DeSales High School in Geneva recently received a $75,000 grant from the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund in Chicago. School officials hope this grant is just the beginning of new and innovative ways for DeSales to expand its educational offerings, recruit more students and increase its own sustainability.
DeSales will use the grant to fund its new 21st Century Learning Partnership, a program intended to attract new students to the school by offering them the opportunity to gain work experience and the skills today’s employers are looking for while receiving a quality DeSales education, said Charlie Evangelista, the school’s director of advancement and recruitment.
The $75,000 McGowan Fund grant will be used to pay for 50 percent of the tuition for 25 eligible new students transferring to DeSales next year as sophomores, juniors and seniors. The remaining 50 percent of these students’ tuition will be paid by local companies and agencies that have given matching grants to DeSales. In return, these students will intern at these companies and agencies, working there about three times a week during the 2009-10 school year, Evangelista said.
"There’s a lot of winners involved in this. The number one beneficiary is going to be the students," he said.
DeSales officials prepared the grant proposal with the help of Society for Human Resource Management statistics, which show a profound gap between what most American students learn in school today and the knowledge and skills they’ll need to survive in 21st-century workplaces and communities.
"The research on this has been that a lot of the students that are graduating are lacking the real-world experience, and they’re not nearly as prepared as they could be," Evangelista said.
The grant proposal also detailed how it expected DeSales’ proposed program could help students learn 21st-century skills, said Alex Urrea, an adviser who’s been helping the school develop and implement its strategic plan. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a national advocacy organization, these skills include creativity, flexibility, adaptability, initiative, self-direction, responsibility, media and information literacy, and critical-thinking, problem-solving, social, cross-cultural, communication and collaboration skills.
Evangelista said DeSales’ new 21st Century Learning Partnership fits in well with its strategic plan, which was launched in February 2007 and includes a focus on ensuring the school’s day-to-day curriculum includes 21st-century skills.
"It’s something that really is taking the school to a whole new level. It’s improving on a model that we’ve been working on for the past couple years," he said.
This new work-experience component is going to help deliver the best possible educational experience to the students involved, he added. DeSales is offering this opportunity to new transfer students as a way to both boost enrollment and provide educational opportunities for bright, academically motivated children who otherwise might not be able to attend DeSales. Financial need is only one of the factors considered in a very selective application process, Urrea noted.
"The criteria is going to be first academics and then financial, and there will be other factors. It’s not a need-driven program, it’s an academics-driven program, and there is a need component," he said.
The school currently is soliciting partner companies, agencies and organizations within Ontario, Yates, Wayne and Seneca counties, Evangelista said. DeSales currently draws students from each of those counties.
"Sixty-five percent of our students are coming from outside Geneva … and what we’re hoping to do is have the work experience reflect that," he said.
The McGowan Fund grant is just the beginning, Urrea said. The $75,000 DeSales received will quickly turn to $150,000 when partnering companies match that grant, and DeSales officials are expecting this new program to be successful and plan to use this success to help them obtain other grants from other foundations. This innovative program also might encourage alumni to contribute to the school or urge their employers to become partners, he said.
DeSales and other Catholic high schools are seeking new ways to attract new students and increase enrollment because the traditional means of recruiting new students through "feeder" Catholic elementary schools is not bringing in the quantity of students as it used to, Evangelista said.
"Relying on the traditional feeder schools I think is not forward thinking. For our growth and our sustainability, we have to be offering something that is different from other schools. We really think the future of DeSales, and I think the future of a lot of Catholic schools, is for us to differentiate ourselves from public education," he said.
"This is a model that we feel is something that won’t just benefit DeSales, but one that other schools can emulate," Urrea added.