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Partnership Schools and Cristo Rey: Transforming Students Who Can Transform Communities

As elementary schools, we know that Partnership Schools are the first step on an educational journey. Our students need high schools that continue the same kind of whole-person education and maintain the momentum we work so hard to provide. That’s why we prize partner schools like Cristo Rey New York High School (CRNYHS) and St. Martin de Porres, Cleveland’s Cristo Rey school.

Cristo Rey is a national network of high schools that combine rigorous and nurturing Catholic education with a job-sharing program that gives students real-world work experience. The Cristo Rey schools in the cities we serve rank among our students’ most popular high school choices; in fact, almost 15 percent of CRNYHS’s students this year attended a Partnership School.

To understand fully the cumulative impact of a combined Partnership and Cristo Rey education, we turned to an expert: Kevin Montes. Kevin is corporate recruiter specializing in technology in Houston, Texas. But not so long ago, he was a student at the Partnership’s Sacred Heart School in the Bronx, and he went on to graduate from CRNYHS in 2014. He is the first in his family to work in the corporate world. He explains:

I am a strong advocate for educational equality because of my experiences in Catholic schools like Sacred Heart and Cristo Rey. Students who come from the backgrounds in which SHS and CRNYHS serve suffer from a lack of opportunity. Programs and schools like these work to level the playing field for students.

Kevin Montes at his Sacred Heart School graduation.

I’m a great example. Walking into Credit Suisse’s offices in Midtown for my first day of work at fourteen, I was terrified. I was shaking. Just the way people walked indicated that they were important—that the work they were doing was important. But my mentor gave me work to do, she told me that work was valuable, and she made sure that I was included in meetings.

Now, years later, my ability to network, command a presence during a work presentation/call, and represent myself and my employer well are all things I learned from my Cristo Rey Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP) experience, and they are all things that I attribute to my success.

In school, too, at both Sacred Heart and Cristo Rey, I was treated every day like what I did mattered. I transferred from a public school where it wasn’t always clear that all the students in each class were important to the teachers. But at Sacred Heart, I knew that my teachers cared about me—particularly Ms. Akano, who is now the principal at the school. The teachers I had at Cristo Rey reinforced that over and over. If you hear every day that you matter, that what you do matters, then you begin to believe it.

Kevin during his days at Cristo Rey-New York High School.

That’s also why, in 2019, I decided to return to Cristo Rey to work in the Corporate Work Study Program; I had a desire to give back to the community that had invested so much in me. Specifically, the ability to give students from my background an opportunity to navigate corporate spaces is something that pulled me back. I made sure to instill in my students the same confidence and assurance that was instilled in me. I made sure to constantly remind my students that they did in fact belong in these spaces.

It’s not just confidence and other workplace skills from Cristo Rey that I rely on every day now in my profession. The school’s teachers and leaders taught us to be professionals for others, and that is what I try to be, every day. The tech industry hasn’t always been the best at hiring and retaining people of color. As a recruiter, though, I get to deliver that message to people: you belong here. And I help to create a workplace environment where I don’t code switch, and I still belong.

Because of their attention and care for students in the classroom and the exposure of students to a corporate working environment, Sacred Heart and Cristo Rey provide resources that all students should have access to, especially students from marginalized backgrounds.