Take a moment to think back to your middle school years. Feelings of awkwardness, excitement and change most likely come to mind. It’s a pivotal time when children become teenagers; their young minds work hard to comprehend the added responsibilities and challenges that come with more demanding schoolwork and new social groups. If poverty and a lack of resources are part of the equation, the future can feel limited. Since 2005, ACCESS Academies has provided support and opportunities for at-risk students so they can thrive as they move to high school, college and beyond. The organization partners with four urban middle schools and assists participants through enrichment programs, guidance counseling and scholarships.
“Our motto is ‘Every student. Every chance. Every day,’” says executive director Tom Mackowiak. “We work with all students in our partner schools to ensure they can take advantage of every opportunity.” More than 90 percent of participants qualify for free or reduced lunch, a federal indicator of poverty. There is no application process. To participate, students simply must be enrolled in one of the four partner schools: Most Holy Trinity School and Academy, St. Louis Catholic Academy, Saint Cecilia School and Academy, and Sister Thea Bowman Catholic School.
The program takes a three-pronged approach to education. Working with the middle schools, it provides enrichment through extended school days and summer sessions that help students develop academically while building character and leadership skills. Students also receive scholarship support to ensure they can attend private high schools. Mackowiak says the program partners with 25 college-prep high schools and has provided more than $500,000 in tuition support this school year. Financial assistance also is given for academic testing and applications for post-secondary institutions.
Counseling is the third piece of the program, and Mackowiak says this element is what sets ACCESS Academies apart. Middle schoolers are paired with graduate support directors who serve as mentors, building trust, providing emotional support and helping with decisions about secondary education. The counselors schedule regular visits with the students in high school to monitor their progress. “They get to know students as individuals and become important advocates for them,” Mackowiak explains. “Starting in sixth grade, we commit to each student for more than 11 years.”
When students are seniors, they begin working on post-secondary plans with a college and career counselor, but the support doesn’t end at graduation. Since the majority are the first in their families to attend college, Mackowiak says ACCESS Academies helps them navigate the new environment and connects them with existing resources. “Without our support, many of these kids wouldn’t be able to achieve the same levels of success,” he notes.
The numbers show that ACCESS students are thriving. According to Mackowiak, 99 percent of students are accepted into private high schools, 98 percent graduate from high school on time and 96 percent go onto post-secondary institutions. More than 1,200 young people have benefited from the program’s resources and support. “Our approach is unique, and it works,” Mackowiak says. “We’re very successful in helping our students in the long journey toward success as adults.”
On June 4, ACCESS Academies will hold its 11th annual Celebration Dinner at The Ritz-Carlton. The event showcases the achievements of students, and Mackowiak says the fundraiser plays a major role in making the organization’s mission possible. “We raise more than one-third of our annual funds at the dinner,” he notes. “It’s also our way of connecting directly with people who want to support urban education and more importantly, equitable education.”
Access Academies partners with urban middle schools to prepare students for success in high school, college and beyond through enrichment, guidance counseling and scholarships. It hosts its annual Celebration Dinner June 4 at The Ritz-Carlton. Pictured on the cover, clockwise from top left: Maryville University freshman Erika V., St. Louis Catholic Academy sixth-grader Kourtland P., St. Louis Catholic Academy graduate support director Joslyn Sanford, CBC senior Kevin B., St. Louis Catholic Academy eighth-grader Jordan D. For more information, call 314.898.0430 or visit accessacademies.org.
Cover design by Julie Streiler | Cover photo by Tim Parker Photography
Pictured at top: College and career counselor Amy Clark works with a student.
Photo: Tim Parker Photography
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