Diocesan News

Brooklyn Jesuit Prep An Oasis in Brooklyn

These fifth grade students represent the lowest grade in Brooklyn Jesuit Prep. The school educates students in grades 5, 6, 7, and 8. With the class are teacher Fernando Morales (standing at left) and President Father Mario Powell, S.J. (Photos: Paula Katinas)

Brooklyn Jesuit Prep Seeks to Offer An Educational Oasis in Central Brooklyn  

EAST FLATBUSH — Many schools impress upon their students that they should go to college; at Brooklyn Jesuit Prep, they work to help elementary school students understand they, too, can be prepped for college.

“We have a summer academy with Fairfield University and our students are able to have an experience being on a university campus. It opens up their eyes to, ‘OK, high school isn’t just the final step. There’s another step even beyond that.’ They can see it,” said Father Mario Powell, the school’s president.

The majority of the students at Brooklyn Jesuit Prep are the sons and daughters of immigrants from Caribbean nations such as Jamaica, Trinidad and Belize, as well as African countries like Nigeria. In recent years, the school has seen an increase in the number of Mexican-American students.

“They’re at risk of being underserved in terms of education. The parents are hardworking folks but they aren’t necessarily high school graduates. What we’re trying to do is change the trajectory of where these kids are headed,” said Father Powell, who arrived at Brooklyn Jesuit Prep in 2019 after serving as director of an outreach program at Regis High School.

The statistics of minorities in public education paint a troubling picture. According to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), the average score on standardized reading tests given to fourth and eighth graders in the U.S. in 2015 was 26 points lower for black students than for white students.

UNCF also found that black students are less likely to be ready for college than their white counterparts. In 2015, 61% of black students who took ACT tests did not meet any of the four ACT benchmarks for college readiness. For all other students, it was 31% who did not meet the benchmarks.

“The system has failed kids to a large extent,” Father Powell said.

For many parents, schools like Brooklyn Jesuit Prep could be an oasis in an educational desert.

Prior to his post at Brooklyn Jesuit Prep, Father Mario Powell served as director of the REACH program at Regis High School.

Established in 2003, Brooklyn Jesuit Prep is a middle school with grades 5, 6, 7 and 8. While Father Powell would love to see all of the students win admission to Catholic high schools, his goal is to prepare them for the rigors they would face in any high school.

To help set students on the right path, Brooklyn Jesuit Prep engages in an extended school day. The students arrive at 7:30 a.m. and leave at 4:30 p.m. The school is small — the enrollment is 79 students — and easily lends itself to more personalized instruction.

In addition to academics, the school focuses on health and wellness — both medical and financial. The school periodically brings in health experts, like dentists, to talk to kids, and financial experts, like money managers, to talk to parents. 

“We’re big believers that you can’t just focus on academic learning with the population we’re attempting to serve. You have to provide for those other things that we believe lead to success,” Father Powell said.

Tuition is deliberately kept low. Most families pay $75 per month. Most of the money for the school is raised through donations.

Maribel Ramirez, who has two sons in Brooklyn Jesuit Prep — Aiden Mendez, an eighth grader, and sixth grader Tyler Mendez — loves the school. The small class sizes — 16 or 17 children in a room — means her sons are getting a higher quality education, she said.