Patrick McCloskey’s new book, The Street Stops Here, chronicles an academic year at Rice High School, an all-boys Harlem Catholic school serving African-American and Latino young men. McCloskey spent a year at Rice, closely observing in the classrooms and principal’s office, and brings the reader from a pep talk for new students to graduation and beyond.
What really comes across is the uphill battle both educators and students face on a daily basis. Boys who could easily earn $150 a night selling drugs on the street are hard-pressed to understand why hitting the books might be a better idea than aiming for UCLA – the University of the Corner of Lenox Avenue – as one Rice teen jokes. And even the students who are determined to excel struggle with family crises such as drug addiction, death, and worse. One boy hangs out in the park until dark every night to avoid his abusive alcoholic father. Another witnessed his own father murdering his mother, and many have been homeless or shuttled between relatives. A few are parents themselves, and one already has a criminal record. No one can argue that private schools like Rice are “skimming” high-performing students from public schools – in fact, most freshmen enter Rice with 6th grade reading and math skills.
But the determination and persistence of Rice’s principal and teachers, and their belief that everyone deserves a quality education, pushes most of the boys through high school and into college. Although there are a few stunning success stories (graduates who are now professional basketball players or students who won Ivy League scholarships), the great victory of Rice is simply graduating young men who go on to college and stable jobs, expanding their possibilities – and those of their families too.
One student who was in and out of detention a few years ago is now a Hofstra University graduate working at Bank of America, and he sponsors a current Rice High School student through the Student Sponsor Partners program. What a testament to the hard (and mostly unrecognized) work that Catholic school administrators and educators are doing year after year.