Rooftop Revelations: Son of single mom details how he got a perfect ACT score in a violent community

on Feb8
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On May 20, 2020, The New York Times published this headline, “Go Ahead, California, Get Rid of the SAT,” because they believed that “standardized tests penalize ambitious low-income students.” On May 15, 2021, the New York Times published a follow-up headline, “University of California Will No Longer Consider SAT and ACT Scores.” Many colleges outside of California followed suit, casting the standardized tests as relics of systemic racism that must be done away with to erase racial disparities. 

If poverty and systemic racism were to blame, then how did Mario Hoover, a junior at Providence St. Mel School, score a perfect score on the ACT? He lives in Garfield Park, an impoverished neighborhood that had a rate of shootings nearly 20 times higher than downtown Chicago, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

There will be critics who argue that Mario is an exception to the rule. But is he really, or is that a rationalization that critics comfort themselves with? One can make the more compelling argument that Mario’s success exposes just how many youths in low-income public schools have been robbed of a rigorous education by teachers and administrators who pass along even the most illiterate of kids. The sad reality is that Mario had to escape the public school system to become his best self. His remarkable achievement is a testament to the hidden potential that lies within these overlooked communities. 

That is why on the 80th day of his 100-day rooftop vigil to raise funds for a community center designed to provide support systems to low-income students, a proud Pastor Corey Brooks invited Mario to the freezing roof for a conversation by the campfire. 

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“Mario is here because he scored a perfect 36 on the ACT, that’s right,” the pastor said proudly. “So, Mario, you are a student where?”

“Providence St. Mel,” Mario responded.

“We all love Providence St. Mel. That’s one of the schools that President Reagan really talked about with Dr. Adams,” the pastor said. “How was it?”

“I’ve been at Providence St. Mel since third grade. Now I’m a junior,” Mario said. “It’s rough. It’s rough sometimes.”

The Chicago public school that Mario left required little to no homework. When he arrived at Providence St. Mel he learned that he would fail the class if he did not do his homework.

“Do you feel like that sometimes some students are not achieving in other places because [the educators] lower the standard?” the pastor asked.  

“All the time. At Providence St. Mel, they really uphold the fact that this is where you should be at,” Mario replied. “They make us study and practice for the ACT. I’ve been practicing since like sixth grade for the ACT.”

“Yeah.”

“They reward us,” Mario continued. “We have the honor’s assembly every quarter, and they reward us for our achievements. So it’s a very rigorous process, but it’s a very rewarding one.”

“A lot of people would think, ‘well, this is just some smart kid. He’s probably always been smart,'” the pastor said. “‘He’s never had to struggle.’ Have you ever had to struggle with school and how did you get through that?”

“Well, I would say that third grade year, the year that I went to Providence St. Mel was my most struggle bus,” said Mario, using the slang for a difficult situation. “Then I got diagnosed with ADHD … That is when I really started to study, which is really a rough thing for me, because I never had to study. And then at Providence St. Mel, I realize, yeah, maybe you should study, do your work.”

“Right.”

“And then I achieved what I achieved. At Providence St. Mel, you have people to look up to, those high scoring people who you always see. Now, I guess that I’m one of them,” Mario said.

“Those high achievers.”

“Yes. Those high achievers. And you look at them and you go, ‘I want to be like them.’”

“You said you had ADHD,” the pastor said. “How did you get the tools to work through that?”

“I would say it really hindered me up into the point where my teachers really were like, ‘Okay, Mario, we know that you struggle, but we know we see so much potential in you, and we want you to excel,’” Mario responded. “So I [stayed] after school. I got help writing essays [and studied] to really get the highest possible score I can.”

“You’re also gifted musically, too.”

“I’m also an All-State musician,” said Mario, who was accredited by the Illinois Music Education Association. “I achieved a very high score on my audition. So I got to perform at Peoria just this last weekend.”

“You live in the neighborhood, and we’ve already talked in the past about Providence St. Mel as [being] in the hood. And you live in that neighborhood?” the pastor asked. 

“Garfield Park.”

“Garfield Park. And like me, [with a] single parent mom,” the pastor said. “Tell us about how has it been living in the hood, but having a mother really, really push you because if it weren’t for my mom pushing me, I know I would not be on this platform.”

“Same,” Mario said. “My mother has always worked very, very, very hard for me to basically do everything that I do. She’s worked overnight and then she come home. She does hair. And then she used to do Gopuff, drive around tired all the time. And it really inspired me to do my work, essentially. And it inspired me to—you can push through all your hindrances, all your challenges.”

“In Garfield Park, I know you see a lot of kids or know of kids who have been shot and killed or know of kids who just don’t make it,” the pastor said. “What do we need to do to help our community to begin to thrive so we can have other kids get 36’s?

“I would say, do what Providence St. Mel does,” Mario answered. “There was a kid who used to go to Providence St. Mel that just got shot that we just found out about. And it was very, very sad to hear about. But in my mind, I was thinking that, man, we should inspire more people to stay in school and practice and study.”

“Work hard.”

“And work hard and stay out of the streets.”

“With all of this hard work and a 36, what do you want to do?” the pastor asked.

“I want to go to Columbia University in New York. I want to major in neuroscience and behavior.”

“Wow.”

“And minor in music. I find that there is so much power in music,” Mario said. “Me and my mother used to watch ‘House’ as a child, and I was inspired by all the doctor’s achievements. So, I want to inspire others how I was inspired, through music and through that medical education.”

“We’re going to make sure we get in touch with them,” the pastor said. “I’m going to do my part to help if you get that scholarship.” 

“Thank you.”

“We are so proud of you and so proud of your accomplishments, and thank you for working hard, and hopefully we can help some other kids to do the same thing.”

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“Yes. Yes.”

“God bless you.”

“God bless.”

Follow along as Fox News checks in Pastor Corey Brooks each day with a new Rooftop Revelation.

For more information, please visit Project H.O.O.D.

Eli Steele is a documentary filmmaker and writer. His latest film is “What Killed Michael Brown?” Twitter: @Hebro_Steele.

Camera by Terrell Allen.



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