Moylan’s legacy clearly ‘part of the solution’

Jan. 11, 2014 @ 12:59 PM

In our editorial commenting on the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty Friday, we quoted from President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 State of the Union speech that declared that war.

“It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice,” Johnson said,” but we shall not rest until that war is won.”

Those words are equally true about another struggle – to assure that every young person in Durham and in America receives an adequate education in a safe, nurturing and inspiring environment.

We are fully committed to the idea that the public schools can, given resources, support and perhaps most important top-flight leadership and instructors, meet that task.

But not necessarily for everyone, and not necessarily all the time.

So if what we need are multiple weapons and nuanced strategies, some very dedicated people are rising to that occasion in the basement of a church building in East Durham.

Since Durham Nativity School opened in 2002, the vision of its founder, Dr. Joseph Moylan, has been to provide a unique, enveloping environment in which young men can succeed academically.

I had lunch with some of the school’s staff, board members, supporters and students this past week. It was an energizing and encouraging experience.

The school’s mission, it says, “is to provide a tuition-free, enriched learning environment and an 11-year support system for middle school boys who have the ability and commitment to achieve, but not the resources for a quality, independent school education.”

Let’s leave aside for a moment the contentious debate over charter schools – the proliferation of which is a legitimate cause for concern for those who value traditional public schools – or vouchers for private schools.  Durham Nativity enables its tuition-free education by doggedly a soliciting private contributions to pay the roughly $17,500 a year it costs to educate each of its students – capped at 40.

The students attend for three years, for sixth, seventh and eighth grades, but remember that line in the mission statement about “11-year commitment.” The school helps it students apply for, qualify for and if necessary secure financial aid for a wide range of top-quality private high schools. Then it helps them navigate the college application route. Of their graduates, 82 percent attend college.

The regimen at Nativity is demanding. Students arrive at 7:35 a.m. – a couple who were at lunch last week talked stoically about what time they got up. The day ends at 6 p.m., and afternoons are filled with study hall, physical education and other activities.

They wear uniform outfits of khaki trousers, blue shirts and rep ties, and they clearly are coached to develop communications skills. Students who met with the luncheon guests were confident and comfortable talking to and with adults.

The school’s visionary founder died last year. As his widow, Ann Carole Moylan mused after the lunch, it was tragic Joe Moylan didn’t live to see the very first students who enrolled in 2002 finish college last year.

Their son, Brendan Moylan, is chair of the board of trustees and continues his father’s passion. Diane Evia-Lanevi, a longtime member of the board, writing in last year’s annual report said this about the elder Moylan:

“His legacy isn’t the school. It is the boys whose lives have been forever impacted by the school.”

It is a rich legacy and a tribute to what one determined person can to do to chip away at the challenge of educating children from socio-economically challenged environments.

Brendan Moylan spoke with considerable understatement when he said, “Durham Nativity School is part of the solution.”

Bob Ashley is editor of The Herald-Sun. You can contact him at 919-419-6678 or