||Above, all 15 members of the graduating class will attend De La Salle High School this fall. At left, some members of the De La Salle Academy faculty attend the graduation ceremony on June 2.
LAWRENCE HALEY, FSC
Diocese's only middle school graduates its first class
The only Catholic middle school in the Diocese of Oakland, the all-boys De La Salle Academy in Concord, which opened in 2014, graduated its first class of 15 students on June 2.
"We just made history," school Principal Marilyn Paquette told the graduation ceremony attendees at the De La Salle High School Theater.
The school's goal is to provide a high-quality Catholic education to students exclusively from low-income families.
"We're trying to serve families here that wouldn't otherwise be in Catholic school," she said. The families all value Catholic education, and most are Catholic, she said.
All members of the graduating class applied to and were accepted at De La Salle High School, she said. The students had to compete with all others applying to the high school.
"We set a very high bar from Day 1 at the academy," she said.
Members of this class are role models for the younger students, Paquette said. They leave a legacy of brotherhood and a model of leadership for younger students to follow.
The brotherhood bond was touched on by student speakers.
In his remarks, Valedictorian Alexander Ramirez said, "Fellow graduates, as we enter high school, I'd like for us to keep in mind the importance of our brotherhood. We need to use this gift and keep this, because as (actor) Will Smith mentioned, true brotherhood is always being there for each other whenever we need help."
The inaugural graduate class includes: Gerardo Baez-Vargas, Brian Jesus Camarena, Juliano Robert Canari, Alex Cardenas, Jose Ceja, Diego Cuevas, Jerod Davis, Luis Hinojosa, Nathan John Lomayesva, Tyler Osbey, Luis Sias-Chacon, Ramiro Rosas, Alexander Ramirez, Felipe Silva and Fernando Valdez.
Mark De Marco, president of both the academy and De La Salle High School, said the year-round academy is in session 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and students receive both breakfast and lunch.
There are a total of 62 boys from 57 families attending the grades 5-8 middle school, located at 1380 Galaxy Way, No. A, Concord, about 4 miles from De La Salle High School.
In addition to small class sizes, research has shown a four-year middle school works better, Paquette said. "By the sixth grade, academic foundations have become habitual. In their fifth grade year, students are still developing mentally, deciding the kind of student they're going to be, what are their favorite subjects. Fifth grade is a big developmental year socially and academically."
While there is no published amount for tuition, De Marco said, it costs about $1 million a year to operate the school
All families must pay some type of monthly participation fee on sliding scale, Paquette said, between $25 and $200 a month, and must be at or below the federal poverty line of $45,000 in income.
It's important families have some skin in the game, she said. "They're willing to do it because they value the education."
The evening ran strong with support for the opportunities given by the Hofmann Family Foundation, which is supporting the academy with $1 million a year in funding.
In his opening remarks, graduate Jose Ceja spoke for all those present: "We wouldn't have had a Day 1 if it wasn't for our very generous and kind-hearted benefactor, Mr. Hofmann. Mr. Hofmann, if it wasn't for you and your family this beautiful community wouldn't be here, right now, celebrating! You and your family will forever be in our hearts."
Before blessing the crowd, Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, noted that in four years of being bishop, this was the first graduation he has attended. With 55 schools, 84 parishes and 550,000 Catholics, he couldn't possibly attend all the graduations in the diocese.
The occasion of this graduation, the first class in the only middle school, a school based on Catholic education and social justice, was the exception. "I don't go to any," the bishop said, "but I'm not going to miss yours."
The bishop suggested students consider a vocation. "If you're up for a challenge," he said, "consider serving God as a Christian Brother or a parish priest. … You get to help people get to heaven."
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