Religious Sponsor Reflections: Sr. Dawn Achs, SSND

ssndThe School Sisters of Notre Dame were founded in 1833 by Blessed Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger, and 184 years later her daughters continue her charism “to bring all to that oneness for which Jesus Christ was sent.”  “Like Mother Theresa, we educate with the conviction that the world can be changed through the transformation of persons…we educate in schools and in other areas of urgent need”  (You Are Sent Constitution of the School Sisters of Notre Dame).

When the need for an endorsing congregation for Cristo Rey Dallas was brought to the leadership team of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, Central Pacific Province it seemed that our mission and the mission of the school were a perfect match. Definitely the school meets an unmet need in the Pleasant Grove area of Dallas, and is a means of transforming the lives of the students, their families, the community, and ultimately our world. As I experience the impact the school is having on the lives of the students, their families, and the broader Dallas area it is evident that lives are being transformed.

As SSNDs it is inspiring to observe how the faculty and students have embraced our call “to proclaim the good news…directing our entire lives toward that oneness for which Jesus Christ was sent.”  Each day before dismissal, in their prayer, the students are reminded that they are called and sent to make Jesus known.  What a wonderful opportunity for School Sisters of Notre Dame to extend our educational experience and our charism to a new generation of enthusiastic young people committed to becoming the best persons they can become.

Teacher Appreciation

Photo1“And gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche”

This quote, by Geoffrey Chaucer was the inscription in the book, An Empty Spoon by Sunny Decker. Ms. Decker described her first two years of teaching at Gratz High School, an all-African American school in North Philly. I was in the 9th grade when I first read Ms. Decker’s book. I’ve since reread it multiple times; it was one of several books that inspired me to become a teacher. While written nearly fifty years ago, Ms. Decker’s experiences illustrate both the frustrations of a new teacher as well as her positive impact on her students.

We don’t talk enough about the positive impact teachers have on their students. Rather, the current political climate tends to blame teachers for many of education’s faults. However, research suggests that, among school-related factors, teachers matter most. When it comes to student achievement in reading and math, a teacher is estimated to have two to three times the impact of any other school factor, including services, facilities, and even leadership. That’s pretty impressive. Additional research concludes that effective teaching has the potential to help level the educational playing field. In 1966, James S. Coleman (a noted educational reformist) wrote, “the quality of teachers shows a stronger relationship [than school facilities and curricula] to pupil achievement. Furthermore, it is progressively greater at higher grades, indicating a cumulative impact of the qualities of teachers in a school on the pupil’s achievements. Again, teacher quality seems more important to minority achievement than to that of the majority.” Coleman’s statements hold true fifty years later!

Maya Angelou wrote, “This is the value of the teacher, who looks at a face and says there’s something behind that and I want to reach that person, I want to influence that person, I want to encourage that person, I want to enrich, I want to call out that person who is behind that face, behind that color, behind that language, behind that tradition, behind that culture. I believe you can do it. I know what was done for me.”

We are grateful to those 723 individuals who chose to teach in a Cristo Rey School. We’re grateful to whomever or whatever inspired them to become a teacher. Maybe like me, it was a book, perhaps it was a special teacher or maybe it was the opportunity to have a positive impact on a group of students.   

Teacher Appreciation Weeks begins today, Monday, May 8th and National Teacher Appreciation Day is tomorrow, Tuesday, May 9th. Our teachers’ many, many contributions to our students and our schools are both recognized and appreciated. Without each one, our Network would not have the transformative, life-changing impact it does. What a blessing they are to our students, their families and our schools. Truly, we are glad that you learned and thankful that you chose to teach.

George V. Fornero, Chief Academic Officer

Message from Cristo Rey Leadership: Preston Kendall

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Last week when one of our students tweeted, “My bowl turned out so much better than I hoped!” several of us at CRSM knew exactly what she was talking about.

Our Campus Ministry office was originally the second floor landing for a back stairway. It’s an oddly shaped affair slightly bigger than most other workplaces on campus and is increasingly called into service for all kinds of gatherings because we have simply run out of room. There is something fitting about Campus Ministry being in a space designed for heavy traffic. Campus Ministry is consistently one of the busiest places at CRSM precisely because it represents the intersection of faith and action. With that in mind, it was simultaneously appropriate and incongruent when, two weeks ago, I found myself seated at a folding table in the Campus Ministry office with eight other students painting ceramic bowls.

