2019 Heritage Grant Recipient: City Academy
“When a child knows that they’re believed in, they can do anything.” City Academy Chief Development Officer Steffani Lautenschlager believes it, because she’s seen it. “Before I started at City Academy, our Board Chair described it for me as the most magical place in St. Louis, but said that he couldn’t tell me everything I would feel,” she says. “I understand now exactly what he meant.”
Co-founded in 1999 by Don Danforth III and Duncan Marshall, who shared ties to Mathews-Dickey Boys’ and Girls’ Club, City Academy is a high-performing elementary school for families whose educational opportunities are limited by geographic, demographic or economic factors. It is the only private, independent elementary school in Missouri offering scholarship support to 100% of its students. Located in North St. Louis City across the street from Mathews-Dickey, the school is growing their student body to serve 250 students, ages 3 years old through sixth grade.
Through a model based on rigorous and inspired instruction, character development and family partnership, City Academy graduates “are sought-after students,” says Lautenschlager. “We believe holding students to the highest standards is necessary for their success beyond here, and our students are constantly challenged.” Furthermore, she says that because they know students and their secondary school options so well, they’re able to help facilitate a good match. “The goal is to give them a choice.”
Beyond bold expectations, City Academy is serious about instilling a love of learning. “It’s a joyful school – one of the things you immediately feel – where there is freedom in innovation and teachers are allowed to focus on the subject areas they are most passionate about,” says Lautenschlager. In fact, faculty is encouraged to be unconventional, such as when City Academy became the first school to begin a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) program at the suggestion of one of its science teachers. “Likewise, we’re fostering creative thinking in every student and allowing them to explore who they are deep inside.”
This level of specialized education comes at a price, says Lautenschlager, and City Academy spends about $2.5 million annually on operations, of which less than 20% is funded by tuition. “We were founded on the principle that every child should have access to a high-quality education, regardless of geographic or income barriers. Every family pays tuition based on what they can afford to pay,” she says, adding that the community support of the endowment and annual funds makes it possible for the school to remain accessible to families.
Additionally, parents receive resources to support their child’s learning, including parent education seminars. Free early and extended day programs allow parents to hold down full-time jobs without worrying about after-school care. Various alumni programs ensure students and families are prepared for each step of their educational journey beyond City Academy.
“We really are a community inside a community,” says Lautenschlager, describing how parents and alumni stay engaged and give back long after graduation. One mother, who volunteered throughout her daughter’s education at City Academy, now oversees the school’s food and nutrition services. Her daughter, a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, led the STRIVE for College mentorship program while at Wash U, which partners undergrads with City Academy alumni in seventh through twelfth grades. “I’d say that’s pretty magical.”