Nativity Prep: Educating “Men for Others”
For 20 years, Nativity Preparatory School has been supporting boys to develop themselves so they can give back
Nativity Preparatory School is a private, tuition-free, Jesuit middle school (5th – 8th grades) that serves low-income boys of all faiths with rigorous academics, required extra-curricular and summer activities and a caring community that wraps around boys and their families at least until they finish college.
I spoke with Father John Wronski, who is in his 4th year as the school’s executive director.
What is the history of Nativity Prep?
Father Wronski: The school was founded by Barry Hynes. He had done a year of volunteer service at Nativity Mission Center, which is located in New York City’s Lower East Side. Nativity Mission Center had begun as an after-school program connected to Nativity Parish. Soon the organizers realized kids needed more support so it grew into a summer program and—eventually—into a school. Hynes loved the model NMC established of a full-service preparatory school with an extended day including evening study, tutoring, activities and a focus on readying students for good high schools and good colleges.
Hynes’s goal was to create a totally new environment for boys from the inner city. There were lots of excellent Jesuit high schools in Boston, but he believed middle school was a better time to introduce boys to a rigorous academic environment. He set about replicating the NMC model in Boston. He leased NPS’s original building—across from Ruggles Station— from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese at a low rent.
NPS moved into its current building at 39 Lamartine Street in 2001. The building— which was formerly an abandoned tassel factory—was donated to NPS and the school fundraised to gut it and do extensive renovations.
NPS aims to give boys academic experience, discipline and focus; to support them to attend and succeed in good high schools and colleges, get good jobs and be able to bring something back to the community from which they came. It is an important part of the Jesuit tradition for boys to work toward the ideal of being “men for others.”
NPS is part of the NativityMiguel Network of Schools, which also includes Mother Caroline Academy, Epiphany and many others nationwide. (At the time of NPS’s founding, it was only the second Nativity model school—now there are more than 60 nationwide.)
What is the program like here?
Father Wronski: The ideal number of students is 60. This year we have 57. Small class size is key — no class is larger than 15 and some have smaller sections.
We open our doors at 7:30 am. The boys eat breakfast then we gather for Morning Assembly. Assembly includes announcements, roll call, prayer and a brief talk by a teacher or guest speaker. Classes run from 8:25 through 3:15 and then all students are required to stay for activities—such as art, African drumming and sports— from 3:15 – 5:00.
Monday through Wednesday, Dinner Program is held from 5:00 – 6:30. Dinners are provided, and hosted, by trustees and other volunteers. Younger students are required to attend Evening Study takes from 6:30 to 8:00, but many older students choose freely to stay and finish homework or receive extra help.
There is an emphasis on service in the Jesuit tradition so some weekends, students engage in community service projects. We also provide other weekend events and field trips.
All students are required to take part in one of our summer academic and leadership program to keep them engaged intellectually over the summer months. The programs, which vary by grade, engage students in outdoor athletics and expose them to a variety of cultural events that broaden their horizons.
Our Graduate Support Program is a key part of our boys’ success. We follow our graduates through high school and into college to ensure that they are making smooth transitions into these new environments. Almost all of our graduates (99.6 percent) go on to graduate from high school (compared to approximately 45 percent of their Black and Hispanic male peers in Boston). Eighty one percent of our graduates enroll in college, and the college graduation rate for our alumni is an impressive 67 percent (compared to the 16.7 percent rate for Black males in the U.S. and 12.6 percent for U.S. Hispanics).
Most of our students are awarded scholarships to attend some of the best private high schools in the Boston area including BC High, Noble and Greenough, St. Sebastian's, Roxbury Latin, and Trinity Catholic.
One of the greatest parts of our story is how many alumni come back to work with us after they have graduated from college. Over the years, eight alumni have returned as full time staff. Two are on staff currently—one as graduate support director. Other graduates have returned to do community service with us while in high school or college and to serve as counselors for our summer camps.
How do you serve students from diverse religious backgrounds within a Jesuit model?
Father Wronski: About 60 percent of our students are Catholic; 40 percent are a mix of other faith backgrounds including other Christian denominations, Muslim and Buddhist.
The Jesuit tradition has always been to be very open and to engage in dialogue with the world. At Nativity, every class is named for a well-known Jesuit. These namesakes are or were missionaries, poets, scientists — the way we experience God is that God is integrated in all things. Being religious for Jesuits is not about withdrawing from the world but engaging in it.
Students spend a lot of time at NPS—do students or parents ever find it to be too much?
Father Wronski: It’s a rigorous program both in terms of academics and the expectation of character development. We ask a lot of them. Occasionally, there is a student for whom NPS is not a good fit, but most find it’s like a family. Because the students are together so much, they become like brothers. The greatest testament to how well our school works for our students is that our graduates visit often. (On the day of my visit, I met an alumnus who was visting.)
It’s important to get families involved. We have a Parents Council and parents help in other ways. For example, they prepare food for teacher lunches, help with community-building events and help with cleaning the school.
How is NPS funded?
Father Wronski: NPS is funded entirely through our own fundraising from among foundations and individuals—including the Jesuit community at Boston College. This year seven of our eleven teachers are donating their time. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese does not provide financial support.
What is the best thing NPS has done for JP?
Father Wronski: Our students give back to the community. We have collaborated with other JP nonprofits, such as Hyde Square Task Force and Spontaneous Celebrations. Our African drumming class performed at Wake Up the Earth last year.
I was involved in the Boston 10-Point Coalition for several years. While I was involved in that work, I encountered an alumnus of NPS who was working as a Streetworker, helping other young men and women get on the right track.
Why is JP a good home for NPS?
Father Wronski: We are in a good position to serve boys from the area. Most of our students are from Dorchester, Roxbury and Roslindale, but we do have smaller numbers of students who live in JP (the remainder of students live in Hyde Park and other neighborhoods). We would like to have more students apply from Jamaica Plain—Bromley Heath and Academy Homes are just blocks from our building.
Our admissions season is going on right now. To be eligible, boys must live in the City of Boston and qualify to receive free or reduced-price lunch. Boys of varying levels of academic achievement are accepted to NPS. We would love to have interested students and their families attend our Open House on Saturday, March 12 from 9-11 am. There is no need to call ahead.
NPS is looking for volunteer tutors and its “Spirit Dinner” special event is coming up on March 16. For details, please visit: www.nativityboston.org