Lunch period at an inner-city all-boys school is an event associated with the sounds of chaos, not classical music. And yet there are definitely strains of Beethoven coming from the piano in the cafeteria at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy. Behind the pianist, another student waits patiently for his turn. Upstairs in the art room, a senior is using the lunch hour to apply more brushstrokes to a portrait. A few kids are playing pickup ball in the gym, but more are crowded in the library.
In a city where 47% of adults are functionally illiterate and only 25% of high school freshmen make it to graduation, U of D is the chute through which bright young men can get to college. The school boasts a near perfect graduation rate and sends 99% of its graduates on to higher education. (In 2009 the one student who didn’t go to college turned down a scholarship from the University of Michigan to sign a seven-figure contract with the Detroit Tigers.)
Catholic high schools have long provided a way out for high-achieving urban students. But in Detroit, most Catholic schools either closed down or left the city decades ago, after the race riots in 1967, when white Catholics fled to the suburbs and the city’s population dropped by half. Only the Jesuits stayed, maintaining U of D’s imposing stone structure on the corner of 7 Mile and Cherrylawn. The Catholic order is known for its education systems and its missionary work. In Detroit, they have become one and the same.
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