Cover Stories

Mission Success: Access Academies

The dividing line between the haves and the have-nots in our society is education. As hard as it is for all young people to find high-paying jobs these days, it’s nearly impossible for those who drop out of high school and don’t go on to college. A full 90 percent of U.S. jobs require at least a high school diploma, yet more than 3 million high school students drop out annually. According to Education Week, most who drop out are from economically and/or socially disadvantaged families. Some 75 percent of U.S. crimes are committed by high school dropouts.

Obviously, education forms a solid foundation for future success and well-being. That’s why, for the last 10 years, ACCESS Academies Creating Challenging Education for St. Louis Students) Academies has provided students in underserved areas with a top-quality, values-based education. “ACCESS transforms those make-or-break middle school years into a launching pad for high school success,” says board president John Vatterott. “We make a seven-year commitment to each student, beginning in middle school and continuing throughout high school.”

Currently operating from Most Holy Trinity School & Academy in North St. Louis, St. Cecilia School & Academy in South St. Louis, and St. Louis the King School at the Cathedral in the Central West End, ACCESS provides scholarship support, a challenging core curriculum, extensive tutoring, life skills training, enrichment opportunities, and an extended school day and year. Parent/guardian involvement is mandatory.

“Our goal is to get each student into a college-prep high school, and we have an outstanding track record,” Vatterott says. Of more than 600 students who attended ACCESS middle schools during the last decade, 98 percent were accepted into prestigious college-prep high schools. There, they participated in the ACCESS Graduate Support Program, which provides tuition assistance, tutoring, mentoring, counseling, ACT preparation courses and other services to ensure continued success. An amazing 99 percent of these students graduated from high school on time, and 94 percent went on to college or other types of post-secondary education. “It’s not rocket science,” Vatterott says. “ACCESS supplies a structured education, high expectations, the right environment and follow-up support. It works.”

ACCESS accepts students regardless of grades, test scores, race, ethnicity or religious affiliation. The program’s high school students get some support from the Annual Scholarship Dinner, hosted by ACCESS and the Vatterott Foundation. This year’s event takes place June 3 at The Four Seasons Hotel. “But we receive no public funding, so we rely on donations from St. Louisans who want to invest in the future of their community,” Vatterott says. “There is no resource more valuable than our young people. We’ve learned a lot during our first decade, and our goals for the future are clear: to expand into other underserved areas, including Ferguson, to expand our follow-up support program into the college years, and to continue empowering students to break the cycle of poverty and despair.”

Pictured: John Vatterott
Photo by Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton

[The seventh Annual Scholarship Dinner, hosted by ACCESS Academies and the Vatterott Foundation, takes place June 3 at The Four Seasons Hotel. Donations to ACCESS Academies can be sent to 12120 Bridgeton Square Dr., Bridgeton, Mo., 63044, or made at accessacademies.org/donate. For more information, call 314.898.0430 or visit accessacademies.org.]

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