I'm a student at a Catholic high school, and it's changed my life

Neyda Mendez

After spending my elementary and middle school years in public schools, I stumbled upon a private school called Don Bosco Cristo Rey, part of the Cristo Rey Network of thirty schools that serve students in urban areas. At first, I was hesitant to even apply. I had spent my whole life in public schools. My friends were there, I knew how everything functioned, and going to a private school meant I had to put a lot more effort into my work. They were already getting students ready for college, and I didn’t think my middle school had prepared me for that.

After much thought, however, I ended up applying and getting accepted. From the start, I could see significant differences. The school was all about its four pillars: faith, future, family, and fun. I immediately felt at home. 

Two of my favorite things about Don Bosco are that it has small classes and comprises only four hundred students, compared to the 2,300 that go to the nearest public high school. These smaller quantities make interruptions less frequent and learning a lot more productive. Getting assistance on classwork and homework comes trouble-free. The small amount of students makes the school easy to navigate. And afterschool activities are a lot simpler. Anyone can start a club as long as they have enough people and a teacher to supervise.

The small student body also means that everyone fits in somewhere, knows each other, and is known by faculty and staff members, even if a student doesn’t have a class with them! In my larger middle school, everyone belonged to his or her own little "clique,” and many stayed with that group throughout their middle school lives. But at Don Bosco, everyone just seems to get along. Students are encouraged to join clubs, and when clubs are joined, new people meet. For example, I entered Don Bosco knowing less than ten people, yet throughout my freshman year I joined several clubs and met practically the whole school! My favorite club was called “Speak Out,” for which we organized events corresponding with the holidays. Last year around Christmas time, we collected shoes for children in Nicaragua. Moreover, my middle school principal didn't know most of our names, but my Don Bosco principal knows all of us. It's gratifying to see him take such an interest in meeting us and our families.

The school really puts you to work, too! Our classes cover various topics effectively and efficiently. I was always put in advanced “honors” classes in my middle school, but they were easy because the classification didn't mean much. Now it’s a whole other story. Don Bosco’s education system is by far the most rigorous education system I've faced. Being in honors classes actually means something. Students get an extra point in their GPA, and that one point doesn’t come easy. We seem to move at a speed of light, and we cover lessons in a couple days that would take weeks in my old school! In our theology class, for example, we put on our own Masses, while peers at the local public school just sit and learn about them passively.

Preparing us for college and careers is the school’s top priority, and its Corporate Work Study Program does just that. In fact, it’s the reason why I’m working at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and writing this essay. The program assigns jobs to each and every student, placing them in government buildings, law firms, hospitals, hotels, universities, and more, at least one day every week. It gives us much-needed experience in the workplace, bolsters our resumes, enhances our social skills, and improves our sense of direction, especially for those of us who commute using D.C.’s Metro system. The people I’ve met and the stories they’ve told me have afforded me a valuable window into the real world and helped me feel more prepared for life after high school. The more time I spend in the workplace, the more confident I am that I can handle any task a supervisor could give me—now and in the future.

In short, Don Bosco Cristo Rey is a special school. Its differences are what make it worth the effort. The small classes, teachers’ encouragement to get involved with the school, its rigorous education system, and the corporate work study program all benefit students and the community by preparing us for the real world. We’re learning to be the person who says “I’m familiar with that” when no one else is. Every member of the faculty is devoted to our success. For them, I believe, nothing comes before our education. Don Bosco Cristo Rey is the school for me and my life goals.

Neyda Mendez is student at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School and, through its Corporate Work Study Program, is a Corporate Work Study Intern at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.