Esperanza sees employment as crucial, but the organization also seems to subscribe to the adage that all work and no play is boring. Artístas y Músicos Latinoamericanos (AMLA) offers music lessons and workshops for children, adolescents and adults. The new Esperanza Arts Center brings the Pennsylvania Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra north of Philadelphia. Since the pandemic, the center has produced a live series and the Virtual Latino Arts Festival.
Education is the largest division of Esperanza, with over 2,000 students. According to US News and World Report, 85% of students are economically disadvantaged and 84% are eligible for the free school meals program. Ninety-six percent of students are Hispanic while 4% are black, according to this source. Most of the staff are bilingual Spanish-English so parents find the atmosphere welcoming.
“I’ve been here for 17 years,” says David Rossi, 53, senior vice president and CEO of Esperanza Academy Charter Schools. “I was intrigued by a denominational community that was creating a non-denominational school. I also believe that every child deserves a solid education, regardless of zip code, race or ethnicity. Our dropout rate is less than 1% and our high school has a 92-94% graduation rate.
These numbers reflect the innovations that make high school more attractive, according to Rossi. “Our high school is more like a college,” he says. “Students choose from one of 13 majors such as engineering, health sciences, and the arts.”
Pupils sometimes take the initiative to offer extracurricular activities.
“When I asked about building a chess team, the administration was responsive,” says Mateo Ruiz-Leal, 18, senior and Esperanza student since sixth grade.
“A group of us wanted to do AP Calculus,” says Ruiz-Leal of the Advanced Placement class which allows students who pass an exam to receive college credit.
Ruiz-Leal, who is majoring in engineering and received a scholarship from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, continues, “We went to see the principal on this, and soon the course was held. The same happened when we wanted football and a robotics team.
“The teachers here are very encouraging,” adds Ruiz-Leal. “I live near Tacony [Academy Charter] High school, but it’s different there. Before the pandemic, I used to take the bus at 6 a.m. so I could get here on time. “