"The School is funded by a trust established by Milton S. Hershey and his wife Catherine. Milton Hershey School offers a positive, structured home life year-round and an excellent pre-kindergarten through 12th grade education. Our vision focuses on building character and providing children with the skills necessary to be successful in all aspects of life."
The school serves approximately 1,800 students in Grades PK-12.
Regis High was established in 1914 by an anonymous benefactor. It educates boys from 9th through 12th grade in the Jesuit tradition. This is a highly competitive school which offers a rigorous academic program. What is Regis? Let's find out.
"As a Jesuit school Regis is committed to both academic excellence and fostering a spirit of generosity and service to those in need. With an emphasis on academic rigor and Catholic formation, the school's program is designed to promote each student's intellectual and spiritual growth grounded in a deepening relationship with Jesus Christ. Regis seeks to inspire and train the ethnically diverse young men in its care to become imaginative leaders committed to promoting justice and exerting leadership in the Church, in the civic community, and in their chosen profession." The school serves approximately 530 students in Grades 9-12.
The Cristo Rey Schools
offer another approach to providing a private school education to students from families with low incomes. The schools incorporate a work study component into their students' schedules. This funds most of their college preparatory education. Families are responsible for a small tuition charge although most schools offer limited financial aid. There are 25 Cristo Rey schools in seventeen states as well as the District of Columbia.
What can you do to help?
As you read this article, chances are you are doing so from the comfort of your own home. Why not be proactive in letting others know about these wonderful free schools? All too often the families which could benefit from sending their children to a tuition-free private school are not even aware that such options exist.
If you feel so inclined, please send any or all of these schools a gift. Keep the vision of Stephen Girard and Milton Hershey and all the other visionary benefactors alive by supporting schools like these. Your generosity can be a positive, life changing force for a young person.
Schools like the ones described above began because wealthy people had a vision. They understood that they had to do something important to ensure a well-educated citizenry for the future. As you read the history of each school, you will see how the schools have also changed in so many ways from the institutions which their founders envisaged years ago. Those changes and adaptations have made these schools even more relevant and effective in the 21st century.