He's a former pharmaceutical executive and she's concluding Ph.D. studies in reading literacy and assessment. Bryan Carter and Annette Pickett could choose more lucrative careers. Yet they've devoted their lives to educating the children of North Philly.
For President and CEO Bryan Carter, this is the most meaningful job he’s ever had.
I have five brothers–four older and one younger. My second oldest brother visited Gesu School recently for the first time. He is a corporate attorney. We took a tour of the school and my brother said, “a school like this transformed our family.” I had unbelievable opportunities to attend great schools. How is it that my brothers and I had the opportunity to attend premier schools, schools that changed our lives? I always wanted to be in a place where I could make an impact. At Gesu School, I can see daily the impact we are having as a school community and a family. It’s the best job, the most rewarding job, the most impactful job I’ve ever had.
President and CEO Bryan Carter hosting guests in the school library
Father to an 11 year-old daughter, Carter wants “our kids to have everything my daughter has at the school she attends where the tuition is way too high.” But the thing that keeps him up at night is money. The school is heavily reliant on Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarship programs, EITC and OSTC. “It is critical for us. We are a tuition-based school, and every family pays something, but few can afford to pay our modest tuition. We have to raise the money, so we can continue to offer the Gesu School experience to children and parents.”
According to Carter, Gesu’s educational mission is to provide their 450 students “an innovative education” so they can become better citizens. “We want to grow them spiritually as well as academically; grow them in character. Make sure that when they leave they’re on the path to break the cycle of poverty.”
We want to grow them spiritually as well as academically; grow them in character.
For Mrs. Pickett, Gesu's 8th grade girls teacher and boys social studies and science teacher, “it’s paying it forward. My education was through the Catholic school system.” One of Gesu's hallmarks is that they offer single-gender classes from grades 3-8.
Mrs. Pickett's mission as a teacher is to show children that “learning is a lifelong experience,” and that “they’re empowered to do anything they want to do” once they embark on the path of continual discovery. “The learning doesn’t stop after they put the uniforms away.” Mrs. Pickett certainly practices what she preaches, teaching classes during the day and studying for her doctorate at night.
They always come back
Pickett is well known among the Gesu community as the hardest teacher. Mrs. Pickett recounts with pride how all her students come back to visit, despite their initial complaints.
When they’re here they tell me I’m too hard, that they’ll never come back. They never want to see me again. They want to drop out. Then they all—kicking down the door—come back the next year and hug me and kiss me. I’m tough because I want them to be successful. I’m tough because I don’t want them to say “no one ever told me this.” That project you made me do—it really came in helpful. I’m glad you taught me the difference between their and they’re.
The spirit of hard work guides Gesu’s educational philosophy. And it stands to reason; the harder the kids work in eighth grade, the more prepared they’ll be for high school and beyond.
Pickett and Carter believe in the experiential value of doing something hard. Mrs. Pickett applies this philosophy in her classroom. “Social studies is life. Don’t we learn from our mistakes? If we learn history maybe we’ll learn what not to do. Maybe there won’t be so much discrimination in the world. Learn how to live together as people in the world. They’re the ones who are going to change the world.”
As President and CEO, Bryan Carter fosters a culture of hard work at the school.
They learn the value of working hard and doing something hard…what are you going to do when the school work gets hard? What are you going to do when life gets hard? It’s good to make it difficult on the kids. The kids don’t like it, but they grow from it. Ultimately, the children come to value hard work and recognize that they were successful due to working hard.
One-hundred percent of Gesu students qualify for free or reduced lunch. A third of their families have annual income less than $30,000, and half come from single-parent households. If not for Gesu, most of these students would attend the poorest performing public schools in Pennsylvania. For these students, a Gesu education means opportunity—the opportunity to change their generational trajectory.
Read part I featuring Steve Pemberton's inspiring story of everyday heroes, and how one kind adult can change the life of a child.
In Part III we showcase the influencers of tomorrow—the students.