The Challenge Foundation at St. Mary’s Academy





In the northwest corner of the Middle School library, a very special office buzzes with activity.  The Challenge Foundation office is filled to the brim with staff, supplies and throughout the day and the week, students stopping by for a chat, for advice or to pick up a book.

Though here on SMA’s campus, Challenge is its own organization with its own founder, executive director, staff and board of directors.  Its mission statement reads: “Beginning in the 6th grade, Challenge Foundation provides rigorous academics, enrichment and support to high potential, disadvantaged students to empower them to graduate from college and make a positive impact on their communities.” 

The Foundation has always enjoyed having its offices on the St. Mary’s Academy campus, and we have loved and benefited from having the foundation housed here.  Since the beginning of Challenge, in the mid-1990s, it has been a true symbiotic relationship.  Our community is richer thanks to this partnership.

Truly, the Challenge Foundation is the Loretto School Values in action.  It embodies within it all that we want St. Mary’s Academy to be.  The Challenge Scholars are St. Mary’s Academy students and vice versa.  The first graduates of Challenge Scholars at St. Mary’s Academy are now college graduates.  There are many more students following that path.  We couldn’t be more proud of everyone involved and we couldn’t be more pleased to be a part of their journey.

The Challenge staff includes Kelly Holley, Holly Dichter, Chelsea Gorsky, Danica Hemmann, Kate Vancott and Kelsey Traynor; and the founders of Challenge are Don and Janis McFall. 

The Challenge staff begins to test and interview the students when they are in the fourth grade.  Most of the Challenge Scholars come from Denver Public Schools or Aurora Public Schools.  There are Challenge Scholars in all of our grades, from sixth to twelfth.  The application process includes an interview program complete with home visits.  Challenge then presents to the SMA admissions office the students that have passed this selection process.  St. Mary’s Academy reviews the applications, meets the students and most times offers admission.

And, then, thanks to the SMA Tuition Assistance fund that is supported annually by the proceeds of the Gala and generous donors, St. Mary’s Academy is able to offer financial aid to the families.  Together, Challenge and St. Mary’s Academy make attendance at our school possible for these young scholars.  Without our tuition assistance fund we couldn’t be the partner for these young people that we are. 

Throughout the school year, the Challenge foundation follows the students’ progress.  Each scholar is matched with adult mentors, and tutors are provided as needed.  The scholars find support in all shapes and forms.  And, in the summer the students attend a required summer program that is held here at St. Mary’s Academy. It’s a great summer that features academics as well as field trips, and even some camping on occasion!

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