If, unlike me, you have painted ceramics before then you know our bowls had a dull white, rough finish and the paint colors were all muted pastels. Despite this lack of vibrancy, students threw themselves into the task of painting whatever they liked on the bowls. Some painted hearts, some flowers, or stars, or various other geometric designs. Some decided to simply use one solid coat of color on the outside and another on the inside. Others applied strategically sparing splashes of different colors here and there. One student worked on an elaborate, mosaic-like pattern that resembled stained glass.

All the bowls were so different but all were conceived and produced with great care. As we focused on our works of art, the students shared small talk of the week ahead and the weekend past, occasionally teasing one another, or joking self-deprecatingly about their creations. Of course, I grilled them a bit on their college aspirations, too. But amid the banter, there were long intervals of silence and concentration. At times it seemed like a kind of communal prayer: a small group sitting in silence, facing one another, surrounded by a mix of religious pictures on the wall and dozens of photos of CRSM students engaged in community service activities.

Our project was part of the Empty Bowls movement, raising awareness of domestic and international hunger through art. One of our science teachers came up with the idea and voluntarily organized the whole event. With materials donated by a local ceramics studio and personal expressions of beauty donated by our students, the entire project culminated at a potluck soup dinner last Friday in our “caf-a-chap-a-gym-a-torium.”

Climbing the front stairs up to the dinner, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Smells of soup wafted over to the check-in table where guests purchased their dinner tickets. Entering the dining area, guests were immediately confronted by a table full of shiny, smooth, and incredibly colorful bowls! These were the same bowls painted two weeks earlier but they had been fired in a kiln that transformed them into absolutely beautiful pieces of art waiting to be filled with soup.

As part of the ticket price, participants chose a bowl to keep and use for their dinner. Other bowls were reserved for a raffle. The money raised went to Feed My Starving Children, a local non-profit where CRSM students volunteer regularly. All those bowls the students worked so hard to create were donated for the event.

So there we were at CRSM on an evening in Lent enjoying one another’s company with a variety of home-made meatless soups and hand-made precious bowls – students, teachers, friends and family sharing a meal together – all with the purpose of caring for others less fortunate than us. As tough as some of our families have it, our students know others who are much worse off and they are doing something about it – using their hands, hearts, and minds to make the lives of others better.

For a moment during dinner, I felt something I hope everyone has a chance to feel sometime in their lives. Seeing so many wonderful young people doing something as mundane as eating together and yet also realizing that this meal was the result of a whole series of selfless acts, the room sparkled with a vibrancy far beyond just the beautiful bowls. In that moment, as people laughed and ate and shared, I sensed God’s presence – God actively at work in our world through these young people, young people shifting the focus of their lives from me to we, young people being persons for others.

Because of economic conditions in Waukegan and North Chicago, society assumes this place has nothing to offer or, even worse, generalizes that crime and homelessness and unemployment reflect the character of the people living here. Our neighborhood is misjudged as rough, dull, and empty but like the bowls, something beautiful is happening here. It’s just hard to see.

Little things like a Lenten dinner in solidarity with the hungry may seem insignificant but social justice events like this one are happening all the time at CRSM. As they continue, it is the equivalent of firing the whole community in a kiln of faith and action. One day, just like the student tweeting about her bowl, we will all be surprised by a future brighter than we ever hoped. That future is coming; as surely as Easter follows Lent, it’s coming. I see it in those bowls. I see it in our students. Their best… our best is yet to come!

This piece originally appeared on Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep website.

Student Voices: Tania Vega

36Tania Vega, a student at Detroit Cristo Rey, delivered a speech at the 2017 Annual Meeting, speaking confidently in front of all 161 participants. She shared her life story and experience and detailed how Detroit Cristo Rey has shaped her trajectory. She will attend Wayne State University in the fall.

My name is Tania Vega and I am a senior at Detroit Cristo Rey High School. I am the youngest of four by quite a lot. My siblings are more than a decade older than me. My family jokes around saying I was the surprise baby. Being the youngest is not as easy as everyone believes . I grew up alone for the most part. When we came to Detroit I was only two, my oldest sister began working right away and my other sister and brother, ages 14 and 16, began high school. By the time I was five my oldest sister was already married with my first nephew on the way. My other siblings shortly followed. Because I spent most of my childhood alone I grew up to be a very shy person.

