The High School is on what we call the “Downtown Campus” and, for us, that’s more than just a geographical designation. Being downtown is a core part of what the High School is and, since its founding, we have consciously worked to make the city an integral part of our campus.
Back in the mid-1970s when then-St. Francis High School was founded, it was deliberately placed on the corner of 3rd and Broadway, rather than on our Goshen Campus. The reasoning was that, while the fields of Goshen are a wonderful place for young children to grow and learn, adolescents would most benefit from being in the “real world” as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood and prepare for college.
“The real world” has a number of different components. First, we have proximity to so many educational, cultural, civic, and business opportunities. In recent weeks, our students have been able to easily travel (largely by foot, and also by TARC bus) to the Speed Art Museum, Actors Theatre, the Frazier History Museum, and of course the Main Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library right across the street. Every year we have Cultural Day, on which each grade level takes a different field trip to explore a different aspect of the city; for instance, the 9th grade explores the media, visiting places like the Courier-Journal or a TV station, and the 11th grade focuses on the legal/justice system and goes to visit District or Circuit Courts or the Kentucky Human Rights Commission.
Second, because downtown Louisville is our neighborhood, we try to focus our community service work in the immediate area as much as possible. Half our sites are within walking distance of the School, including the Main Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library, Project Warm, the Kentucky Science Center, the Chestnut Street YMCA, Heuser Hearing Institute, YouthBuild, and the Center for Women and Families. Since we benefit immensely from being downtown, we want to give back, as well.
Finally, having the city as our campus is a vital aspect of college preparation for our students. From taking TARC (to school or on field trips) to learning to bike in an urban environment in Fitness class to using our sign-out system to eat lunch nearby, our students become well-versed in navigating the downtown environment independently, which leads to a level of maturity and sophistication in our graduates that makes them uniquely ready for wherever they might head next.
Of course, sometimes there are challenging things to handle in an urban environment as well, such as the issue of homelessness and panhandling, which is becoming more common around every part of Louisville (and around the country, of course). We provide students with guidance on how to handle these situations when they encounter them: what to do (be polite and respectful) and not do (give them money or otherwise engage), and how to get involved if they are concerned about issues of homelessness and hunger. Overall, we are fortunate that we do not encounter major safety issues in the downtown environment surrounding St. Francis. The biggest safety concern for our students is traffic, and for that reason we have and enforce a strict school prohibition on jaywalking.
At the High School, our location is central to our identity, and we take advantage of it every day. The downtown location with all it offers is just one more unique benefit our students receive in high school at St. Francis!