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USFers Improving Education for San Francisco Children


Don't forget your gloves, kids. De Marillac students enjoy an inside look at the human brain in science class.

Almost everything about San Francisco’s De Marillac Academy goes against the trend in education these days, from the academy’s deliberate location in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, to its free tuition, to its many close ties to the University of San Francisco.

One trend De Marillac doesn’t go against is the growing number of NativityMiguel Network of Schools of which it is a part. The network of 64 schools nationwide serves poor families with the intent to break the cycle of poverty by educating the underserved and preparing them for college.

Founded by longtime USF Trustee Suzanne Giraudo ’71, EdD ’89, and her husband Louis Giraudo ’68, J.D. ’74, with the Daughters of Charity and De La Salle Christian Brothers, De Marillac celebrated its 10-year, diamond anniversary in February. The school, which started as a refuge for underserved middle school students in the heart of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, has grown to 119 students in grades four through eight.

During that time, the school’s mission has become the mission of a number of USF graduates, students, faculty, and administrators – among them De Marillac President Michael Daniels, a doctoral student in USF’s Institute for Catholic Education Leadership (ICEL), De Marillac Principal Eileen Emerson-Boles, also a doctoral student in ICEL, USF School of Education Dean Walter Gmelch, who serves on the academy’s board, and De Marillac fourth grade teacher Amanda Borda who is pursuing a master’s degree in reading at USF’s School of Education.

“No other partnership personifies and embodies the core mission of USF and the School of Education more than that with the De Marillac Academy,” said Gmelch, who called the partnership a match made in heaven with USF students and faculty contributing their time and expertise and academy administrators and faculty studying and contributing their real-world experience at USF.  

In starting De Marillac, the Daughters of Charity and De La Salle Christian Brothers showed remarkable vision, according to Daniels. “They wanted to give children in San Francisco’s most underserved neighborhoods equal access to a quality education and the NativityMiguel model was a proven success across the country,” Daniels said. “De Marillac Academy has given Tenderloin families a unique sense of hope and possibility.”

With a 12 to 1 student to teacher ratio, De Marillac is the only tuition-free private school in San Francisco. It enjoys a 96 percent rate of alums completing or pursuing a high school degree and a 76 percent rate of college-aged alums enrolling in college.

“By going to De Marillac Academy I was introduced to smaller class sizes and more discipline that helped me become a better student,” said Kimberly Pirring, who graduated from De Marillac in 2005, when the academy was just a middle school. She went on to graduate from Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory and is now a sophomore at USF majoring in graphic design. “In these smaller classes I was able to learn more and get individual attention from the teachers which I liked. So, I chose a university which has similar class sizes.”

De Marillac not only provided structure by requiring her to set aside time to complete homework every evening and by limiting student absences, but the school has continued to help Pirring by suggesting websites with college scholarship application information and by walking her through the process. The academy also helps her and its other alums pay for their college textbooks with a stipend.

“It’s really generous of De Marillac to continue to helping us financially this way in college, considering it has limited funds,” Pirring said.

The large number of USFers engaged with De Marillac is a result of the many different connections, Borda said. For example, faculty in USF’s dance program worked with her fourth graders prior to her becoming a student at USF. And a number of graduate students from the School of Education also volunteer at De Marillac, Borda said.

“I think that we have enjoyed working together in various aspects, so the connection keeps on growing,” Borda said.

Written by Edward Carpenter »usfnews@usfca.edu