Sunday, August 05, 2001

Church opens new school to focus on boys


Over-the-Rhine institution to stress leadership, values

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Boys in Over-the-Rhine have been beaten down so long that the Rev. Albert Lauer figured it was time to tell them they are not a lost cause.

        They can be great leaders, he says, and if they attend his parish's new St. Peter Claver Boys' Latin School, they are expected to be successful.

        The Old St. Mary's Church pastor is eager to have a lasting effect on the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood where he has lived for a dozen years. He's been the church's pastor since 1998.

[photo] Father Albert Lauer is founder of the St. Peter Claver Boys' Latin School in Over-the-Rhine.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        Over time, he's noticed a pattern in the inner city.

        “Who is behind the drugs?” he asked himself. “Who is behind the gangs? Who is behind prostitution? Who commits violence and gets arrested?”

        The questions share a common answer — young males.

        “The young male is key, not only to this inner city, but every inner city in the world,” said the Father Lauer. “Obviously, I want to do good things for the neighborhood.”

        And that's why he founded St. Peter Claver Boys' Latin School, which will open Aug. 27 with 20 boys from Over-the-Rhine — 18 African-American, one Hispanic and one white. Although the school is open to anyone, the focus is on neighborhood boys.

        The Father Lauer describes St. Peter Claver as a male leadership training school, where a leadership theme will be integrated throughout the curriculum.

        “A Latin school doesn't just mean teaching Latin,” he said. “It means a more demanding academic program that only potential leaders would be able to relate to. From the first day of kindergarten, they'll be told, "You'll be called to greatness. You'll be called to leadership.'”

[photo] The school will be housed at the Old St. Mary's German School.
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        The parish school is named for St. Peter Claver, the Patron Saint of Negro Missions. The Spanish Jesuit fought against slavery and ministered to slaves in the 1600s in Cartagena, South America's chief slave market. It was on his feast day — Sept. 9, 1999 — that the Rev. Mr. Lauer felt called by the Lord to focus on a leadership training school for boys.

        The three-story building, adjacent to Old St. Mary's Church at 13th and Main streets, is returning to its roots. It opened in 1844 as Old St. Mary's German School and closed in 1962. The building was most recently offices for Franciscan at St. John, a Catholic social service agency.

        When the school first opened, students spoke German exclusively. Now, almost 160 years later, students will be required to learn Latin and Spanish, starting in kindergarten.

        The K-3 school, which this year has a capacity of 35, will add two grades every year through grade 12. The school aims to become a year-round school. Over the next three years, it will increase its academic calendar to 210 days, 30 more than the state requires.

        “We do not want them returning to the streets for very long because there are a lot of bad influences there for them,” said Wayne Schwitz, school principal. “We want to do a complete transformation from street culture to a culture of life and love.”

        What's more, the school will offer before- and after-school care to keep kids off the streets. The latchkey program will include breakfast, recreation, athletics, computer training and tutoring.

        A lay member of the Fathers, Brothers and People of the Pentecost, Mr. Schwitz is a former United Methodist minister turned Catholic two years ago. He was hired as principal Jan. 15.

        Since then, he's gotten word about the college prep school out by hitting the streets with fliers, talking to people in the neighborhood, speaking at churches and at Peaslee Neighborhood Center.

        Parents who enrolled their children told him they want their children in schools that teach values and have strict discipline. They also want their children to wear uniforms.

        Keith Stephens of Over-the-Rhine enrolled his 5-year-old son, Kofi, in kindergarten. “I like the intensity of learning. My son is used to coming home with homework, so that's what I expect.”

        The Stephens family lived three years in Ghana, Africa, where schools are accelerated. He wants his son to continue with that level of education, and St. Peter Claver met that criterion.

        Starting a new school in an old Over-the-Rhine building has had its hurdles — namely financial.

        “We've had unbelievable challenges that almost threatened to wipe us out,” Mr. Schwitz said. “We've almost run out of money several times, and a big gift came in at the last minute.”

        One unexpected challenge was bringing the building up to code at a cost of $80,000. The parish is paying that bill — a generous commitment for the 189 families, most of whom will never use the school because their children are grown, Mr. Schwitz said.

        The school budget this year is $90,000; $50,000 has been raised. None of the 3 1/2 teachers, nor the principal, will be paid more than $25,000 a year. They want as much money as possible funneled into scholarships for low-income students.

        If students paid tuition, it would cost $3,200 a year. But 18 of the 20 students will attend on full scholarships. Two will pay small amounts monthly.

        The April riots and subsequent violence haven't affected school enrollment, he said, because students live and attend school in the neighborhood. Some volunteers, however, have dropped out because of fear.

        Other challenges came from naysayers.

        Some influential people in the community asked, “Why in the world would you bring a Latin school to Over-the-Rhine?” Mr. Schwitz recalled. “It's like they're saying there aren't any smart kids in Over-the-Rhine. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

        Donations for student scholarships to the St. Peter Claver Boys' Latin School may be sent to: The Rev. Albert Lauer Scholarship Fund, 121 E. 13th St., Cincinnati 45210.
       

       



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