Staples Grad Helps City Students Change Lives

Like many Westporters, Leslie Schine had a successful career in New York. She was in mergers and acquisitions, concentrating on the entertainment field.

Like many of her generation, the 1971 Staples High School graduate wanted to give back to those less fortunate. But she was not sure if serving on the board of a major institution, like the Met — as many others did — would have the greatest impact.

Then she read about De La Salle Academy. The small, independent middle school offered academically talented, economically less advantaged children of diverse backgrounds a life-changing educational experience.

Leslie Schine

It was started by Brother Brian Carty in the fall of 1984. He dragged furniture up the stairs to the top floor of a Catholic school at 96th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. He painted rooms, and opened the doors. He did not have enough money to last until Christmas.

Someone, he managed. Slowly, De La Salle Academy grew, and flourished.

Leslie is the daughter of Judge Leonard and Lois Schine. Her mother — now 95 — still lives here, and has long been active in volunteer causes. Leslie knew how important her education at Staples had been. De La Salle, she realized, was a way to give back.

She met Brother Brian, and was impressed. Nearly 40 years later, she’s still involved with the school.

“It’s a unique place,” Leslie explains. “Admission is need-blind. 100% of the students get some level of financial aid.” 94% of the 170 students are Black, Latino or Asian Americans. They come from all over New York — particularly the Bronx and Queens.

De La Salle Academy students and staff.

Unlike many places, those youngsters love their middle school. They are excited to be there. They support and encourage each other.

And unlike many middle schoolers, Leslie says, “they shake hands. They look you in the eye.” They are engaged with each other, and the world.

In the early years, Brother Brian brought several students to a Near & Far Aid benefit. They did not expect to speak. But when an audience member asked to hear from them, they stepped up to the mic.

A man standing near Leslie listened in awe. “We should send our kids there!” he said.

Just before COVID, a donor funded a trip to Broadway’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” A Staples friend of Leslie’s was in the audience. She texted Leslie, “Your kids are the most well behaved here.”

The De La Salle experience is transformative. Students go on to select public schools in New York, and private day and boarding schools like Horace Mann, Trinity, Exeter and Andover. Then they attend top colleges in the country. 93% graduate within 4 yeas — an astonishing statistic.

Studying at De La Salle Academy.

The current head of school and his assistant are both De La Salle graduates. One has a Ph.D. “They could have gone anywhere, for lots more money,” Leslie notes. “They came back here.”

Every staff member knows each student well. Even the head and his assistant teach classes.

When the archdiocese closed the building where De La Salle was renting space, they searched all over New York. They’re now on 43rd Street between 8th and 9th, in an 1888 building that needed extensive renovation.

De La Salle has evolved with the times. They have robust STEM and computer programs. They do not, however, have physical education — difficult in any city school — and are strengthening their arts offerings.

COVID has affected every school. The impact on a place like De La Salle was particularly profound. For months, many students working remotely relied on broken smartphones, often shared with siblings. A grant in the fall of 2020 provided every student with a Chromebook.

A bright classroom, at De La Salle Academy.

Yet money is always a problem. In its early years, 60% of De La Salle’s funding came from foundations. That figure is now less than 16%

“They’re looking for big global efforts now,” Leslie says. “We’re just one small middle school.”

De La Salle used to rely on guidance counselors for referrals. After No Child Left Behind became law, Leslie says, they’re more apt to keep their top students in their own buildings. That helps raise their school’s standardized test scores.

The rise of charter schools has also drawn students who might otherwise attend De La Salle.

However, Leslie says, “once they visit and see us, they want to come here.”

De La Salle Academy has changed the lives of thousands of students. They gain the tools for better life opportunities than they otherwise might have; then they give back to their communities, and help those coming behind them.

De La Salle Academy.

De La Salle has been as transformative for Leslie as it is for its children. She is thankful for the opportunity to help raise money for the school, and its profile. She has been forever altered by conversations with students.

So Leslie continues to fundraise. Every year, it costs several million dollars to keep the doors open.

Those open doors are crucial. Classes resumed this past fall, after being closed for over a year in the pandemic, with stringent controls. Masks are mandatory; COVID tests are conducted weekly.

Students don’t mind. “They’re just so happy to be back in school,” Leslie says.

She’s happy too. “I’m humbled every time I walk in the door. I feel privileged to be in such an amazing place.”

(For more information on De La Salle Academy — including how to donate — click here.)

6 responses to “Staples Grad Helps City Students Change Lives

  1. Schine’s are a great family.

  2. Another, yes another, SHS 71er doing great things! Rock Star.

  3. Paul F. Morris

    Great Story about what can be done with People helping People. A similar Story is playing out at Saint Martin de Porres Academy in New Haven just 30 minutes up I-95. A 5-8 Middle School helping Students reach for a Better Life
    and breaking the Cycle of Poverty

  4. Michael Calise

    An Amazing Commentary on a wonderful story of giving, .

  5. Leslie won a lock of Ringo’s hair on a contest on WMCA back in the ’60s.