A Durham school reached a milestone this spring proving its potential impact on the community.
Durham Nativity School started up more than a decade ago with a focus on small class sizes for middle school boys. The first set of Durham Nativity School alums just graduated college.
Kejuan Weaver, whose father was the first head of school, just graduated from NC State.
He was one of three college grads from his graduating class of six boys.
“By Durham Nativity being there, you're automatically giving young men an opportunity to go to college, to go to high schools that they would never think of going to. You're automatically changing the dynamics of the community in that sense,” he said.
Ann Carole Moylan and her husband Dr. Joseph Moylan founded the school, which opened in the fall of 2002. Dr. Moylan was an emergency room surgeon who saw first-hand the impact violence was having on young people.
“The goal was to make a difference. To provide an opportunity. A life-changing opportunity, not only for the young men that come in through the program, but also their families,” said Dan Vannelle, the current head of school.
Sixth grade student Isaias Reyes is proof of that. His cousins went to the school. So did his brother, Marcos, who is now the first in the family to go to college, attending High Point University. It's an opportunity their dad never had.
“My dad always says that once we graduate, it's like it's over for him. It's like mission accomplished,” Isaias said.
The days are long, 7:45 a.m. until 6 p.m., with tutoring, sports and community service built in.
The school, which is faith-based but not tied to any one religion, has a capacity of 45 students , with 15 in each grade – sixth, seventh and eighth.
That allows for more one-on-one attention.
“In other schools they just give you a packet of work to make sure you get it. If you don't get it, you fail your exam, but in this school, we're like continue, continue, continue until you get it,” Reyes said.
Thanks to mostly individual donors and some corporate foundation support, it's tuition free.
It's competitive to get in. students must meet certain economic and academic requirements and before they're even accepted, they must come to the school for six Saturdays for classes and testing.
“By design, most of them come from backgrounds that are challenged, socioeconomically, and that is by design. About 80 percent of our students are African American. About 20 percent are Latino,” Vannelle said.
Once they graduate, most go on to private college-prep high schools. The school helps with applying for scholarships. While the school teaches three grades, it's set up as an 11 year program that tracks the students through college.
Weaver urges current students to take full advantage of all that the school offers.
“Use your resources. I think that's one of the things that helped me get through was looking at the people I could rely on for advice. Going back to teachers. I still keep in contact with some of my teachers from DNS and tell them what I'm doing. They want to know,” Weaver said.
As a new college graduate, Weaver wants to continue the foundation in education he built at Durham Nativity by becoming a teacher.
“I hope it does in some way benefit my community wherever I end up going. I want to be a positive role model for the young men in that community,” he said.
Around the same time Weaver and the other two first Durham Nativity alums graduated college, the school's founder, Dr. Moylan, passed away last month.
“I think the school is his legacy and the young men that walk the hallways here at this school and go on to high school and college and then ultimately go back into the community to make a difference. That was his vision and I think that vision continues,” Vannelle said.
He said the school continues to build upon success and mistakes to make the school an even better alternative for students.
“It definitely results in a smarter community the more young men that can come through our program go on to high school, go on to college and graduate college and come back, it's going to impact the community. It will make the community smarter,” Vannelle said.