School is usually a place where adults are in charge and kids are expected to follow. Adults make the rules, adults make the consequences and adults are the leaders.
One inner-city school in New Jersey, however, chooses to run things differently. The result? A nearly perfect graduation rate.
At St. Benedict's Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey, kids, not teachers, run the school. The high school students, grades 7-12, make decisions on everything, from rules to activities. They even take the lead in those activities.
Half the students are black and one third of them are Hispanic. Most come from lower-income areas of the inner-city neighborhood. But they do not let those things define them. They call each other brother and work to make the school a positive place for everyone.
According to Benedictine Monk Edwin Leahy, even if the kids make a wrong decision, it's actually a good thing. "That's a better learning experience for them," he said. "The rule typically is if you're going to make a decision without adult advice, you had better be right."
The kids seem to take that rule seriously and strive to do their very best.
Every morning, the students gather to not only shout their school motto (which is, "Whatever hurts my brother, hurts me") but also give affirmations to each other. With affirmations like, "I love you" and "You can be any good thing you want to be," these boys are lifting one another to a higher way of thinking where they can accomplish whatever it is they put their minds to.
Bruce Davis, the school's senior group leader said, "We learn what we are willing to accept, which is nothing but the best." He said that boys who attend St. Benedict's are different than the other boys who walk around the neighborhood.
Davis also said he considers looking out for his brothers as one of the most important elements of St. Benedict's and if anyone goes astray, they all go out to find him and bring him home.
"If he's out, if the parents don't know where he is, we have to go find him." It is a duty felt by the students themselves.
The unique set up of St. Benedict's gives the students that attend there the ability to have control over several aspects of their lives, something they didn't have before attending. At the very core of the school's design is the desire to empower these inner-city kids to go out and conquer.
The drop-out rate is just 2 percent, and 85 percent earn college degrees. With numbers like that, more schools should follow in their lead.
This story is a story of love and triumph. It shows the amount of money you have does not matter and where you come from does not define you. It is your choices that determine your destiny, and the future of these students is bright.