The Jesuit middle school (full name St. Ignatius Loyola Academy) has enjoyed snug quarters on Calvert Street, tucked between Center Stage and the parish church, for the past 18 years. But the cramped classrooms and narrow hallways were becoming a burden, especially as the school plans to increase its enrollment beyond the 70 students it now has. So when a Federal Hill building (occupied for the past 130+ years by a Catholic elementary school) became vacant a couple years ago, the parish snapped to attention.

And as Catholic schools close across the country, St. Ignatius offers a different kind of model — one that’s seemed to succeed so far. It only accepts low-income students and charges no tuition… at least to the students’ families. Instead, the $12,500 annual cost of the 11-month program is shouldered by sponsors. Most students continue on to Catholic or independent high schools, and they have a 98 percent graduation rate.

The move won’t happen until 2013, but the students have a lot to look forward to. The new school will have double the space, and something that St. Ignatius has been lacking until now:  a gym and sports fields.