timberland mens Bellarmine Preparatory School
B’ing There: Bellarmine’s Block B club of 1958 was a high spirited group whose members would go on to become some of the area’s most prominent developers, financiers, politicians and businessmen.
A chain of power and money flows out of the valley’s oldest private school, the Jesuit run Bellarmine Preparatory.
AT 8:30AM, on the north edge of San Jose’s Rose Garden neighborhood, 150 sleepy teenage boys file into the cafeteria at Bellarmine College Preparatory, Santa Clara County’s oldest private school. A life size cross painted in pastel hues hangs from the center of the room, surrounded by bowls of holy water and cloth shrouds.
The boys move in packs, pairs and alone, their JanSport, J Crew and Tommy Hilfiger backpacks slung from their shoulders, sweatshirts knotted around their waists. They walk slowly, searching for friends and a metal fold out chair to fill. When everyone has settled, a young teacher with sandy blond hair and a broad jaw, who looks more suited to riding waves in Santa Cruz than to conducting a religious ceremony, stands before a microphone, wearing a flowing, white alb to begin a prayer. The prayer captures some fundamental dichotomies of the school its duty to modernize versus its responsibility to preserve tradition; its need to prepare young men for a competitive world and how that relates to its mission of teaching students to emulate the values of Jesus.
The prayer is typed on the back of a small beige card bearing a photo of a grandfatherly man embracing a small boy, titled Reconciliation.
“Loving God, pardon us . for our undue concern for things . for excessive love of comfort and the good things of life . for our abuse of alcohol and drugs . for our concern with the trivial . for our unwillingness to grow . for our acceptance of mediocrity and immaturity.”
Outside in the parking lot, boys who skipped the morning service are still arriving, some climbing from Mercedes sedans, BMWs and shiny black sports utility vehicles. Some students wear jeans and ratty tennis shoes. Others wear $140 Timberland boots and $200 Northface bubble goose jackets. The boys are polite, sharp, studious and humble. By virtue of their presence here, they have made the first cut. Their school, a Jesuit academy known for stellar SAT scores and a 100 percent college placement rate, turns down 750 applicants a year and accepts only half as many.
Many of the students in this elite group volunteer at homeless shelters and attend church with their families. These same boys may also spend their summers in Prague, travel to the Swiss Alps for a ski vacation or make a special trip to the Super Bowl for their 16th birthday.
Most will go on to successful careers. Last year out of the 100 percent of the graduating class that went on to college, 28 percent attended Santa Clara University, San Jose State, UC Berkeley or UC Santa Cruz.
If past trends continue, 60 percent to 65 percent of graduates will remain in the Bay Area after college and move into powerful jobs in the valley, either behind the scenes or in the public eye. They will join the ranks of the dozens of judges, attorneys, doctors, entrepreneurs, developers and businessmen who contribute to local political campaigns, invest in downtown real estate, practice philanthropy and make generous annual donations to their alma mater. A select few will even leave their hand print on the donor wall at San Jose’s Tech Museum, or perhaps their name emblazoned across the side of a public building.
They will join the ranks of local Bellarmine celebrities who have come before them A’s owner Steve Schott, attorney and landowner Phil DiNapoli, former Mayor Tom McEnery, Lincoln Properties’ Ed Thrift, developers Sal Sanfilippo and Don Imwalle, Brad and Matt Rocca of Original Joe’s restaurant, car dealer Lon Normandin, attorney Sal Liccardo, Rich Cristina of Cristina Hall and many,
OF COURSE, NOT every Bellarmine student will end up with a building named after him. A few will not even make it to graduation. When students who’ve earned the privilege to attend fail to keep up their grades, they are put on academic probation and eventually not invited back. While the school sees this as an important way to weed out the less serious students, some parents of these students feel it’s also a way for Bellarmine to sift out those kids who don’t fit the school’s upper class mold.
Diane Cooper sent her son Jarrett to Bellarmine six years ago. He had attended Leyva Intermediate School in the Evergreen Union School District and made A’s and B’s. He had been a Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) student and a skilled athlete. He was also African American and from a moderate income household with no history of prep school. These last three factors, Cooper says, seemed to outweigh the others.
“I’m not sure if it was racism or money or power, but it really was a school where you had to have the right sort of child in order to fit,” she says. “You really have to look at where your child has been.”
Cooper remembers feeling like the other parents looked down at her because of her son’s public school background.
“There was an elitism to that school, and there was a level of the parents feeling like that they were better than everyone else, they were the cream of the crop. I would say things like my son went to Leyva and they would be like, ‘What?’ ” Cooper laughs. “I’d be like, ‘Yes, that’s right, a public school in Evergreen.’ All those kids, they have their future and their past kind of laid out for them. I was amazed at the cars that drove up, the Mercedes and the Porches. If you have a kid that’s coming from an average home, they’re still only going to have $1.75 a day to get lunch or whatever it costs. Meanwhile their friend’s dad is going to fly him out to the Super Bowl. They start to feel like, I’m here, but I’m not there.”
For Cooper, the approximately $5,800 tuition was a stretch. Her son would get no car, expensive vacations or lofty allowances. During Bellarmine’s prestigious and expensive fundraising events, where donations of hundreds or thousands of dollars are not unheard of, Cooper stayed home with her sons.
“For me, the tuition was all that I could afford,” she says.
On top of the social pressures, Jarrett struggled to balance an intensive after school sports regimen with the three to four hours of homework he was assigned each night.
“He was a very good student in middle school, he was a GATE student, and he got into Bellarmine and couldn’t make it,” Cooper says.
Despite sincere encouragement from an African American dean at Bellarmine whom Cooper praises, Jarrett opted to start his sophomore year at Independence High School. In his mother’s mind, he was not to blame. The school seemed designed for kids like him to fail and kids with wealthy families and a history of prep school to succeed.
LAST MONTH, notices were sent to local papers throughout the valley announcing Bellarmine’s summer school scholarship program for male students of color whose families earn a combined monthly income of less than $4,200.
Unfortunately, the notice published in the Mercury News failed to specify that the scholarship was exclusively for young men of color. Diversity director Steve Pinkston says he’s still weeding through more than 80 responses, less than 70 percent of which came from students of color.
Last year, Bellarmine’s senior class included 14 African Americans, 38 Asians, 38 Latinos and 198 whites. And administrators concede this was a huge diversity improvement from previous years, when minorities were almost nonexistent at the school.
“Clearly the numbers didn’t start to take off until the ’70s and ’80s,” says Pinkston. He says the school recruits minority students by actively promoting its financial aid program. Still, the ratio falls short of that at most surrounding public schools (with the exception of Los Gatos High School, which is 86 percent white and only 14 percent minority).
Although Bellarmine boasts a 42 percent minority student population, that percentage still does not reflect the demographics of the valley Independence High School is 88 percent students of color. Willow Glen High School is 68 percent nonwhite, and even Saratoga High School is 46 percent nonwhite.
Public relations director Loretta Pehanich is the first to admit that students of color especially those in a low income bracket may feel they don’t stand a chance of getting in because of the school’s elitist reputation.
“We don’t have people who are applying who are in that great of financial need. That is one of our biggest public relations pushes,” Pehanich admits. “A lot of times if the kid is living on the East Side, people know that this is a private school and tuition is required and they think they shouldn’t even apply.”
Although Bellarmine’s official financial aid policy states that no deserving boy will ever be denied admission because his parents’ pockets aren’t deep enough, or be dismissed because money runs short midway through the school year, few actually cash in on the generous offer. Approximately 220 students get some kind of financial aid, but very few receive a completely free ride. This year there were no students on full scholarship.