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Our students know that we believe that they can and will be successful people. And I recognize from personal experience what a difference this can make in the life of a young African-American male walking through doors like ours.
Troy Wharton and the Jesuit Academy - Living the Jesuit Mission

February 18, 2015

The statistics are startling.

Nebraska is the most dangerous of the United States to be African-American, with homicides among black victims at nearly double the national rate. Only 44 percent of African-American males in Nebraska graduate high school in four years and 47 percent of the state’s African-American children live in poverty.

According to a case statement by Jesuit Academy (formerly Jesuit Middle School of Omaha) – which serves young men in grades 4-8 – homicide and low graduation rates are symptoms of underlying problems such as generational poverty. The chronic stress caused by generational poverty can have both a physical and neurological impact on a child’s brain, reducing the growth of new brain cells and severely impacting the capacity to learn and remember. It is also linked to an increase in the likelihood of depression and a reduction in motivation, determination and effort.

Since 1996, however, Jesuit Academy has sought to be an agent of change. Its model includes the Ignatian approach of cura personalis (care for the whole person); an extended day (with students in session from 7:50 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.); and study halls that feature one-on-one tutors from local high schools, universities and friends of the school.
Jesuit Academy student
The model is working. Although 83 percent of Jesuit Academy students come from families with incomes at or below the U.S. poverty level, its alumni have a high school graduation rate of 98 percent – and 60 percent attend college.

When students see a way out of poverty, we can break the cycle of its consequences,” says Troy Wharton, who is in his third year as Jesuit Academy’s principal. “Our students know that we believe that they can and will be successful people. And I recognize from personal experience what a difference this can make in the life of a young African-American male walking through doors like ours.”

“We meet students where they are educationally and emotionally,” he adds. “You never know which interaction with a student will be the one interaction that assures him that he has value and contributes to his sense of self-worth. Our knowing each student’s name, his family and its dynamics is key to reaching our young men. Every day they know that, while they are here, they are loved, cared for, believed in, and safe.”

Originally from New Orleans, Troy attended Creighton University, intending to study in its pharmacy program. While working at summer camps during college, however, he realized education was his true calling. After graduation, he taught high school English and coached basketball in the Omaha Public Schools system, earned a master’s degree, and served as a dean of students.

In his next career move, he applied for assistant principal positions, and was hired at Creighton Prep. “It was during my five years working at Prep that I really began to understand the impact of Jesuit education,” he recalls, adding that, in his time there and since then at Jesuit Academy, he has “grown and developed just as much as the students we have served.”

Such growth and development contribute to Troy’s ability to serve as a role model for students.

“Like the rest of our faculty and staff here, I see this work as a vocation,” he explains. “I believe our top priorities in working with Jesuit Academy students are to be caring people with integrity, strong moral principles and concern for educational excellence. Then, if a person is African-American like myself, it can be a plus, giving our students positive African-American examples and mentors to counteract what they see outside our walls. It’s my hope to be that kind of positive influence.”


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