Often when I visit one of our schools, school leadership and board members are primed and practiced to make the case for the depths of poverty and educational inequality in their city. After all, NativityMiguel Schools were founded to serve the economically-poor and break the cycle of poverty through a quality, accessible education.
When I was in Rochester last week the local weekly newspaper featured a cover story on poverty that caught my attention. Like our schools, the article presented unfortunately impressive stats to build a context for the story: The statistics on Rochester’s poverty rate are daunting: of the nation’s top 75 metropolitan areas, we’re the fifth poorest city. We’re the second poorest among cities of comparable size. We have the third highest concentration of extremely poor neighborhoods. And the Rochester school district is the poorest urban district in the state, with more than 80 percent of its students qualifying for free or subsidized meals. Of course, to families living in poverty, stats like these are meaningless. Poverty is tough regardless of where the city may rank.
The article profiled James Norman, a long-time crusader for the poor who spent his entire professional life combatting the effects of poverty and advocating for better systems and policies in Rochester. The article frames the complexities of housing, education, jobs and the justice system that weigh on the poor, and the biases, myths and lack of understanding that distance many in society from taking action
A critical question was posed to Norman: Where is the outrage?
His response: “There isn’t widespread outrage among a lot of people, because they have rationalized that this is the natural order of things, and you can’t do anything about the natural order of things. I believe generations in the future are going to wonder what the hell we were thinking.”
Everyday, NativityMiguel Schools witness the poverty that exist in our communities. The impact of these conditions on our children fuels our outrage and emboldens our resolve. For NativityMiguel Schools, poverty is not the natural order of things; such conditions can not be accepted, neglected or ignored. We ultimately work toward a day in which our schools will not be necessary because the need does not exist. While we are always inspired by stories of students and families who have broken the cycle of poverty, we remain steadfast to a vision in which the systematic cycle of poverty is broken for all.
NativityMiguel schools are not alone in this vision; we depend on partnerships with many other organizations. When I visited the Nativity Prep Academy in Rochester, I met Marlene Bessette, Executive Director of the Catholic Family Center in Rochester, who was touring the school and opening the door to greater collaboration. Catholic Family Center offers “compassionate and comprehensive services to families and individuals in need – especially the vulnerable and those facing poverty – to help them achieve their full human potential across all stages of life.” Our schools work in tandem with many organizations and people who are committed to breaking the cycle of poverty through healthcare, housing, job training and more, and together with the students and families we serve, we work toward a vision of just communities without poverty.
As Norman emphasizes, this vision is anchored in a sense of moral responsibility. For us, it is also grounded in our faith in God that calls us always toward social justice. We are delivering a quality, accessible education and formation experience for students and families without means to ensure that they are able to personally and professionally become their best self of what God had intended.
While NativityMiguel Schools believe that education is one of the great equalizers, we also know that tuition is one of the great dividers. In order to be accessible to those who would otherwise could not consider nor afford a private, faith-based education, we operate a non-tuition driven financial model. NativityMiguel Schools are dependent on individuals, corporations and foundations with means to give generously each year in order to cover the costs void of tuition, or about 95%. Some are amazed that we can operate like this without relying on public funding. (Even in states and markets where tax credits and vouchers are available, our schools are still dependent on the generosity of others to fill the gap.)
We shouldn’t be so shocked by this selfless generosity; giving to NativityMiguel schools is also anchored in a moral responsibility and grounded in a faith that calls us always toward social justice. Many of our donors and supporters are compelled by the need and understand well what it could mean if the formation and education that they had access to, or that their parents had access to, or that their children had access to, could be accessible to anyone who desires it. Without hyperbole, it could mean that someday there would be no need for NativityMiguel schools; that someday we could become the best version of a just society as God had intended.
None of us can become complacent to the needs of the economically-poor. We must remain outraged by the conditions we see everyday, and through prayer and grace, convert that outrage into a loving and generous presence that is committed to the most vulnerable today and to a vision of a world without need tomorrow.