St. Paul's Academy is located in a historic residential neighborhood in Phoenix, AZ. "Historic" neighborhoods in Phoenix date back only 40-50 years. The school, originally a treatment program, was converted to a college prep day and boarding school in 1994. I first visited the school 20-years-ago, and St Paul's has made quite a significant change over the years! St. Paul's has the capacity to take 75 students total, 25 day students from Phoenix and 50 boarding students from across the US.
The school is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools as well as the Southwestern Association of Episcopal Schools. Although St. Paul's has early ties to an Episcopal Church, it is a non-denominational school that promotes spiritual awareness and enrolls students of all faiths.
St. Paul's philosophical underpinnings are based on their belief that every student has the natural desire to achieve academic and personal success. Their goal is to help each student reach his potential. They believe that many students have lost their motivation and direction. The school strives to discover the student's own source of motivation and help him learn how to develop his talents and gain the confidence to succeed in life. St. Paul's Academy emphasizes character education as a primary tool. As I sat in the lobby waiting for my tour, I scanned the books and sayings on the wall, all pointing toward character education. William Bennett's book, "The Book of Virtues" had a prominent place on the shelves.
The school's founder was Lowell Andrews who retired in 2002. Hal Elliott, who has been with the school for nearly 20 years, is the school's head. Marti Weiskoph is the assistant Head of School with 14 years experience. Rich Nastro is the Dean of Students with eight years experience at St. Paul's. Dennis Moran, Director of residential living, has been with the school for nine years. The academic program is run by the Dean of Academics; Carolyn Tweedie who has been at the school for 11 years. St. Paul's has a wealth of depth in their school's leadership team.
Many St. Paul's students have been in wilderness programs prior to coming to the school. St. Paul's takes students who are average to above average intellectually. If they have used drugs and alcohol, it is recommended that they have had a prior intervention such as counseling or a wilderness program, and are at least 30 days clean. St. Paul's has a zero tolerance for drug and alcohol use on their campus. Many have symptoms of ADHD, have been oppositional, and are dealing with depression, anxiety and family conflict. The school screens out all conduct disordered boys. The key to being accepted at St. Paul's is a boy who has identified his emotional and behavioral issues and is committed to learning and fully participating in the school's activities. It is crucial that he is voluntary and has a desire to progress in life.
The character education program is very structured and established within the school. A system of knighthood is employed that delivers the core character development component of the school. The knighthood system incorporates six degrees and students progress through the degrees with each building upon the other. The school focuses upon spiritual development, character development, demanding college prep academics and counseling support. St. Paul's programming includes psychosocial lectures and teaching in conflict resolution, team building, leadership, communication and others during a three day per week schedule. Those students who have been involved in alcohol and drugs participate in weekly seminars and attend 12-Step groups. Family involvement is encouraged and expected throughout the program. The boys have ample opportunity to participate in interscholastic sports like soccer, golf, basketball and baseball, and intramurals which include weightlifting, volleyball, dodge ball and ultimate Frisbee through the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
I had a tour with one of the boys, sat in a group with eight boys and had lunch with several others. The students, without exception, spoke highly of the school and were quite verbal in describing the program and talking about what they had learned. They were consistently engaged and supportive of others. The students wear ties and often blazers as part of their school uniform. Many had come from wilderness programs and had been involved in alcohol and drugs. They said that there are students who have violated the rule of no contraband on campus and these boys were immediately expelled. The evidence of character education was everywhere. After lunch, a boy did a good presentation on issues in character development. All the boys seemed to listen, take in and respect what was being said. There were many examples of the school's commitment to character education.
The academic building has ample space to hold small classes of 7 to 10 students comfortably. After school tutoring is available from teachers who remain on campus during mandatory study hall period. The school has excellent computer education and computers available to the boys. The library was fully stocked with books and the students were behaved and orderly.
The boys live a short distance from the school in three well designed cottages. The cottages are clean, orderly and spacious. The grounds were large and nicely furnished with weight lifting and exercise rooms, volley ball courts, music rooms and basketball courts. Activities are stressed after school and include sports, clubs and volunteering. St. Paul's students are students whose emotional and behavioral difficulties are under control and they sincerely want to improve themselves and are open about it. St. Paul's does a good job educating these young men who fit that profile, both academically and personally.