Despite the prevalence of economic strife and racial divide within America, Cristo Rey High School serves as a beacon of hope and unity within the heart of Boston. This institution, originally founded as St. John’s High School, became North Cambridge Catholic High School in 1951. Since then, the school has moved to the neighborhood of Dorchester and joined the Cristo Rey Network. This education system, comprising 32 high schools throughout the United States, provides underprivileged teenagers affordable education as well as professional work experience.
“After all is said and done, more is said than done.” Michael Brennan, President of Cristo Rey High School of Boston, used these words to open his dialogue entitled “The Cristo Rey Story.” Brennan recounted his transition from serving as a staff member of Boston College High School to becoming President of Cristo Rey High School. According to Brennan, while the door of BC High is only one mile from the door of Cristo Rey, “the two cannot be further apart in terms of light-years.” Brennan recounted the difference between the schools through an interaction with a Cristo Rey student: Though he was inside the cafeteria, the boy had his hood up. Brennan asked him to show respect, but the boy kept his hood up and his eyes down. It became apparent that the attitude within the walls of Cristo Rey was going to be starkly different from the discipline of BC High. Brennan said, “I knew then that I’d have to recalibrate everything if I am to connect with this population.”
According to Brennan, the students of Cristo Rey High School live “loud lives.” After a loud day at school, they go back to their loud houses in loud neighborhoods. With all the noise going on, it can be difficult for students to focus on their studies. Cristo Rey provides a way for students to work through the commotion and become more critical thinkers. As stated by Brennan, most students come into Cristo Rey two grade levels behind the average student in math and English, but the school is more than capable of preparing its kids for college, as evidenced by several statistics. Six years after graduating from Cristo Rey, nearly 70% of white students will have graduated from college. Compare that to the 52% of all white students in America. For black students, the six-year graduation rate for Christo Rey is twice that of the national average. 100% percent of students are accepted into college, while about 93% end up attending, which Brennan believes to be the most important statistic. The school is able to give perfectly capable students the leverage they need to create and reach their goals.
So how is Cristo Rey High School able to give its students the advantages they need? According to Brennan, the schooldays and school years of Cristo Rey are longer than the average, and students are graded 80% on their mastery of the material, with 20% of their grade being determined by the effort they put into their work. This encourages students to try their hardest, even with topics that are difficult to grasp. Another aspect of Cristo Rey that makes it unique is its corporate works study program. Once a week, each student goes into downtown Boston to work at various well-known businesses. The purpose of this system is two-fold: it gives students exposure and work experience, and they earn money that goes toward tuition. Since all families of Cristo Rey students live at or below the poverty level, it becomes imperative to offer financial relief wherever possible.
Cristo Rey High School serves to encourage students up the socioeconomic letter, but more importantly, it gives them the confidence necessary to pursue their dreams. By putting faith in their students, the faculty teach them the invaluable lesson of self-motivation. Brennan ended his talk with a quote from the U2 song “Walk On,” which perfectly embodies the spirit of Cristo Rey: “We’re packing our suitcases for a place that has to be believed to be seen.” The future of Cristo Rey Network looks bright, with students continually achieving academic, financial, and moral success. The program hopes to reach 40 high schools by the end of the decade.