Since its founding in 1998, the motto of Epiphany School has been simple and clear: “Never give up on a child.”
That motto has been ingrained in the minds of at least two former students who decided to return to the private middle school in Dorchester and teach.
Both Sidney Baptista and Euridio Evora graduated in 2001 and remember the days when they were in school studying each weekday until 7 p.m. while some of their friends were ripping and running in the streets.
And both remember the valuable lessons they learned and how school officials went beyond the ordinary to advance their education.
As Evora explains, the school stood behind him.
“They have paid for my high school tuition, taken me on trips, helped me find jobs and they have always been there when I needed advice,” he said.
He also benefited from the constant communication the administration maintains even after students graduate. “They are making calls and emails to check up on us,” he said. “They make visits to high schools and colleges and talk to the graduate’s advisor about grades, progress or anything to do with school.”
There are now 87 students enrolled at Epiphany School. A typical class size ranges from eight to 12 students. All of them, school officials say, are encouraged to dream big. But the primary goal is to have and sustain a strong academic program.
Students begin the 12-hour school day at 7:30 a.m. with breakfast. The day consists of eight academic blocks, lunch, recess, athletics, dinner and an evening study period. The students are dismissed at 7:20 p.m. Though this appears rigorous, students say they get accustomed to it quickly and generally look at it favorably.
Just ask Evora. The long hours were one of the best parts of attending Epiphany. “At the time I hated [it],” he said. “But once I got older I realized that it was one of the things that helped me stay on the right path.”
It’s not all about the books. Epiphany provides enrichment and sports programs on Saturdays from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. There is summer programming as well, which includes a month-long academic program at Groton School for seventh and eighth graders, a week working at a Vermont farm for seventh graders, a sailing trip for sixth graders and on-site sessions for the fifth graders.
According to school officials, Epiphany tries to create a comfortable, safe environment for its students and one in which they feel a part of the family. To help foster that sense of family, parents or guardians are required to work in some capacity at the school for at least two hours a week.
Some have performed administrative work. Others have taken on carpooling while still others have cooked meals.
As a result, school officials say, Epiphany is a place students can really count on. Rev. John H. Finley IV is the Head of Epiphany School. He further stressed that the staff and administration will be there for the students “in good times and bad times.”
“My greatest hope for Epiphany graduates is that they live up to their God-given potential and that they understand and demonstrate in their actions that helping others is better than chasing after selfish goals,” Finley said.
Baptista is living up to those hopes. He came back as an intern teacher because he wanted to give back to his community.
“I wanted to give a year of service at a place that is so near and dear to my heart,” he said. “Working here means something to me because this is where I came from.”
Earlier this year, Baptista spoke to the students at a school assembly about the importance of education.
A 2005 graduate of Williston Northampton School and 2009 graduate of UMass-Amherst’s School of Management, Baptista told them he lived in the same neighborhood, he wanted everything they want now and he decided the best way to achieve his goals was through education. He encouraged and assured them that they can do it too.
“If I had not attended Epiphany, I wouldn’t of taken my education as seriously as I do,” Baptista said. “Before Epiphany, I had no desire of attending college.”
He attended college. He graduated college. And then he deferred his start date at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP’s Boston office in order to teach for a year at Epiphany.
“We always welcome [graduates] back here and rejoice that they find they want to stay involved,” Finley said. “More and more, however, roles are reversed. We aren’t guiding them; they’re making Epiphany’s future themselves.”
The admissions process typically begins in January when parents can pick up applications and take a tour of the school. Students are admitted through a lottery system and should generally be entering fifth grade, reside in the City of Boston and have a family income that qualifies them for free or reduced lunch.
There are two exceptions: 20 percent of each entering class is reserved for children involved with the Massachusetts Department of Social Services and, in most cases, siblings of current or former students are admitted automatically.
Eighth grader Zeke Mercer-McDowall, 14, of Dorchester was admitted because his older brother attended Epiphany.
“Elementary school didn’t expand my mind,” he said. “They’ve made me a better person and made me want to do things.”
He said he loves football and wants to be a professional player one day. But if that doesn’t work out, he said, he would be interested in a career as a CSI agent because he loves science.
Tiffany Smyth, also 14, was admitted to Epiphany because her sister was a former student. She has aspirations to become a lawyer or an actress.
“I want to mature and get better in the way I learn,” she said. “I think the smaller classes really help. The teachers are there to help us and tell us why we must do it.”
Harrington Pierre-Jean is a 12-year-old from Mattapan. He got right to the point: “I wanted to be challenged so I came here.”
For more information, visit www.epiphanyschool.com.
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