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Four Years After Opening, Cristo Rey Sends First Graduating Class Off To College

Debbie Holmes
Cristo Rey Columbus High School began in 2013, and now it's graduating its first class of students.

After opening in 2013 with the idea of pairing low-income students with local businesses, Cristo Rey Columbus High School in downtown Columbus will graduate its first class of students. And, as the 47 seniors commemorate their four years at Cristo Rey, all of them will celebrate being accepted into college.

Part of a network of schoolsaround the country, Cristo Rey focuses on students from lower-income and lower-middle class families. School president Jim Foley says their work program is the "secret sauce of Cristo Rey," and what makes this outreach possible.

"That does two things: Number one, it pays for almost half the cost of their education," Foley says. "Number two, it gives them an extraordinary opportunity to work with professionals and to learn from professionals and to learn about careers that they might not have known were open to students like them."

Foley says he's proud of the fact that every graduating senior at Cristo Rey is leaving with at least one college offer. But not every student who entered the school made it out: The freshman class in 2013 began with 82 students, only 47 of whom are graduating this year.

"Obviously we would like to have anyone who starts here, finish here," Foley says.

Foley says that lower income families have a tendency to move around more than affluent families, but also says that Cristo Rey will always have some students decide that the school's rigorous programs are "just not their cup of tea."

"We have a pretty strong and rigorous academic program that we cannot afford to water down if we want the kids to be prepared for college," Foley says.

Credit Debbie Holmes
Classroom at Cristo Rey Columbus High School.

One student who did find success was Miriam Garcia, whom we interviewed in 2013 when she joined Cristo Rey's first class.

"The last four years have been an incredible time," Garcia says. "It was challenging academically but enough for me to grow as a person. and with the work study program, it also helped me grow in a way to be more professional."

Garcia worked for two years at the Catholic Diocese of Columbus, a year at Ohio State's engineering department, and then in IT. She found that the key to succeeding at Cristo Rey was getting to know her teachers, and getting their help in moving forward.

Four years ago, Garcia said she wanted to become the first in her family to go to college.

As she gets ready for graduation on June 11, Garcia will soon fulfill that promise: She's been accepted at Capital University and Ohio State, and waitlisted at Notre Dame.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.