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Providence St. Mel Student Earns 36 on ACT

This article was originally published in the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s 2023 annual report about Providence St. Mel School, a grantee partner of the foundation. Click here to read more content from the annual report.

Mario Hoover earned the nickname “Mr. 36” from achieving a perfect ACT score in 2022. He was the first student at Providence St. Mel School (PSM) to earn the accomplishment. 

Located on Chicago’s West Side, Providence St. Mel has offered preschool through high school students a high-quality education for more than four decades. JSF provides a matching grant for the school’s Paul J. Adams III Purple & Gold Scholarship Fund. The fund, named after Chicago civil rights activist, educator, and PSM founder, offers vital financial and academic support to economically disadvantaged students during their middle and high school years.

“I never imagined I would get a perfect score,” Hoover said to ABC7 Chicago—one of several interviews in which he participated. “To me, it means doing the best that I can to boost my academic career and professional career to inspire others to do the same.” 

Hoover began attending PSM in the third grade after his public elementary school closed. Christel Ward, PSM’s dean of students, recalls having him in class. 

“To me, it means doing the best that I can to boost my academic career and professional career to inspire others to do the same.”

 

“I watched Mario grow up and excel,” said Ward, who has worked at PSM for over 25 years. “Because of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, we’ve been able to help students excel and get ready for college.” 

Following that top ACT score, Hoover kept pursuing his studies. The summer before his senior year, Hoover attended a two-week program at the University of Oxford to study neuroscience. 

A PSM student works on an assignment in the classroom during a site visit from the JSF team in September 2023.

In addition to achieving a perfect ACT score and a 3.9 GPA, Hoover participated in PSM’s concert choir and on the track and debate teams. He also tutored social studies and English and volunteered at a nearby hospital and the local Boys & Girls Club. During his senior year, he competed in the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) State Series for solo and ensemble, earning a Division I rating and an IHSA All-State Honorable Mention. He also advanced to the Chicago regional finals of the August Wilson Monologue Competition, which introduces students to the 20th-century playwright and his American Century Cycle through workshops and masterclasses. 

Now, Hoover is a freshman at the University of Chicago, a top research institution, on a full scholarship. He’s majoring in neuroscience and pursuing a minor in music. His hard work and accomplishments exemplify the power of education and Providence St. Mel’s commitment to its students—including those who may not be able to afford a private school education. 

“Education changes lives,” said Ward. “It isn’t just an investment in yourself. You’re using that tool to make a difference somewhere else—individually, in your school, or in your community. Change is about not staying where you were. It’s progress.”

How One School Offers an Education in Equity to a Whole City

As headlines across the country and data from a range of sources revealed this past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has not impacted everyone in the same way. In addition to disparate impacts on employment, food security, and health, communities of color have often also been impacted by unequal access to remote learning technology or in-person instruction and support.

While Nativity Prep’s students, families, and alumni have certainly faced significant challenges this past year, our school community is not new to the issue of inequity. For 30 years, Nativity has been providing a tuition-free, high-quality private educational opportunity to precisely the Boston communities that have been hit hardest in this past year.

However, it is our “from classroom to career” approach – providing an intensive extended-day, extended-year program for our fourth through eighth grade students and then lifetime graduate support programming to our alumni – that has made Nativity ready to address far more than educational inequity. In the wake of the racial unrest last summer, businesses and industries across the country have made public commitments to improving workforce diversity and building a more equitable business world. Our 30-year history has taught us that addressing economic inequity and workforce diversity starts much earlier than the hiring process. It is the combination of our rigorous educational program and extensive Graduate Support programming – made possible by support from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and partners – that prepares our students not just to access opportunities at top high schools on full scholarship, but also to gain the tools, character, and commitment needed to thrive in a business world that is not always equitable.

In a recent NBC10 Boston/NECN special feature, “An Education in Equity,” this connection between educational equity and workforce diversity was explored more deeply through the lens of Nativity Prep’s experience. The program featured prominent Black leaders in Boston: Lee Pelton, President of Emerson University and CEO-elect of the Boston Foundation; Linda Dorcena Forry. former state representative and VP for Diversity & Inclusion at Suffolk Construction; Michael Holley, NBC Sports Reporter; and several Nativity alumni, faculty, and students in conversation about Nativity Prep’s “from classroom to career” approach, which offers one valuable model for addressing the inequities that are more apparent today than ever.

Watch the entire segment by clicking the link here.


Brian Maher is President of Nativity Prep Academy.