May 22, 2017 | By: Alexa Beattie, Town & Style Magazine

Just when young people need it most, ACCESS Academies holds out a steadying hand. Just when they need a future to believe in, ACCESS helps them see their potential. The support the nonprofit offers eases the transition from middle to high school by providing after-school enrichment programs, mandatory summer school and one-on-one mentorship from a school-based Graduate Support Director. ACCESS makes a seven-year commitment to its students, following them through middle and high school and helping with the college application process.

Currently, the nonprofit has academies at three city Catholic schools—St. Louis the King School at the Cathedral, Most Holy Trinity School & Academy and Saint Cecilia School & Academy—with another planned for St. Louis Catholic Academy this fall. Located in the North St. Louis Penrose neighborhood, St. Louis Catholic Academy serves approximately 108 minority students, all of whom qualify for the federal free lunch program.

Marian V. Mehan, Chair, ACCESS Academies Estate Planning & Probate Department Co-Chair, Lewis Rice LLC

“Our students have all the challenges every preteen and young teen faces, but these issues often are compounded by the problems of poverty, including underemployment, deteriorating neighborhoods, and family challenges,” explains Bo Mehan, chair of ACCESS Academies’ board of directors. The vast majority of students, all middle schoolers, are the first in their family to have their sights set on college, she says, so having someone there to guide them can make all the difference. The Graduate Support Director, one in each of the three academies, not only helps with the basics of school life, but also forms an emotional bond with students. “By building those relationships in middle school, the directors have a tremendous positive impact,” Mehan says. “It’s the nuts and bolts of school life, but also the belief in their students, that really [makes the program successful].”

Since its founding in 2005, the ACCESS program has dispatched 98 percent of all its eighth-grade graduates to private college-prep high schools such as Nerinx Hall, St. Mary’s, Bishop DuBourg, Notre Dame, Chaminade, Villa Duchesne and Christian Brothers College.

Mehan says ACCESS is “thrilled” to bring the program into St. Louis Catholic Academy, and would love to embed services into more middle schools. but she adds that the nonprofit must be mindful of its budgetary commitment to existing students and graduates. “We spend about $350,000 per year per school, and of course, we cannot risk abandoning our current high school or middle school students by overextending commitments,” she says.

This year, the nonprofit’s biggest fundraiser—the ninth annual ACCESS Academies Scholarship Dinner—is set for June 7 at the Four Seasons Hotel. The event raises money to support high school tuition scholarships for ACCESS graduates. It also offers tuition support to students at De La Salle Middle School, Loyola Academy, and Marian Middle School. More than $600,000 in scholarships will be awarded this year.

Pictured: Board chair Bo Mehan
Photo Courtesy of Lewis Rice

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