GARFIELD PARK — A student at Providence St. Mel School on the West Side scored a perfect score on the ACT’s standardized admissions test.
The perfect score of 36 is the highest a student has achieved on the test in the prestigious private school’s 42-year history.
The student, Mario Hoover, is a bright and ambitious junior born and raised on the West Side. He studied hard to score high because he dreams of being a neurosurgeon and he “knows what [he’s] able to,” he said.
He hopes his accomplishment encourages others in the neighborhood to recognize that they are capable of excellence, Hoover said.
“That means not only can I achieve it. But others can too. It shatters the idea that people on the West Side can’t be successful,” Hoover said. “I hope people look at me and think they can do it too.”
Although Hoover excelled academically, he also triumphed outside of the classroom, volunteering weekly at the MLK Boys & Girls Club at 2950 W. Washington Blvd., and singing in the All State Chorus. He hopes to pursue his love of singing in college by studying music as a minor.
“He’s got a great voice. He’s very talented,” Providence St. Mel manager Tim Ervin said. “He’s a great boy from a great family. Just a joy to be around. Very positive attitude about everything.
Providence St. Mel is well known on the West Side as a school with an excellent track record in guiding students. Students are known to attend some of the best universities in the country, and the school boasts that 100% of graduates since 1978 have received college scholarships, Ervin said.
“It’s about preparing for PSM that will prepare students for success in college and beyond,” Ervin said.
But while several students earn ACT grades of 34 and 35 each year, Hoover is the first to earn a perfect 36, Ervin said. Hoover has a mature outlook and knows what it takes to prepare for a successful future and excel on the difficult ACT exam, Ervin said.
Providence St. Mel’s tough academics were a major reason Hoover’s mother, Zippora Collins, enrolled him in the school. She attended school for a year in high school, so she knew it would push him to stay on top of his classes and homework.
“It’s very rigorous. The course is much more demanding. It’s faster. They learn a lot more in the time they are given in a day,” she said. “He really had to get the job done.”
Hoover started at Providence St. Mel in third grade. He transferred there after his previous school, Mary Mapes Dodge Elementary Renaissance Academy, was closed by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, along with 49 other schools, mostly in black neighborhoods.
Dealing with the school closure “was tough because we had no idea what was going to happen,” Collins said.
When the city shut down Dodge, the district assigned Hoover to a school on the edge of Humboldt Park. Hoover’s mother grew up on the West Side, so navigating different gang territories is a concern she’s all too familiar with. To save her son from getting caught between warring gangs on his commute, she pulled him out of public school and enrolled him in Providence St. Mel, which is closer to their home.
“I know gangs are different. That’s what I thought because I’ve lived here all my life. You work on this block and these guys work on this block and they don’t get along,” she said. “I didn’t think it was safe enough.”
Moving to a private school with a fast-paced schedule was a tough change for Hoover. It was especially hard to let go of the friends and teachers who supported him at Dodge, he said.
“Dodge really felt like home. I was there for a long time and bonded really well, especially with the teachers. But Providence eventually became home too,” Hoover said.
It took Hoover a while to acclimate to Providence St. Mel in third grade, but “once he made that adjustment, he started to soar,” his mother said.
Its success is proof that when young people are encouraged and given quality resources and opportunities, they can go above and beyond, Hoover said.
“Not everyone has the best access to education. But once equipped with these tools and resources to succeed, many people have the potential to do so. I see potential everywhere when I walk around my neighborhood,” Hoover said.
Hoover is aiming for the Ivy League and hopes to go to Columbia University in New York. His hard work has paid off and he has already been contacted by the school, his mother said.
“I’m moved because it’s a great accomplishment,” she said. “It’s a great achievement for our neighborhood and for our family.
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