Cristo Rey Je­suit trans­forms the lives of its Bal­ti­more stu­dents

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Bill Heiser Bill Heiser is pres­i­dent of Cristo Rey Je­suit High School in Bal­ti­more; his email is bheiser@cri­storey­balt.org.

Op­por­tu­nity mat­ters in life. Twen­ty­five years ago, the first per­son I met at what is now Loy­ola Univer­sity Mary­land as an in­com­ing fresh­man was Fa­ther John Brunett. He was as­signed to be my aca­demic ad­viser in large part be­cause I was con­sid­ered an “at-risk” aca­demic ad­mis­sion.

My high school grades were well be­low the stan­dards of those of my in­com­ing class­mates, and my study habits were un­de­vel­oped. Yet Loy­ola pro­vided me an op­por­tu­nity, and Fa­ther Brunett be­lieved in me. He planted the in­spir­ing seed of hope that if I stud­ied re­ally hard, he be­lieved that I would grad­u­ate from col­lege.

This story is not unique to me, but it does il­lus­trate the im­por­tant role that one per­son (and a school) can have on a stu­dent’s fu­ture. With the help of many peo­ple along the way, I not only grad­u­ated from Loy­ola, but I went on to earn my mas­ter’s and doc­toral de­grees in ed­u­ca­tion.

I chose a ca­reer in ed­u­ca­tion to pay back and to pay for­ward what oth­ers pro­vided me: a chance, an op­por­tu­nity, a bridge. I’ve never felt more blessed and pur­pose­ful than in the past year serv­ing the stu­dents at Cristo Rey Je­suit High School in Up­per Fells Point.

For the past 10 years, Cristo Rey Je­suit has been trans­form­ing the lives of stu­dents in Bal­ti­more City us­ing an in­no­va­tive ed­u­ca­tion model and pro­vid­ing the op­por­tu­nity for stu­dents in need to ex­pe­ri­ence a rig­or­ous col­lege prepara­tory cur­ricu­lum and life-chang­ing, four-year internship ex­pe­ri­ence.

Many kids in Bal­ti­more have so lit­tle in terms of op­por­tu­ni­ties and re­sources, yet they have ex­pe­ri­enced so many of life’s chal­lenges at an early age.

The suc­cess of Cristo Rey Je­suit over the past decade is un­de­ni­able. Cristo Rey has grad­u­ated 351 stu­dents — 100 per­cent re­sid­ing in Bal­ti­more, 100 per­cent low in­come. One hun­dred per­cent have been ac­cepted and fully pre­pared for col­lege.

Take, for ex­am­ple, Class of 2011 grad­u­ate Ken­dra Brown, a first-gen­er­a­tion col­lege stu­dent who was raised in Cherry Hill by her grand­mother. She re­ceived her de­gree in crim­i­nal jus­tice from Steven­son Univer­sity and now works in the Car­roll County state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice. Only 7 per­cent of Cherry Hill res­i­dents 25 years and older have earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree.

To date, 35 Cristo Rey grad­u­ates have com­pleted their col­lege de­grees. Three alumni are in grad­u­ate school, and more than 150 grad­u­ates are in the col­lege pipe­line. Cristo Rey alumni are equip­ping them­selves with the strength of ed­u­ca­tion to make a pos­i­tive im­pact on Bal­ti­more and the world.

Look at Dar­ius San­ders, also Class of 2011, who just com­pleted his mas­ter’s de­gree in so­cial work from New York Univer­sity. He re­turned to Bal­ti­more to work at the Kennedy Krieger In­sti­tute as a full-time psy­chi­atric so­cial worker, want­ing to con­trib­ute to mak­ing Bal­ti­more a bet­ter place to live.

At the core of our stu­dents’ suc­cess is our Cor­po­rate Internship Pro­gram. Ev­ery Cristo Rey stu­dent gains valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence by work­ing five days per month in an en­trylevel ad­min­is­tra­tive po­si­tion through­out his or her four years at the school.

Our 351 grad­u­ates have gained 456,300 to­tal hours of pro­fes­sional work ex­pe­ri­ence. Cristo Rey’s part­ner­ships have grown from 30 part­ners in our first year to 120 cor­po­rate part­ners to­day from across the Bal­ti­more re­gion.

This year, Au­tumn Banks, a sopho­more, is work­ing at Mt. Wash­ing­ton Pe­di­atric Hos­pi­tal. Her goal is to be­come a doc­tor. Se­nior Jade John­son is work­ing in the ob­stet­rics and gyne­col­ogy depart­ment at Chase Brex­ton and is in­ter­ested in pur­su­ing a ca­reer in that field af­ter col­lege. Our stu­dents are ex­pand­ing their hori­zons and devel­op­ing con­nec­tions and pro­fes­sional net­works beyond their neigh­bor­hoods.

As we cel­e­brate our10th year, our work at Cristo Rey Je­suit High School is nowhere near fin­ished. We know that the crit­i­cally im­por­tant in­vest­ment in Bal­ti­more, and specif­i­cally in Cristo Rey’s stu­dents, is pay­ing off as we de­velop com­pas­sion­ate, in­tel­lec­tu­ally com­pe­tent and de­ter­mined lead­ers to help trans­form their neigh­bor­hoods and Bal­ti­more for a brighter fu­ture.

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