BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Father Edward Durkin has set expectations of the staff at Nativity Miguel Middle School on Buffalo's East side.

"We do not want to treat a student the way he is right now. We want to treat a student the way we want him to be," Durkin said.

Started in 2004, the faith-based school is patterned after a Catholic education program started in New York City in the 1970s.

The school relies on private donations and grants to educate underserved children. Students say Nativity Miguel feels like a family environment and has changed their lives for the better.

"She's like our mother and Father is like our father. Father Durkin's like our father and they take care of us just like daughters and sons," said Ammon Gebre, 7th grader at Nativity Miguel.

"It changed me because I used to be like a bad kid in other schools. Now I'm a straight-A student and I'm getting ready for high school," 7th grader Willie Heron said.

"All these kids come with a lot of baggage, but that's the kind of kid that is the neediest. There's so much talent in the middle of all of that negativity that they suffer through. We just feel that in a smaller setting, with the kind of value system that we have here, with the kind of teachers that are here, that we can try to reach inside there and just pull it all together," said Father Durkin.

95 percent of the students come from impoverished families and can't afford to pay tuition. Volunteers help to pick up the slack with one-on-one instruction and group tutoring.

"I love the way that they are so interested in learning. They might come from disadvantaged backgrounds, but they have this great hope for the future and what they can make of themselves and what they can do for others when they get there," Durkin said.

Many of the students go on to top-rated high schools and colleges, providing inspiration and motivation to everyone involved with Nativity Miguel.

"Right now we have a kid in medical school at Brown, we have a kid who just graduated from Worcester Polytech. We're delighted we have a kid at Canisius. We've had a kid at LeMoyne at Syracuse. We've had kids at Buff State. It just reminds us that everything we're trying to do is worth it," Durkin said.

Nativity Miguel also operates a middle school for girls on a separate campus.