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Chappaqua Priest Opens School for Inner City Kids

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. - When he shed light on the hardships in Newburgh from his church pulpit, Father Mark Connell said he spoke anecdotally to make a change.

One such story he told his parish at Chappaqua's Saint John and Saint Mary Church was about his experience teaching at the city's College of Mount Saint Mary. When the school prepared to discard desks, beds and dressers to make room for new furniture one semester, Connell distributed them to poor families around Newburgh—some of which were sleeping on cold floors at the time.

“Through a series of sermons given to the parish I got people to understand the needs in Newburgh as something they could address,” he said.

Connell’s idea was to create a place where middle school-aged boys could learn in a safe and protected environment without the distractions of the violence and poverty outside. In 2006, he made that dream come true when he opened the San Miguel Academy in Newburgh .

He said building self-confidence is a key ingredient for success in those who have already given up on education at a young age.

“They have enough negative experiences before they get here, so we created a culture that’s small and friendly and helps a child to build esteem,” he added.

Connell said he couldn’t have made it happen without the help of his Chappaqua benefactors. He remembers a couple, Pat and Kevin Kitson for example, who opened their home for dinner to gather supporters for the school. Before long, 50 people were signed up to help. It was only 16 months after the dinner that San Miguel Academy opened its doors.

Now its lead administrator, Connell said he has fully devoted himself to its success.

“My heart, soul and life are in San Miguel Academy,” he said.

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