Empowering Baltimore students to succeed in college, work, and life
Bill Heiser is the president of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Baltimore. Established in 2007, Cristo Rey is a Catholic, Jesuit, co-ed, college preparatory school for students in grades nine through twelve. Over its 10-year history, one hundred percent of graduating students have been accepted into college. Cristo Rey currently enrolls 350 students from lower-income families in Baltimore City. The school is part of the Cristo Rey Network, which spun out of the original Cristo Rey school founded in Chicago in 1996. The Networks 32 high schools are located in urban areas throughout the country. All students participate in the Corporate Internship Program through which they finance a significant portion of the cost of their education.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Tell us about the kinds of young people you admit into the school. Can you give us an example of one of the extraordinary students currently at Cristo Rey?
BILL HEISER: I would say this about Aaron. Aaron is an incredible kid, as are the 350 students who are in our school right now. Aaron is a unique and a special young man—just like the rest of our students, and we also have 450 students that are in the college pipeline at various stages—and Aaron is a special young man. He comes from the Govans neighborhood, which is the York Road corridor, and he believes in his community. He came to our school via the Saint Ignatius Academy, which is one of our feeder schools and another Jesuit school here in Baltimore. He’s a young man who’s a leader. We traveled our way back from Towson through the city, down York Road and down Greenmount Avenue, just this past week. As we were driving through, he is pointing out to me some of the challenges that he sees in his neighborhood. He sees drug addiction, he sees some areas that maybe aren’t as safe as they could be, but what’s great about him is he sees opportunity. And he sees the opportunity of nonprofits that are making a difference in his neighborhoods, he’s seeing an opportunity to leverage relationships in people that have strong ties in the neighborhoods and seeing how we can educate, and train, and employ people in his neighborhood. I would say I haven’t had nearly as much of an impact on him that Aaron has had on me and Aaron has had on the teachers.
I think that’s the power of Cristo Rey: when you get to know our students, whatever neighborhood they come from and whatever their background and experiences are, the education is both ways. We’re learning a lot from them and what they’re going through and what their vision is for Baltimore. You’d be surprised that the young kids in Baltimore City are very honest about Baltimore, very proud of Baltimore, and they’re also optimistic about it. That’s our hope: that we’re going to start to develop the next leadership group in Baltimore that they will essentially be leading their neighborhoods and they will be leading every industry across Baltimore City.
Q. Tell us about some of the companies you partner with.
A. Our portfolio includes 125 companies in all different industries, from banks to law firms, to startups, to health care, to hospitals, to educational institutions. One of our greatest supporters in corporate internship partners is Mercy Hospital, for example. We have several full teams of students that go over to Mercy every day and learn and get to experience kind of the power of what it is that Mercy does in terms of changing lives and impacting lives. Our students are working across a number of areas, in terms of assisting in different areas of the hospital, whether it be from medical treatment or whether it be for customer service, or whether it be for translation. We have students that are doing a number of things.
We also have students that are supporting law firms. Gallagher Evelius& Jones is an incredible support to us. We have students that are in a number of educational institutions, from Stevenson to Loyola University—who’s been a great partner for us—to some of the independent private schools as well.
Kelly Insurance is another great example of a company that takes students in. It’s just not about giving them work to do; it’s about developing a relationship and giving students an opportunity to see what is out there in terms of landscape of careers and how can you start to identify and change their mindset in terms of what is believable and what’s possible.
What’s special about Cristo Rey is that special educators and special people gravitate to Cristo Rey. From our teachers to our counselors, to our corporate internship team—Walter Reap is another example of that: Walter came to us, was a longtime principal—a very experienced principal; he had started a creative arts magnet school in Prince George’s County in a very diverse low income area, was super successful there. He was also in Annapolis, at an elementary school there, doing incredible things in terms of turning around a school that had really struggled for years and years and years. I think for Walter, he has a lot of strengths, but certainly, one of his main strengths is his ability to relate to our students, his ability to connect with them and to connect with parents, and [his ability] to also work closely with our teachers and our team to make sure that we’re trying to become the best and most innovative educational institution there is in Baltimore.
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