The Sacred Heart Nativity Schools in San Jose, Calif., take a unique approach to their mission of "breaking the cycle of poverty through education" by keeping students in class for extended days and school years. New Nativity Schools president Laura Macias carries on the mission this fall as founder and former president Jesuit Father Peter Pabst moves on to launch Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School in August 2014.
Sacred Heart Nativity School for boys, which opened in 2001, and Our Lady of Grace Nativity School for girls, which opened in 2006, turn under-achieving children in grades 6-8 into high school and college graduates. The schools’ teaching model features an almost 11-month school year, starting early each day with breakfast at 7:30 a.m., school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and activities and study hall until 6 p.m.
Describing the school's goals, Macias said, "We take kids not doing so well academically, but in many cases it's just because of their experience. Some are new to the country, or they have never had the attention that would help them do better. Now we have kids succeeding and going on to Bellarmine, Presentation, Notre Dame and Mitty."
Macias also noted the parents’ role in academically supporting their children. "The dedication of the parents is really amazing to me. I think sometimes people don't realize it doesn't matter if you are low or high income; caring parents make all the difference, and that's the kind of parents we have," she said. Though Macias is not a parent herself, she has been happy to have the students under her wing. "I had no children, but now I have 120 kids. It's really cool."
Macias, a third-generation Latina American, grew up in Phoenix and attended Xavier College Preparatory for girls. She holds a master's in organizational development from the University of San Francisco, but first earned a degree in psychology at Regis University in Denver, where she worked in admissions after graduation. From 2005 through January 2013, Macias was on the Mountain View City Council in California, serving as mayor in 2007.
“It's more happiness than I could ever have imagined," Macias said about leading the schools. "My background is in higher education, and I've always been about trying to get kids to college. … For me, seeing the goal of the Nativity Schools, which is directed at academic intervention and getting kids on that path to college, I thought, 'I think I can do this.' "