The transition from middle school to high school was hard as it is for everyone. I knew no one and was too shy to approach anyone which was really scary. Cristo Rey was not what I expected high school to be. I am so glad it is nothing like I expected. I never expected to have so much exposure to new experiences. I have gotten to interact with people I never thought I would, especially coming from a low-income family. The greatest lesson I have learned is that tearing down the barriers we create around us is what makes us grow as people. I can honestly say I proud of the person I have become.

The Corporate Work Study Program has taught me many lessons and enlightened my path. I have had three jobs in my four years of high school. I have worked at Edward C levy, Ford Mo. Co, and Michigan Head and Spine. I must say I do have a favorite. My favorite job was at Ford Motor Company. I gained so much knowledge and confidence in the skills I barely knew existed. I translated customer dealership experiences from Spanish to English, which strengthened my bilingual skills. Ford made me realize what truly drives me. I want to help others, I want to be the change that I think is greatly needed and I plan on using business to achieve it.

On June 4, 2017 I will be the first one in my family to graduate high school. I will also be the first to attend and graduate from college. I applied to about 16 colleges and universities, and got accepted to all of them. All my motivation comes from my family, but my support comes from the school and all the caring faculty that push me to be a better version of myself everyday. Cristo Rey is not just a college prep school, it is a second family to all of us – a family filled with support, love, faith, and compassion.

Alumni Voices: Caylin Moore

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Caylin Moore is a Verbum Dei High School alumnus. Now a senior at Texas Christian University, Moore is about to embark on an incredible journey as a Rhodes Scholar.

How did you find and ultimately choose Cristo Rey?

I found out about Verbum Dei from my youth football coach. He told me that his son was currently attending Verbum Dei, and that it was like a little college. It gave me an image of something that would create opportunities for me in the future, so I happily inquired about the school.

How was your Cristo Rey high school experience?

Great. I personally loved it and grew from it tremendously.

What elements of your Cristo Rey education stand out?

The Corporate Work Study Program stood out to me tremendously. My friends’ resumes could not compare to my own coming out of high school. The Corporate Work Study Program also encouraged me to continually build upon my resume and seek out many other opportunities.

How did Cristo Rey prepare you for college?

The academics were very rigorous and the expectations were high. As a result, I now have higher grades in college (3.934 GPA) than I did in high school (Cumulative 3.6 GPA).

What are you up to now?

I am currently a senior student-athlete at Texas Christian University. I am majoring in Economics with a minor in Mathematics and Sociology with a cumulative GPA of 3.934. I am a Division-one football player at TCU as well.

What are your plans for the future?

I am a 2017 Rhodes Scholar, therefore I plan to study at Oxford University for my MSC in Sociology and my MPP Masters of Public Policy directly after I graduate in May of 2017.

Student Voices: Nicolas Mejia

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-10-53-01-amNicolas Mejia is a sophomore at Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School. Through CWSP, he works five days a month at Soccer in the Streets. He was featured on their website, reflecting on his time at and efforts with the organization and what they are accomplishing for youth in Atlanta.

I am Nicolas Mejia, a student from Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School, and an intern for Soccer in the Streets. Soccer in the Streets is a local Atlanta organization that uses soccer to help teens, within the Atlanta community, who are refugees due to social issues in their home countries. Our motto is “Play. Grow. Work. Succeed.” which really represents what we want our youth to enforce when they go out and live their day-to-day life. As for the experience of our youth, we wish to give a positive environment where everyone can be comfortable on the field. The same goes for the office, as we strive to always achieve a friendly environment. In the office, you are always part of the group. We have grown trust with one another that allows the whole team to work in a peaceful environment.

In my experience working at Soccer in the Streets, I have really enjoyed the environment here and I feel fit to perform the tasks I am given, which involve my strongest skills. When I come in every day, I have a daily plan set up so that I am occupied while my other co-workers arrive. Once my supervisor arrives, she is ready to tell me what we will do the rest of the day and we get right on it. I am almost always working on the computer, which actually fits me well as I am very tech savvy. I help set up the calendar on a program we use called Upshot and create documents. As I help in the office, I also feel like I help on the tasks we have outside of the office. I set up boxes that will be sent out to project sites, or I may even set up banners for an event, or at times, I create  sign-up sheets for a pick-up event.

