Being Their Best Selves

Being Their Best Selves

“We want them to thrive. That’s the goal." Photo Credit: St. Martin de Porres Academy 

St. Martin de Porres Academy opened its doors twelve years ago with the promise of giving life-changing opportunities to disadvantaged kids.  That promise is being fulfilled as the first graduates are now in college making dean’s lists and winning awards at places such as Villanova, Fairfield, St. Lawrence and Princeton. One former student, a college senior, already has a job offer in engineering.

“I’ve watched these kids develop since they were nine-year-olds. It’s been very special to share this journey with them and see them blossom,” says Allison Rivera, the Academy’s president and a founding teacher. 

The secret to success for the tuition-free 5-8 grade middle school has been creating a culture where every student has the desire to “be his or her best self,” says Rivera. That starts with students committing to a 10-hour school day and 11-month school year. 

The extra time allows the school to provide a holistic education that includes playing an instrument and a breadth of extracurricular activities. Following an afterschool homework time, students participate in a sport and can choose from a variety of classes and clubs such as cooking, crafts, community service and even a “fix it” club led by a board member who teaches how to make basic home repairs.

“We’re trying to find each kid’s hook and what will turn them on to their own potential. Nine times out of ten it’s not that algebra equation that’s going to turn them on,” says Rivera. “We want them to thrive. That’s the goal.”

The school also broadens the students’ horizons by taking them on extended field trips. They spend a week on a dairy farm in Vermont where they milk cows, make cheese and tap maple trees. The students have also gone to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to study the ocean and environmental science. 

The experiences are educational on multiple levels. In addition to learning something new, the students gain an awareness of different life opportunities that they would otherwise never see.

“We aim to give our kids as many exposures and experiences as middle class kids have,” says Rivera.

Field trips take students to a working dairy farm and Niagara Falls. Photo Credit: St. Martin de Porres Academy 

The trips are also helpful in giving the students confidence and a feeling of belonging when they go on to high school and college and find themselves surrounded by affluent peers. St. Martin de Porres makes a 12-year commitment to every student, which includes helping place them at private college-prep high schools on scholarship. The academy also helps its graduates through the college application process. 

“We help them learn the language of higher education. How do you calculate a GPA?  What are you looking for in a college?  We show them how to do the research,” says Rivera. “These kids just need access. With a little opportunity they soar.”

An independent Catholic school, St. Martin de Porres receives no support from the archdiocese. Its $1.5 million annual budget is raised through private donations, fundraising and grants. The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven has a 10-year history of financial support.

To learn more about St. Martin de Porres Academy, visit its profile on

Did you Know?

The New Haven Trauma Coalition reports that nearly 50% of 5th graders in the New Haven public schools suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. St. Martin de Porres addresses this reality with a trauma-informed teaching model.

This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.




70 Audubon Street
New Haven, CT 06510



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