Beeville, a small rural community in south Texas, changed dramatically in the early 1990’s when the area’s major employer, the Chase Field Naval Air Station, closed. Five area prisons became Beeville’s major employer; newcomers included prison staff, inmates, and their families. Faced with a funding gap, the Catholic dioceses threatened to close the Catholic schools in the area; local educators reopened St. Mary’s as a charter school with 196 students.
Children who applied to St. Mary’s Academy Charter School were among the most disenfranchised of the existing public school system; many entered St. Mary’s three or more years below grade level. One-quarter of current students have a family member in prison, and many students are in foster care or live with relatives. Seventy-eight per cent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
To meet the challenges its students face, St. Mary’s instituted wrap-around support services, with before- and after-school tutorial and enrichment programs; Saturday, holiday and summer educational programs; classroom math and reading interventionists; and a licensed professional counselor who provides individual play therapy and group counseling. Students at St. Mary’s achieved high math and reading scores on the 2009 TAKS, the state-mandated test: More than 90% of students in all grades scored proficient in reading and math, and more than 50% of students in many grades scored commended. All grade six students scored proficient in Science in 2009.
NBRS staff created five videos about the school: The St. Mary’s Charter School Story, on the school’s rebirth, Extended Learning Time, on making more time for student learning, Innovative Staffing, on deploying professional resources effectively, Counseling for Students, on helping students meet daunting challenges, and Reading, on reinforcing literacy.