Education

On ’60 Minutes,’ a Visit to St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, N.J.

By Mark Walsh — March 22, 2016 1 min read

St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, N.J., seems tailor-made for a “60 Minutes” segment.

The private school run by Benedictine monks serves more than 500 boys, mostly from low-income African-American or Hispanic families. Student group leaders help run the school, and all they have to do is raise a hand to silence an assembly of boisterous teenagers.

And the school has a no-nonsense leader in the Rev. Edwin D. Leahy. Father Ed, as he is known, is one of the monks of Newark Abbey.

The nearly 150-year-old school is such a compelling subject for attention that it was the focus of a 90-minute documentary (“The Rule”) that aired on public television in 2014. (I wrote about it here.)

But far more people will see a segment on “60 Minutes,” still one of the top-rated TV shows, than view a public-TV documentary. So, this past Sunday, Scott Pelley of the CBS News magazine show took us to St. Benedict’s.

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He explained how the school closed for about a year beginning in 1972 as Newark, and the Abbey, were still recovering from the riots of the 1960s and the departure of white, middle-class Roman Catholic families who sent their boys to the school. Then, rather than follow those families to the suburbs, the school re-opened and began serving the racially transformed city. The school charges tuition, but many students get substantial financial aid.

Pelley and “60 Minutes” follow incoming freshmen in their military-style boot camp and their outdoor hikes.

“It can feel more like the Marine Corps than common core,” Pelley says in the segment.

As both the 2014 documentary and the “60 Minutes” segment concluded, the monks are doing something right. Graduation rates are impressively high, as are college-going rates. But Father Ed says he is most satisfied when he learns that alumni of the school have settled down and have families of their own.

That’s when we get the classic cut to the “60 Minutes” ticking stopwatch and the fadeout.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.

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