Tough School Propels Inner-City Kids

At age 13, Luis Sanchez's mother kicked him out of the house -- permanently -- for misbehaving.

"She just brought me to court and was just, like, you know, 'I don't want him,'" Luis explains.

The memory hurts. For two weeks he lived on the streets.

A year later, angry and on drugs, he arrived at MATCH in Boston, a high school where school starts at 7:45 a.m. and the day lasts until 5, or even 8 p.m. -- late hours required for any kid falling behind.

Watch Dan Harris' report on MATCH tonight on "World News." Check your local listings for air time.

MATCH, opened its doors in September 2000, aiming to close the achievement gap by preparing inner-city students not just to get a spot in college, but to succeed in college as well.

Like other charter schools, it is a tuition-free, independent public school. MATCH receives two-thirds of its operating support from the state, and must raise the rest privately.

The school is supported by Boston University, which provides use of athletic facilities and allows students to audit courses, and with other colleges, universities and local businesses.

Students are admitted by blind lottery. Almost all of them are minorities, the majority live in poverty, and most arrive at MATCH well behind in math and reading.

MATCH provides a mix of rigorous rules, demanding academics and regular tutoring. The rules are posted everywhere at MATCH. Principal Jorge Miranda says signs dictate, "everything from the dress code, unexcused absences, tardiness, poor posture in class."

Reprimanding students for poor posture might seem to hail from a former age, but Miranda believes schools need to make it important.

"If you're in the classroom and your head is down on the table or you're leaning back, you're clearly not focused on learning," he says. "And even if it's for a minute, that's a minute that we've lost and we don't have any time to waste."

Get enough demerits for infractions like an untucked shirt, and you'll end up in detention on a Saturday morning.

It wasn't easy for Luis Sanchez to take at first.

"It felt like a burden on me, because I wasn't used to it," he says. "And it just hurt me sometimes; it got me frustrated and angry sometimes."

What makes the rules work is that they're backed up by -- and this is a word they actually use at the school -- love.

There are only 220 students at MATCH. Classes are small and the kids also get one-on-one tutoring from dozens of recent college graduates who live right in the building.

Hundreds of applicants apply to be part of the elite MATCH Corps. The 45 who are accepted receive a small stipend, which is partly funded through a grant from the federal AmeriCorps program, and dorm-style lodging on the school's top floor. In exchange, they make a one-year, more-than-full-time commitment to tutor students and assist teachers. (See related stories section for more on the tutoring program.)

The program has worked for Sanchez.

"They cared," he says. "I mean, Mr. Sposato, who was our principal back then ... took me aside about every day and just told me, you know, 'You're here to learn. You're here to do something with your life.'"

Many of the students at MATCH need such attention. Christina Bernal learned a few years ago that, as a baby, the state had taken her from her drug-addicted mother. The woman who raised her was actually her aunt.

"When I found out," Christina says, "it just hit me like, I just felt like I've been lied to all my life."

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