From St. Malachy to City Hall – How IMS Schools Are Preparing Tomorrow’s Leaders

We recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with St. Malachy Alumnus, Rishaun Hall. Rishaun is a self-confident and successful leader in Philadelphia who exudes humility, love, and respect – values he credits to his formative years at St. Malachy Catholic School. It is these values that paved the path from his childhood neighborhood, to Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School, to the steps of City Hall where he is making a difference and giving back to the city that gave him so much.

From the daily reciting of the St. Malachy creed that ended with “I am somebody”, to the teachers who believed in him, to getting him ready for success in a top-performing high school, Rishaun shared how his IMS education prepared him to be the leader that he is today and why he is living proof that “a successful school can breed a successful student, which can breed a successful future.”

Here is Rishaun’s story, told in his own words:

Q: What are some of your best school memories?

A. When I was younger, the thing that I always loved about St. Malachy was the fact that we always had warm pretzels every morning, and they were only 25 cents! I remember we used to do the creed every morning and at the end of the creed, we always said, “I am somebody”.  It can be easy, especially in a Catholic school with uniforms, to get lost in that uniformity, but in an IMS school, you are an individual regardless of whatever faith you are and what background you come from.  You matter and you are an individual. 

Q. What impact did your teachers have on you?

A. It’s funny, I can remember every teacher I had in every grade because I learned something from each one. They all treated us like we were their kids.  In the seventh grade, we had a teacher named Ms. Brown who led the choir. I never thought about singing in the choir, but I used to play the harmonica and she heard me one day and she encouraged me to play in the choir and I was ecstatic! She believed in me from a very young age and she made sure to always remind me to bring my harmonica so I could play for everyone whenever we had choir or a school Mass. The confidence that it built has stuck with me to this day.

Q. What values did you learn at St. Malachy?

A. Humility and respect. Even though many of us came from low-income families we were treated with respect and we were taught to respect everyone.  The ability to come into a learning institution that demonstrated that level of humility from the principal down to the lunch lady, allowed students to put down their heavy emotional backpacks and be their true selves.  At St. Malachy, we were very clear on the fact that everybody is an individual and everybody needs to be given that level of respect. 

Q. How did St. Malachy prepare you for high school?

A. I attended the illustrious Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School as a member of the founding freshman class and the first graduating class of 2016. Without St Malachy, I would never have found out about Cristo Rey. I remember it was a spring morning in eighth grade when a Cristo Rey representative came to our school and said, how would you like to be a part of change? Cristo Rey was young and they didn’t have sports teams or clubs yet but she said if you want something at Cristo Rey, you can make it happen. The high school that told me that I could be an individual and create my own path, as St. Malachy had, was the next school for me.

Q. How has your education prepared you for the work you are doing today?

A. Currently, I work at The Pew Charitable Trust Philadelphia Research and Policy Initiative. As a policy associate, I’m a direct liaison for all external stakeholder engagement, as well as the City Council of Philadelphia. On any given day I am in a room with a lot of very important people, but I am comfortable in that room and able to be my true self because I learned that at a very young age at St. Malachy. I am living proof that a successful school can breed a successful student, which can breed a successful future. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of success in the educational system which is why all of the work I have done has been tied to some sort of mission that benefits others.

Q. How did you develop the self-confidence needed to become a leader?

A. I feel very empowered due to the teachers at St. Malachy. The small class sizes allowed the teachers to spend that one-on-one time with students. We see time and time again where certain kids just float through the system. That doesn’t happen at St. Malachy because the school is very centered around making sure that all students are not only getting good grades but that they’re also being nurtured emotionally.  St. Malachy does a really good job at vetting their educational leaders because, at the end of the day, they’re raising the next future leaders. They are responsible for the future. 

Q. What are you most grateful for?

A. I’m most thankful for having had the opportunity to be part of the IMS network and to receive an education in such a great school.  This is a safe haven for kids. Let’s face it, this is a dangerous neighborhood, that’s just what it is. But when you are inside this building, it’s none of that.  Whatever’s on the outside is on the outside. What’s in here in this institution of learning, is also an institution of love and respect.

Q. As a parent, why do you think it’s important to have school choice?

A. A lot of times good things tend to leave the city of Philadelphia and this school has been a mainstay in the North Philadelphia neighborhood that I grew up in. You see schools close all the time, but this school has stayed and that’s important because you have a neighborhood school and you also have your neighborhood Independence Mission School. Having that variety in the city of Philadelphia in a low socioeconomic neighborhood, like the one that we’re in, is important because there’s not just a default. You get the opportunity to choose where you send your child, and that is forever valuable. 

Q. Where will you send your daughter?

A. My daughter is only eight months old, so we have some time to decide, but I would love for her to attend a Catholic school or an Independence Mission school. It’s very easy to get an education from anywhere but it’s not only about the education. Attending an IMS school and Cristo Rey Philadelphia taught me the value of education, but also the values needed to be a good human being. And that is invaluable.