Top-Ranked South Bronx High School Graduates 100th Class

By Patrick Wall on June 12, 2012 3:30pm | Updated on June 12, 2012 4:22pm

A student prepares to shake hands with the principal of All Hallows High School, Sean Sullivan. This year, the Catholic school in the South Bronx will graduate its 100th class.
A student prepares to shake hands with the principal of All Hallows High School, Sean Sullivan. This year, the Catholic school in the South Bronx will graduate its 100th class.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

CONCOURSE — As a child, Jose Pacheco usually kept to himself.

But when he entered All Hallows High School, an all-male Catholic school on East 164th Street, he felt comfortable enough to try branching out.

Three years later, Jose, 17, is in full bloom.

Now a junior, Jose has become a captain of his baseball and basketball teams, a member of the National Honor Society and, after a vote last week, the student body vice-president. Recently, he attended leadership conferences in Florida and Ireland.

He even took another shy student under his wing, talking to him in homeroom and inviting him to his lunch table, until that boy too began to flourish and wrote Jose an email saying that he had changed his life.

All Hallows “made my son who he is,” said Jose’s mother, Iris Pacheco. “And he’s become a really great young man because of it.”

Earlier this month, inside St. Patrick's Cathedral, the historic South Bronx school dispensed diplomas to its 100th graduating class. Ninety-eight percent of those 154 seniors were accepted into four-year colleges, and the entire class graduated on time.

Over the past century, All Hallows has developed an academic program that rivals the city’s highest-performing schools, even though it is situated in the heart of one of the nation’s poorest Congressional districts, with a student body that is almost entirely black and Latino.

Last year, its students earned an average score of 1390 on the SATs. For the past 15 years, the school’s graduation rate has hovered around 100 percent — compared to a rate of 61 percent in the city’s public high schools. And it is the only school in the Archdiocese of New York to be included on a list of the top 50 Catholic high schools in the country.

Despite its success, the school’s $5,700 annual tuition is the lowest among the Archdiocese’s 18 inner-city high schools, and more than three-quarters of its students receive some financial aid.

“It’s an option for parents who are struggling,” said Pacheco, “so we can still afford to send our kids to a good school.”

All Hallows' relatively recent ascent is just the latest chapter in a very long history.

The Congregation of Christian Brothers, an Irish order, founded its first American school in Harlem in 1909. As enrollment increased, the Brothers sought a larger space.

In 1930, they built the current school building in The Bronx. The following year, as alumni tell it, the students in the Manhattan building each grabbed a desk and a chair, filed onto the subway, rode to The Bronx, then walked into the new school, where they set down their desks and continued class.

All Hallows High School has developed a reputation as a top Catholic school, even though it's situated in a poor neighborhood, with most of its students requiring financial aid. Pictured are three All Hallows juniors (from left): Jose Pacheco, Brandon Diaz and Justin Quinonez.
All Hallows High School has developed a reputation as a top Catholic school, even though it's situated in a poor neighborhood, with most of its students requiring financial aid. Pictured are three All Hallows juniors (from left): Jose Pacheco, Brandon Diaz and Justin Quinonez.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

From the start, many children from working-class families, some new to the country, attended the school.

Jim Smyth, one of nine children whose parents moved from Ireland to the Fordham section of The Bronx, met as an eighth-grader in the 1970s with a brother at All Hallows, who explained that tuition cost $60 a month, but the school was willing to fund half of it.

“I said to my father, ‘It’s only $30 a month,’” said Smyth, 51, “and he said, ‘Can you afford that?’”

Smyth paid his own way through All Hallows by working 40 hours a week at a fish market and a drycleaner. After he graduated in 1979, he attended Iona College, a Christian Brothers-run school in New Rochelle, then later founded his own advertising company, Smyth Media Group.

“I never thought, at 14 years old, that I was college material,” said Smyth, who is a member of All Hallows’ board of directors. “But going to college was something the school instilled in me — that I belonged in college.”

In 1996, the school selected its current principal, Sean Sullivan, a class of 1973 graduate and a longtime All Hallows coach, teacher and dean.

Before Sullivan took over, he said, the school was in such bad shape that he told the principal before him that the only difference between the school and the Titanic was that the Titanic had a band.

Sullivan, who was born in Ireland and maintains a vacation home there, said he put his “quick Irish temper” to use reestablishing order at the school. In his first year as principal, he expelled four seniors within weeks of graduation.

"I had to come in Wyatt Earp-style, so to speak," said Sullivan, who also helps coach the varsity baseball team and teaches calculus.

The students got the message that Sullivan meant business and, the following year, all 88 seniors graduated and were accepted into four-year colleges.

Since then, enrollment at the school has nearly doubled — from 347 students in 1996 to 660 today.

As principal, Sullivan carved out a block of time each morning when the whole school stops and reads. He added AP courses and opened the school on Saturdays for tutoring and enrichment work.

He beefed up the college guidance department and expanded counseling services for students.

This year, over 200 young men signed up for group counseling sessions where they learned to manager anger, stress, grief and family issues, according to John Ford, the chairman of the counseling department.

“It’s an opportunity to vent,” said Ford. “Many kids don’t have that opportunity with their families.”

Students must perform 100 hours of community service before they graduate, and participate in at least one extracurricular activity. They can choose from dozens of athletic teams and clubs, including salsa dancing, sports trivia, the school’s live news channel, AHTV News, and a comic book group, which ties into a mandatory art therapy course for freshmen.

Brandon Diaz, a junior who is a member of the school’s rosary society, student council and dominoes club, said the secret of the school’s success is that it pushes students so hard, they begin to expect more and more from themselves.

That, and the fact that there are no female classmates to impress.

“From 8:10 to 2:18, it opens your mind and you can focus,” said Brandon.

Justin Quinonez, another junior who is a member of the school’s Latino and drama clubs, agreed.

“It’s a brotherhood,” he said.

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