One-size-does-not-fit-all: Nativity Miguel Schools

9 Apr

In  Who says Black children can’t learn? Some schools get it, moi said:

People want an education for a variety of reasons. Some have a love of learning. Others want to attend a good college or vocational school. Still others, see an education as a ticket to a good job. Increasingly for schools, the goal is to prepare kids with the skills to attend and succeed at college. In order to give children the skills to succeed, schools need teachers who are effective at educating their population of kids. There are many themes in the attempt to answer the question, what will prepare kids for what comes after high school. What will prepare kids for what comes after high school is a good basic education. The schools that provide a good basic education are relentless about the basics.

Brian K reported in the Central District News which covers the ethnic district in Seattle about a feasibility study for a Nativity School. In the article, Exploration of a New Nativity Middle School Here in the Central District of Seattle, Brian reports:

A Feasibility Study is currently underway to explore the opening of The Seattle Nativity School, ( a tuition-free, faith-based Catholic middle school here in Seattle’s Central District.  The school will operate under the Nativity Miguel model, as part of a network of over 60 existing schools in over 20 states across the US & Canada.  

The first Nativity School was founded on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1971 in response to an observation by local Jesuit priests that young Latino boys were struggling to keep up with their peers academically. So the Jesuits established the Nativity Mission Center, which kept local kids in school for extended hours, and away from dangerous influences in the neighborhood.  They provided a rigorous and holistic curriculum, wrapped in an environment of support. Those at the school became the student’s ‘family.’

Since then, Nativity middle schools have spread across the United States, serving grades 5th through 8th at 60 schools in over 20 states.  These schools offer a non-tuition-based, extended day, extended year education that is augmented by a graduate support system.  The average student enters a Nativity school often achieving one or two years below grade level in standardized tests.  By graduation day, he or she is prepared to succeed in the elite local public and private high schools, with the ultimate goal of attending university.  The approach has been successful in graduating students from high school and college at rates 20-30% higher than their peer groups in public schools.  

In Seattle, we have diverse communities in need who are challenged to find the type of holistic support – spiritual, educational and emotional – that is required for them to break the cycle of poverty.

There is no “magic bullet” or “Holy Grail” in education. There is only what works to produce academic achievement in a given population of students.

Here is some information about Nativity Miguel schools:

1. What makes a school a Nativity Miguel School?

All Nativity Miguel Network Schools adhere to the Nine Mission Effectiveness Standards.  These include:

1.  Faith Based
A Nativity Miguel School is explicitly faith-based in its mission.

2.  Serves the Economically Poor and Marginalized
A Nativity Miguel School offers a financially accessible, not tuition-based education to students from low-income families in impoverished communities and reflects the faith, cultural, and racial demographics of the local community….
6.  Commitment Beyond Graduation
It is the expectation that any and all students in a Nativity Miguel School will graduate from high school and go on to some form of post-secondary education.  A Nativity Miguel School offers a Graduate Support Program that eases a graduate’s transition into high school; tutors, advocates for, and maintains a connection with all graduates during high school; supports the high school in preparing the student for graduation and post-secondary education; and tracks the growth and achievements of all graduates.

2. What are the benefits of being a member of the Nativity Miguel Network of Schools?

The Nativity Miguel Network empowers middle schools to provide a unique, faith-based education that breaks the cycle of poverty in underserved communities across America. In turn, our schools empower thousands of students at a critical developmental crossroads to realize their potential, forge brighter futures and enjoy the lifelong benefits of a holistic education.

The Network provides many valuable services to member schools.  Professional development opportunities are available through 4 conferences and training sessions offered annually to school presidents and development directors, principals, teachers and graduate support directors.  Further, the Network works to ensure adherence to the Mission Effectiveness Standards and sharing of best practices through the Mission Assessment Program, the primary component of which is the collegial visit process.  

The Network’s resources and expertise help each member school to excel in every aspect of our common mission: to break the cycle of poverty through education.  Network staff personally collaborates with school leadership teams to achieve the best outcomes for students.  Network staff also secures national funding for projects that benefit member schools, including mission assessments, professional development and data collection and analysis.

3. What does the NativityMiguel Network of Schools do?  

The Nativity Miguel Network leads member schools to excellence in education for underserved communities.  Adhering to nine mission effectiveness standards, our schools deliver a uniquely effective, faith-based education to the middle school students in their care.
The Network strengthens member schools. •    Our resources and expertise help each member school to excel in every aspect of our common mission.
•    Network staff personally collaborate with school leadership teams to achieve the best outcomes for students.
•    We secure national funding for projects that benefit member schools, including mission assessments, professional development and data collection and analysis.

Network schools change lives.
•    Many students come to us below grade level in academic and social skills—but graduate at or above grade level.

We keep students engaged, on-course and out of trouble.

•    Our average school day lasts 9.6 hours—three more than most public schools—and our schools enjoy daily attendance rates of 97%.
•    Along with an extended day, we have an extended year—Member schools offer summer learning opportunities.
•    Through our unique Graduate Support Program, students have access to valuable mentoring through high school and the college admissions process.

Our model can only thrive with donor support. 

•    Nativity Miguel schools serve only low-income families; 89% of our students qualify for free and reduced meals.
•    Tuitions support only about 5% of a school’s operating budget. Donors account for the rest.
•    Donations to the Network are investments that increase resources for member schools and generate better outcomes for students.

