For more than 25 years, Saint Ignatius High School in Ohio City has held a vision of creating a school for boys living in urban Cleveland where they could access top-notch education and be prepared for success in adulthood.
On Aug. 14, the original 1990s dream of former Saint Ignatius president Rev. Robert J. Welsh to create that school came to reality as 21 sixth grade boys—13 from Cleveland and eight from inner-ring suburb public and charter schools—began their first day at Welsh Academy.
The academy, housed within the Saint Ignatius school, takes an innovative approach to education, based on the Jesuit model. Its rigorous curriculum prepares the boys academically, socially and spiritually for college-prep high school paths.
“Father Welsh believed this school should be created for all boys—your financial background doesn’t matter, your ethnicity doesn’t matter,” says Mary Ann Vogel, Welsh Academy implementation director and principal. “Once again we are restating through real-time work the school’s commitment to education for boys from the city of Cleveland.”
Khamarion Lampkin's first day of school at Welsh AcademyThe students attend Welsh at no cost—the $20,000-per-year tuition is covered through St. Ignatius supporters, says Vogel. “[Tuition] is covered through the generosity of benefactors of the high school who said, ‘We really believe in the mission and we want to sponsor this,’” she says.
“By the time a boy leaves our school, he will be prepared for the top-tier high schools,” says Vogel. “Saint Ignatius has always kept a strong commitment to the city of Cleveland, we’ve always been here, even when we had the opportunity to leave. And we’ve always given financial assistance.”
This year begins with just the sixth grade. Seventh and eighth grades will be added in the subsequent two years as this year’s class progresses. This inaugural class illustrates that the brightest students don’t have to come from the most privileged backgrounds, Vogel says.
They do not actively recruit from other Catholic schools in the region, and they had about 50 admission inquiries for Welsh, Vogel says. Applicants went through a rigorous application process that included teacher observations, review of report cards and state testing scores, and an interview.
Vogel says the boys’ parents were also made aware of the demanding curriculum. “[We told them] we are going to push your boys,” she says. “They understand that what we’re doing here is very rigorous, and moving forward, we do it with love. These are students who are at the top of the bell curve, and they are willing to work.”
Melanie Lampkin’s son, Khamarion, is one of Welsh Academy's new sixth graders. The Lampkins, who live in the Lee-Miles neighborhood, are excited about the opportunity. Melanie is a single parent who works as a dialysis technician at the Cleveland VA Medical Center, studies nursing at Cuyahoga Community College, and is about to transfer to Southern New Hampshire University to complete her nursing degree online. She was thrilled that Khamarion was accepted to Welsh from Ramah Junior Academy in Lee-Miles.
Former Foursquare Church to be converted into a two-and-a-half story school building“When you’re a good parent, you want the best,” Lampkin says. “I want to give him the best opportunities possible, and it’s hard when you work full time and you’re a student. Education is so important.”
Khamarion is prepared for the challenge, Lampkin says. “I hold him to a pretty high standard, and he’s done his best to keep up. I’m excited for his journey and this opportunity to have a chance to have an education at Saint Ignatius. It’s one of the greatest high schools in the Greater Cleveland area. His eyes got so big [when he was accepted].”
Students at Welsh attend classes from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. during the school week. Breakfast is served at 7:30 a.m., with lunch and two snacks also provided during the school day. Welsh is staffed by seven educators: six Saint Ignatius teachers and a student life counselor.
The students take a core curriculum that includes a “language wheel” of various language courses, physical education, vocal and instrument instruction, and multiple recesses, says Vogel, accompanied by “affinity courses” that match the boys’ interests. They include classes in subjects such as coding, hydroponics, small engine repair, rugby, and the ins and outs of basketball.
Plans are already underway to convert the nearby former Foursquare Church at the corner of West 32nd Street and Carroll Avenue into a two-and-a-half story school building. The $6.5 million renovation project is due to be completed next year, says Vogel.
Welsh Academy Learning Commons rendering
Plans for the former church are being finalized by DLR Group. The façade will be returned to its original 1860s red brick, while the interior will include an innovation lab, Vogel says. “The outside will look very much like the other buildings on campus,” she says. “But the inside will be very modern.” Construction is scheduled to start in September.