MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Fifty percent of urban youth graduate high school in the city of Minneapolis. For Hispanic and black students, the rates are even lower. However, for eight years, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School has been shattering statistics.
The school accepts students of different ethnic backgrounds who are performing two to four grade levels behind.
Out of this year’s graduating class, every student was accepted to a two- or four-year college.
As they lined up to have photos snapped in their robes and caps, they are about as normal as a group of teens can be. They are also about as extraordinary as teens can be.
“It was a great challenge, but I overcame it,” Alberto Vergaras said.
He grew up with parents who immigrated to try and make a life in America. But Vergaras’ struggles weren’t just financial, they were physical, a benign tumor consumed part of his brain and part of his sophomore year at Cristo Rey.
“It was a great challenge, but I overcame it,” he said, dressed in his National Honor Society garb.
He became a leader along the way, too, and was recognized as exemplary by his peers at graduation. Alberto, who is feeling strong, will now take his degree and tens of thousands in scholarship money to St. John’s University, where he will work toward another degree.
Of college he said, “You’re put to the test now, 100 percent up to you, whatever decision you gotta make, it’s on you and I think I’ll be tested to the limit.”
But he’ll still have some help along the way.
“We’re with our students all the way — from ninth grade through college,” Cristo Rey President Mr. Jeb Myers said.
The school’s career-focused technique starts early. All students go to school four days a week and on the fifth day, they work all day at local corporations like Medtronic and General Mills.
“Our students are now being hired by the companies they worked at in high school,” Myers said.
He’s referring to the class of 2011 – the school’s first class – that is now graduating college and Nancy Leon now has Cristo Rey’s highest distinction.
“We call our graduates, we call them alumni when they graduate from college,” Myers said.
“I feel like graduating Cristo Rey is not you actually leaving Cristo Rey. They check up on you all the time and I feel like students like I need that kind of support,” Leon said.
It’s support that allowed the St. Mary’s University international business major graduate in May, which is a family first.
“Honestly, I didn’t really know the concept of college till I came here,” Leon said.
But now she does and so does the entire class of 2015. Three of the grads will head to the military first, the others to colleges – from Minnesota to California.
A third of them have full ride scholarships.
“I think I’ll do fine, I’ll do great,” Vergaras said.
All of them have become statistics in the greatest of ways.
Cristo Rey will be welcoming its biggest class of freshman yet, 140 new students in the fall.
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