4. Why do NativityMiguel Schools have an extended day and school year?  

The Nativity Miguel Network realizes that our schools serve low-income, inner city students who may not have access to adequate resources in their communities.  By offering an extended day and extended year program, our schools ensure that students have a safe, engaging, and resourceful environment in which to grow and mature.

•    Few students come to Nativity Miguel schools contemplating college but our students graduate knowing they will succeed.

•    Investing in our students brings them hope instead of harm, promise beyond poverty and confidence instead of confusion.

•    What our students lack economically, they make up for in spirit, character and motivation.

5. In what ways does the GSP support high school and college students?

 Our Unique Graduate Support Program offers many resources and experiences for our students in order to ensure success after graduation.  Every NativityMiguel student and alumni has exclusive access to a GSP director for mentoring purposes to ensure academic and professional success.  At each step along the way mentors help demystify application processes and guarantee smooth transitions between schools.  Together the GSP staff and students have the oppurtunity to go on guided college tours, attend regional college fairs, and to attend a week-long retreat to share challenges and success stories.  6. What is the history of the Nativity Miguel Network of Schools? Schools within the Nativity Miguel Network of Schools are patterned after the Nativity Mission Center which opened its doors in 1971 to middle school aged boys growing up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The school was started to provide the boys – many of whom were new to the country – with an educational program that would help them excel academically, socially and spiritually.Because many of the boys were testing two and three grades below their grade level, the teachers at Nativity Mission developed a new approach. The school day was lengthened, almost doubling the amount of time the boys would be in school were they in the local public school. A commitment to maintain a low student to teacher ratio ensured time for one-on-one instruction. The summer camp the center had been conducting became incorporated into the school curriculum, and, most importantly, Nativity made a commitment to follow their young alumni through high school and even on to college.

The effectiveness of the Nativity Miguel model has inspired educators across the country dedicated to reaching our underserved youth to open schools. By the late 1980s, schools patterned after the Nativity Mission Center began opening. In 1993, the Christian Brothers opened the first Miguel School in Providence, Rhode Island. These Miguel schools shared many of the same attributes and approaches of the Nativity school.  The NativityMiguel Network was born of a merger between the two networks that grew out of the replication of this school model nationally, and schools are now classified only as Nativity Miguel schools.

7. Do Nativity Miguel network schools serve only Catholic students?

No.  In fact, many of of our students are not Catholic. Neither are all of our schools, even though each offers a faith-based education.  Here is the national breakdown of 4500 of our students:

Roman Catholic 42.2%
Non-Catholic Christian 41.9%
Other 12.4%
Non-religious 02.3%
Muslim 00.6%
Buddhist 00.5%
Jewish <0.1%
Hindu <0.1% 

8. How can a school become a member of the Nativit Miguel Network of Schools?

Schools interested in seeking membership into the Nativity Miguel Network of Schools should visit our Starting a Network School page.  For further information contact Melodie Hessling, the Director of Mission Effectiveness, at 202 832-3667.

There are certain elements that successful schools share. The Wisconsin Department of Education has a good guide about successful schools. Chapter One, Characteristics of Successful Schools, lists key elements:



A vision represents clearly articulated statements of goals, principles, and expectations for the entire learning community. A common unifying vision is achieved when the administration, teachers, support staff, students, families, and demographically representative community members are able to clearly communicate that vision through the daily operation of the school district. A vision becomes a guiding force when all educational decisions are based on its framework and goals.


A clear vision is like a good road map. Without a good map it is difficult to determine where you are going and, impossible to know when you arrive. A dynamic vision engages and represents the whole community and outlines a path to follow. The vision allows school leaders to create a compelling view that excites and engages other constituents to join in the educational journey.

Key Ideas

  1. Effective schools have a clearly defined vision for the improvement of learning for each and every student.

  2. Emphasis is on the achievement of a broadly defined set of standards that includes academic knowledge, skill, development, and standards of the heart.

  3. Goals are framed in a way that can be benchmarked through the school year and measured at year’s end. Progress is recorded and used for improvement efforts.

  4. Communication about the goals as well as progress toward them is a regular part of school activities among all constituents.

Successful Schools Have a Vision That:

  1. is accompanied by other strategic planning. Strategic planning is a data-driven process that guides decision making, as well as program implementation components such as:

    • goal statements

    • means to accomplish the goals

    • timelines

  2. links education standards to teacher expectations and student performance

  3. fosters district wide expectations and experiences that result in all students mastering challenging standards at proficient or above levels

  4. engages the entire learning community to take responsibility for all students’ learning

  5. includes carefully defined terms that are known and supported by all constituents

  6. is developed with representation from a wide variety of publics and demographic groups

  7. drives resource allocation in the learning as well as the broader community

  8. allows the societal, academic, and organizational components of education to operate in a seamless manner

  9. articulates the learning community’s commitment to both excellence and equity in the organization

  10. embraces the dual mission of creating in each student solid and rigorous academic achievement and civic caring and responsibility

Criticism WILL occur if you are doing something that is not inline with others’ expectations. It IS going to cost to educate children out of the cycle of poverty. Still, that means that society should not make the attempt. There is no magic bullet or “Holy Grail” in education. There is only what works to produce academic achievement in each population of children. That is why school choice is so important.


The ‘whole child’ approach to education

Defining basic education: Good schools and effective schools

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

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