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Gio and Remy Valenzuela attend St. Mary’s High School in St. Louis. “It’s like a tight-knit brotherhood in a short amount of time where you get to know everybody,” Gio said of the school.
Gio and Remy Valenzuela attend St. Mary’s High School in St. Louis. “It’s like a tight-knit brotherhood in a short amount of time where you get to know everybody,” Gio said of the school.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Family credits Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation for paving the way for sons’ Catholic education

Valenzuelas are past recipients of Today and Tomorrow scholarships

Giovanni (Gio) and Remy Valenzuela were prepared for the workload as incoming freshmen at St. Mary’s High School.

However, they didn’t know they’d also have to contend with a pandemic in their first year of high school. But the brothers are thrilled to be learning in person at the all-boys Marianist high school in south St. Louis, because they’ve been able to experience firsthand a family-like community.

“People are very kind and willing to make friends,” Gio said. “It’s like a tight-knit brotherhood in a short amount of time where you get to know everybody. The teachers want to make sure that you’re learning.”

“It’s a very welcoming and loving community,” Remy echoed.

The Valenzuela brothers are graduates of St. Cecilia School and Academy in south St. Louis, where they also are parishioners. The two said their grade school prepared them for what was to come in high school. “They told us the workload was going to be hard,” Remy said. “But they prepared us well, especially with notetaking. I was expecting more of that” in high school, he added.

Both were selected to be part of St. Mary’s Student Leadership program, which organizes student activities throughout the year, such as Homecoming, Spirit Week, Field Day, blood drives and other activities. Student Leaders are comprised of various elected students from every class. The pandemic has affected what kinds of activities the school is able to host this year, but both enjoyed participating in a day of service last fall, in which students picked up litter around the Dutchtown neighborhood along South Grand Boulevard.

The Valenzuelas began attending Catholic school in the second grade. Their mom, Kim Valenzuela, said a previous experience with a magnet school wasn’t good fit for their learning needs. Kim Valenzuela considered St. Cecilia School, because several extended family members had previously attended there. She initially was concerned that it wasn’t financially feasible, but “stepped outside of my comfort zone” and applied for and received scholarships for both of her sons through the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation.

“Both of them have completely different personalities in how they learn,” Kim Valenzuela said. “The thing that sold me was the second-grade teacher (at St. Cecilia) knew my son (Remy) struggled with math and reading. She said, ‘I want you to know that every child is like a flower and blooms at their own pace, when they’re ready. And when he’s ready, he’s going to bloom and it’s going to be amazing.’” By the time he got to the fourth grade, Remy had indeed bloomed, and has since become an avid reader, his mom said.

Kim Valenzuela also said she likes the relationship her sons have maintained with teachers at St. Cecilia, even as they entered high school. “They keep in contact with the kids to see how they’re doing mentally, or with their grades. They ask, is there anything we can do to help you? It’s really worked with them transitioning into high school.”

The Valenzuelas knew St. Mary’s was the right school for them after multiple visits to check out the campus. “We toured on high school night and they greeted us at the door,” she recalled. “We go back to the open house and the same energy was given a second time. They recognized the boys on a first-name basis.”

Kim Valenzuela said she wasn’t as concerned about whether high school had a huge football field or gym. “I wanted to know, what could this school give back so that my boys can be successful? Both boys felt very comfortable here, and there was no anxiety. They felt like they wanted to be part of this. They said yeah, ‘I want to be a Dragon. I want that brotherhood vibe.’”

>> Apply for scholarships

Millions of dollars in scholarships and financial aid are given to families each year for their children to attend Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Working behind the scenes to make that possible are several entities, including the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation, the Beyond Sunday campaign of the Roman Catholic Foundation of Eastern Missouri, the Annual Catholic Appeal, the Office of Catholic Education and Formation, the Archdiocese of St. Louis and other partners.

More than $25 million in tuition assistance is distributed annually to families for their children to attend Catholic schools, as well as additional aid that comes from individual parishes.

The scholarship application window for the 2021-22 school year opened Jan. 11. Families may apply for scholarships to attend any elementary school in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, any Catholic high school and any private elementary school in the City of St. Louis.

Families have the opportunity to apply for scholarship assistance through a unified online application, which is used for all scholarships funded by the Office of Catholic Education and Formation, Today and Tomorrow and Beyond Sunday. The Today and Tomorrow scholarship office administers tuition assistance scholarships on behalf of all entities.

Online applications are available at www.ttef-stl.org. The deadline for most scholarships is Friday, Feb. 26.

>> St Mary’s at a glance

Spanning 27 acres, St. Mary’s High School is located in the Dutchtown neighborhood of south St. Louis. More than 60% of students live within a five-mile radius of the high school in the Dutchtown, Tower Grove, Carondelet, and Bevo Mill neighborhoods. St. Mary’s opened its doors in 1931 as South Side Catholic under the Christian Brothers. The Society of Mary (Marianists) took over in 1933 to serve working-class families who might not otherwise afford a quality Catholic education for their sons. The name was officially changed to St. Mary’s High School in 1947.

St. Mary’s academic program is organized on a rotating block schedule, as well as an Academic Lab, a time in which students meet with their adviser, listen to school announcements, meet teachers for one-on-one help, work on homework with the support of their advisor, or meet with club moderators. The academic program offers 64 hours of college credit and honors courses at every grade level. There currently are 275 students enrolled at the school.

Eleven St. Mary’s students received a SOAR! scholarship for the 2020-21 school year from the Roman Catholic Foundation of Eastern Missouri. Additionally, 131 students received scholarships from the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation during grade school, who later went on to attend St. Mary’s High School. The archdiocesan high school also is supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal.

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