On some special occasions we go out of the office to other places for a project. One of my favorite projects has been the creation of the soccer nets at our most recent project called, Station Soccer; the first soccer station built within a station. Initially, we had to carry the posts of the goals to the field. Each one was sizable and heavy so we had to make two trips from the shoppe to the field. Once we transported the goals to the field, we had to install the netting with metal chains. I had the pleasure of finishing installing one of the nets and take a few shots in order to see their durability. Another trip that we made was around the street near the office. I managed to see the new building for my school, enter Ebenezer Baptist Church which was one of Martin Luther King’s local churches, and I even had the chance to see a statue of Gandhi which lies directly in front of a pathway of feet that were imprinted by peaceful leaders.

On many occasions we also host special meetings or projects in the office. A while back, around the time I began working here, the office had just recently relocated and needed some organizing; I was responsible of organizing and labeling one of our major closets. It took a while to find a way to organize it, but eventually I managed to set it up to where all you had to do was locate the item you were looking for on a list and it would lead you directly to a section. Another task I was responsible for was copying notes from the board and then formatting them the same way they were on the board. I had to color code certain notes and make comments on the side as they were on the board. In the end I learned something new about Google Docs’ formatting, which I eventually used for a project in my World History class.

Out of work, I have also tried to contribute to Soccer in the Streets. I came to the inauguration for Station Soccer where I was able to meet with Tony, who is currently the Atlanta United Academy Director, and see whether he had space for a player on the team. The team was already full, but luckily they have tryouts in August and he invited me to come and show my potential. Another event I went to was the Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School collaboration with Soccer in the Streets at Station Soccer where they filmed us playing and testing out the new field. Also, a huge event that I collaborated on, both in the office and on the field, was the first pick-up match at Station Soccer. I helped create the sign-up sheet and I got to play the entire day, so it was a win-win situation.

Honestly, being chosen to work at Soccer in the Streets was the most unexpected event in my life. I knew that when my Corporate Work Study Manager talked to me about this job she had heard my opinion of it and that I would love to see what it was about. However, I had no idea she had actually chosen me to have the privilege of working here. Even my companions at the school were amazed by how lucky I was for getting the chance to come and work here. I am thankful that I was chosen because coming to work here has opened me up to a whole new variety of careers; careers that my previous job did not, and that add onto my list for my future.

This post originally appeared on the Soccer in the Streets website.

Student Voices: Twoneisha Burns

dpcr-women-in-medTwoneisha Burns is a freshman at DePaul Cristo Rey High School in Cincinnati. In late January she joined 31 other female students for a “Women in Medicine” program hosted by The Christ Hospital’s Women in Medicine group of female physicians. The hands-on field trip served to educate the students about the medical field and encourage them to consider health care careers.

The DePaul Cristo Rey students and staff went to The Christ Hospital to experience different jobs and techniques in the medical field. The first session was a family medicine session, the second was orthopedic surgery, the third was obstetrics and gynecology, the fourth was surgical oncology, the fifth and final one was anesthesiology. It was a special trip and was even more special because female doctors inspired us by telling their life stories and sharing the mistakes they have made. They told us how they have learned from their mistakes to get where they are right now in life, even though it was not easy. They all said to work really hard for what we want in life, never give up, learn from our mistakes, breathe, and don’t get too caught up in the future that we let the present pass us by because right now is an important part of our journey of growing up. They also said never let a man make you feel that you need him to make it, or you can’t do it since you’re a woman, because we women can do it all as well as men can. They said our secret weapon is that women have better communication skills than men.

On this field trip I met some of the amazing people God has created,dpcr-women-in-med-2 and I learned new things I didn’t know. The Christ Hospital program opened my eyes to see that I can no longer live in the past or future. I have to live in the present and move forward with positivity. Dr. Elizabeth Ruchhoft told us not to be afraid of going to college or of the amount of years we would have to be in college for the degrees we want in the medical field. I took that in because I have always wanted to be a prosecutor so I can help everyone.  I also want to help adults and children in another way so have considered becoming an obstetrician/gynecologist. I told myself years ago that I will get degrees in law and medicine, then I became scared that I’m not smart enough and that I would not be able to endure. Dr. Ruchhoft helped me realize that I have to pursue my dream to always help others. She said, “You can and will do it; don’t make the same mistakes we all did by not believing in yourself. Just say you can achieve and have a lot of faith!’’ That really touched my heart and I know we have to believe and we will achieve.