Almost Home
At Archmere Academy, students join a “home-like” community designed to shape students into strong, confident and empathetic leaders
by Bill Donahue

Drew Cocco remembers mulling his many choices during his final year of elementary school, all surrounding one central question: “Where should I go next?” On one hand, he was an exceptional student, so he knew a school with a rigorous academic curriculum could effectively prepare him for college life and beyond. On the other, his shy nature suggested that a community-focused school might encourage him to, in his words, “bring me out of my shell.”

Looking back, Cocco realizes he gained the best of both worlds in his school of choice: Archmere Academy, a Catholic coeducational college-preparatory high school rooted in the Norbertine tradition. From the day he first stepped foot onto the idyllic campus to the day he received his diploma as a member of the Class of 2004, Cocco enjoyed a transformative experience.

“When I came to Archmere, I was incredibly shy, incredibly quiet and pretty unsure of myself,” says Cocco, who now lives in Media. “I knew I wanted to go to an academically strong school, which Archmere certainly is, but I also knew it would push me to grow and explore. I went on to become vice president of the student council, and I had the opportunity to do all these other things that helped shape me into the person I am today.”

After graduating from Archmere Academy, Cocco earned his B.A. in English literature and a B.A. in American studies from Temple University in Philadelphia. He quickly entered the working world, landing a job teaching at Cardinal O’Hara High School. Something inside, however, told him to “come home.” When the opportunity arose, he returned to Archmere, only this time as a teacher. Today, in addition to teaching literature classes, he works as the school’s director of admissions.

“Archmere attracts students who are engaged and want to get involved,” Cocco says. “They want to take advantage of the opportunities in front of them and work to become confident men and women. They want to distinguish themselves no matter where they go next, whether it’s an Ivy League school, a state school or a small liberal-arts college. Archmere produces students who do not simply tread water once they get to university.”

Founded in 1932 by the Norbertine Fathers, Archmere Academy strives to shape each student into “an empathetic leader” and “a global citizen” who values community, respect, zeal, reverence and wisdom. The school is located in Claymont, Del., which is north of Wilmington and south of the Pennsylvania border, just a quick shot down Interstate 95. The proximity to Philadelphia is reflected in the diverse student body. Although students come to Archmere Academy from parts of Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey within a 15-mile radius, approximately 48 percent of the school’s 500 students hail from communities in southeastern Pennsylvania.

“Anyone who has heard of us knows we are academically rigorous, and we need to be academically rigorous in order to help students compete, but the other key component here is support,” Cocco says. “There’s a balance between pushing students to go further and always being there to support them. At Archmere, there’s a unique relationship between the faculty and students, and among the students themselves. Because of that, we have a close-knit community that not only welcomes new students with open arms but also enables students to challenge each other to do better.”

Students benefit from a student-to-teacher ratio of 9:1, with an average class size of 15. The nurturing environment has helped reap significant dividends, according to Leah Lightcap, Archmere Academy’s director of enrollment and admissions. Each graduating class typically includes several finalists for the National Merit Scholarship Program, for example. Furthermore, last year’s graduating class of 106 students earned merit scholarships in excess of $20 million from institutions of higher education.

“We have 120 colleges visit the school every year, and 100 percent of students every year will go on to colleges and universities,” Lightcap says, adding that Archmere offers scholarships and financial aid. “We have had students at seven of the eight Ivy League campuses over the last four years. Colleges know what they’re getting when they get an Archmere student. It’s clear that they value an Archmere education; they see that our students are taking full advantage of the opportunities they have here and are becoming confident, accomplished young men and women.”

Archmere’s culture encourages students to “stretch” in all aspects of their lives, be it academic, spiritual or athletic. Core curriculum aside, Archmere’s academic program includes 21 Advanced Placement classes and a focus on world languages. The school also places strong emphases on technology and the fine arts. Archmere is a so-called “Apple-distinguished school,” where every student has a MacBook Air to foster both collaboration and independent work. At the same time, evidence of students’ award-winning artistic prowess can be seen throughout the campus, including three striking student-made murals.

Outside the classroom, nearly 90 percent of students participate in at least one of the 22 varsity athletic programs. The school also offers more than 50 distinctive clubs, and administrators encourage students to forge their own path in pursuit of their interests, according to Lightcap.

“What’s very special about this place is that you can be your best self here,” she says. “When students come aboard and see we have 55 clubs, they might say, ‘That’s great, but it’s too bad you don’t have a guitar club.’ My response is always, ‘Well, would you like to start one?’

“As a result of students’ self-advocacy, we now have a guitar club, a yoga club, a fencing club, and we even have a coffeehouse club,” she adds. “A lot of students want to share their artistic talents, so the coffeehouse club provides an informal place for students to get together and perform, whether it’s singing or playing the guitar. We’ve even had some teachers sing along with the students. … This really is a great place to be.”

Archmere promotes a faith-based education, yet Lightcap suggests the school welcomes students of all faiths, backgrounds and cultures: “Last year, our salutatorian was not Catholic, but this was like home to him. In his address, he said, ‘I’ve never found a greater family or place where I belonged.’ We’re ecumenical and all embracing.”

The sense of community is palpable at Archmere, which should come as no surprise considering its rich history. Archmere was once the country estate of John Jakob Raskob, a prominent businessman with ties to DuPont and General Motors, along with his wife, Helena, and their 13 children. Cocco suggests the campus’s innate “home-like feel” has helped establish a long-term connection among all members of the Archmere family.  

For his part, Cocco believes his life would have followed a much different trajectory had he chosen a high school other than Archmere Academy. Although he spent several years away from the school, in many ways he never left Archmere—and it never left him.

“My AP English teacher told me on graduation day, ‘You should be a teacher,’” Cocco recalls. “I didn’t really see it at the time, but her words stuck with me. She’s a big reason why I have the confidence I do, and why I chose the path I did. I met a lot of people like that as a student at Archmere. I owe Archmere a great deal.”

Archmere Academy
3600 Philadelphia Pike
Claymont, DE 19703

Save the Date:
Sunday, Nov. 13, 1 p.m.
Campus-wide Open House

Photograph by Jeff Anderson