Original article provided by the Providence Journal and staff writer Bob Kerr
2/2/2011 – Providence, RI – When he was in fourth grade, Zoilo Benzant was told by his teacher that he really didn’t belong in public school anymore. She told him about a place he had never heard of where he might discover a stronger sense of purpose to go with his intelligence.
“I was a good student,” he says, “but I might not always have done the best thing.”
He is in eighth grade now. He got to that place he hadn’t heard of. He became one of the 64 students who make the San Miguel School a place where kids find out what they’re truly all about. San Miguel is a place of handshakes and polite greetings and morning assemblies where the Pledge of Allegiance is recited, the word of the day is considered, and the date and time of the chess match with Providence Hebrew Day School is announced. Students catch up on one another.
On Monday morning, there was good news as eighth graders rose to tell which schools have accepted them for their ninth grade year — La Salle Academy, St. Raphael, Bishop Hendricken. There was also good news for someone who had visited San Miguel in its original location in the former St. Paul’s Christian Day School on Carter Street in Providence. That is where the San Miguel experiment began to unfold in 1993. It is the place where Brother Lawrence Goyette, a Christian Brother, took his vision for a school that would serve inner-city kids who were falling through the cracks of the public school system.
In the fall of 1993, Goyette was one of three teachers for 13 students in grades five and six. Since then, grades seven and eight have been added and San Miguel has drawn national attention for its small, personal, intensive way of creating rich possibilities for kids who might bring all kinds of social, emotional and economic challenges through the door. Other San Miguels have opened in cities across the country.
And now, the original has moved. It had to. The small school on Carter Street brought new meaning to the term “multipurpose room.”
A walk around the new digs, the former St. Ann’s School on Branch Avenue in Providence, provides a striking contrast. There is room to move. There is a gym. A GYM!! There was no gym on Carter Street. There was a vagabond approach to athletics.
There is room for a food pantry, too.
The sense of space, of light more generously pouring in, seems to reinforce in this very good place a sense that there really are no limits on what a kid can do.
Goyette said that he and members of the board have been looking for a bigger building for about four years. The former St. Ann’s, rented with an option to buy, is a good fit. But he stresses that while the building has changed, the mission has not. San Miguel remains a civil outpost of caring and discipline and lots of attention where low-income kids can find their own way up.
“We take risks here,” says Goyette. “We don’t cherry pick. Every kid wants to do well, they just haven’t found anybody to show them. Here, it’s clear this place is filled with people who care about them.”
Zoilo Benzant has been accepted to La Salle. He is looking ahead. Teachers tell him he’s a good writer and should consider becoming a journalist.