When Saint Jean-Baptiste de La Salle founded the Brothers of the Christian Schools in 1680, he might not have foreseen that, 341 years later, young men would write about the benefits of his teaching methodology.
The French educator established charity schools and reformatories for boys, believing that education was key to forging a productive and law-abiding life. The same concept prevails at
87 Pine St. in Freeport, where for 20 years the De La Salle School has proved the validity of the LaSallian tradition. This year, to provide a review of the 2020-21 school season, the administrators decided to let graduates do the talking in a series of essays.
The essays provide honest snapshots of young people’s school journeys. Remote learning during the pandemic closures posed a major challenge for many of the students.
“I got really lazy online and was slacking off,” Nasir Wilkerson said. “Even in the face of that, every teacher along with Mrs. Becker never gave up on me. ... I improved and was very satisfied with how it turned out.”
Jose Munguia achieved a place on the High Honor Roll in his second quarter of seventh grade, “but then,” he wrote, “this new, deadly virus called Covid-19 struck the world. … I did not do any work and was too lazy to do anything. All I would do is play video games, eat and sleep. That school year ended terribly, and I was waiting for eighth grade.” The return to in-class instruction helped, and Munguia graduated well.
Jean Marie Becker is principal of the school, which serves boys in grades five through eight. Her name was referenced repeatedly in the essays written by the 18 graduates, along with the De La Salle teachers.
“Every lesson has been on how to live as a disciple of Jesus, which I carry for the rest of my life,” Steven Zavala wrote. “Along with other subjects, all teachers are great with their units and classes. They make it creative whether by making the students act in plays, do projects or group activities — there is always some entertainment going on.”
The school’s 72 students, said Director of Development Don Holden, come from families who desire a Catholic education, but cannot afford it. Families pay $80 per month as their share of tuition. The rest of the expenses are covered by donations. The school has managed Covi-19 protocols with close attention to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“We opened the Wednesday after Labor Day,” Holden said. “We have fifth- and sixth-graders who are not old enough to be vaccinated yet. We wear masks. We practice social distancing, and we’ve been very fortunate. ... We’re doing the work that our mission dictates, which is to provide an education for those who are underserved in many of our communities.”
CDC protocols notwithstanding, a number of the graduates’ essays describe the sense of new hope they felt when they once again walked through the school doors. But the greatest emphases in the essays were the companionship of peers, the training in character and comportment that enabled them to face professional situations confidently, and the satisfaction of academic success.
Kelvin Lopez wrote that he had “learned how to be a De La Salle gentleman. This school has taught me a lot about God and my relationship with God. ... I came from a public school, and my grades were not good. This school taught me how to w
ork hard and to study.” Lopez’s academic work rocketed him to the Principal’s List.
For Frank Hernandez, academic work presented less difficulty than relating socially. “In the beginning,” he wrote, “I was super shy. I wouldn't talk to anyone and avoid them. Now, while I'm still a little shy ... I've grown closer to my friends, and I feel more comfortable talking to my teachers.”
William Gault, in his seventh year as executive director of De La Salle School, said the teaching, discipline and the Monday-to-Thursday homework help from 3:30 to 5 p.m. all contribute to a stellar graduation record. In 2021, all of the 18 graduates went on to private schools, mostly Catholic, having qualified for financial assistance.
“All of our kids tend to succeed on the Catholic High School Entrance Exam,” Holden said. “Our challenge is to find funding so that they’re able to go.”
“We’re very grateful to all of those people who support our mission here,” Holden said, ‘because it really provides the gift of hope to the young men entrusted to our care. ... You give somebody a glimmer of hope, you give them a reason to think positive and move forward.”