An Access Academies education isn’t just about learning school subjects, it’s about discovering the objects of a child’s intellectual curiosity and employing them to foster lifelong achievement. The organization centers a spirit of cooperation by teaching middle schoolers the importance of sharing what they’ve gained, says executive director Shelly Williams.

The impressive achievements of current and former students will be spotlighted at Making Our Mark, the 13th annual Access Academies Celebration Dinner, a hybrid fundraising event to be held online and at The Ritz-Carlton St. Louis on June 2. “Young people are the voice of Access, and we want them to tell their stories in their own words,” Williams says. “The program features a great combination of present students talking about their experiences and alumni who have returned to share what their future plans look like.” In-person attendees will gather for a cocktail hour at 5 p.m., dinner will begin at 6:30 p.m., and the online portion of the evening will kick off at 7 p.m.

The event helps support the work done by Access Academies, which since 2005 has partnered with area faith-based schools to ensure kids from underserved areas of St. Louis City can access the high-quality education they deserve. After-school enrichment, counseling, mentoring, scholarships and a work-study program round out the comprehensive attention students receive.

The results speak for themselves: 99% of Access students graduate on time, 98% gain admission to college preparatory high schools, and 96% are admitted to colleges and post-secondary schools. “We don’t just see our kids through middle school, we also support them as they get into the best high schools and colleges in the region,” Williams says. “We want St. Louisans to know that we make an 11-year commitment to our students. That promise is important, and it requires resources, but our kids are so worth it. We gave out $759,000 in scholarships and school fees last year, and the impact is considerable.”

Williams says Access is several months into a two-year partnership with Saint Louis University’s education department to evaluate the impact of its school programming. “We also are strengthening our college and career services,” she notes. “We offer an ACT prep program in partnership with SLU, and our Access to College Saturdays initiative gives students a chance to receive counseling and mentoring for their applications, essays and other needs. We also actively help kids connect with the My Missouri Scholarship Promise program to create 529 savings accounts for college.”

Founder and retired chair emeritus John Vatterott says he was inspired to help launch Access Academies out of a desire to see St. Louis kids and neighborhoods succeed. “I felt that the program would help preserve inner city religious parish schools by embedding the NativityMiguel model of education at existing urban sites, beginning with the sixth grade,” he says. “The theory was that the enhanced education would draw students to the school, secure the school’s future and help preserve the neighborhood. Having strong parochial elementary schools in underserved areas both stabilizes the region and provides opportunities for children to be successful in life.”

Access Academies presents Making Our Mark, the organization’s 13th Annual Celebration Dinner, held virtually and in person at The Ritz-Carlton St. Louis on June 2. Pictured on the cover: John Vatterott with Vivian Garcia of St. Cecilia School and students. For more information, call 314.898.0430 or visit

Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo by Tim Parker Photography

Pictured at top: John Vatterott with Access Academy Students