When Noe Rosales started high school at Cristo Rey College Prep in Fort Worth, he didn’t care about his grades, was irresponsible and apathetic. Simply, he couldn’t be bothered to try in school.
Now, he’s going to Kansas State University on a full scholarship to study computer science.
Rosales, 18, said teachers and principals pushed him to take academics seriously and improve his schoolwork. He said instead of just hanging out with his friends during free periods, teachers pulled him into classrooms to help him catch up on homework.
“It’s so small they made that personal connection with me,” Rosales said. “And they really did influence me. That’s what I really love about Cristo Rey.”
Rosales is part of the first graduating class of the local Catholic school. The 48 seniors received about 200 college acceptances at 76 different schools across the country. The class earned over $12 million in scholarships and financial aid. Additionally, 92% of the class are first-generation college students.
If you go
What: Cristo Rey College Prep’s first graduation
When: 10 a.m. to noon June 4
Where: Will Rogers Auditorium, 3401 W. Lancaster Ave.
Manager of College Initiatives Christina Jiménez said many qualities of the graduating class surprises her, including their professionalism, career readiness, college readiness and other basic skills.
“It’s the same demographic of students that I worked with at my previous school — low-income, first-gen — with just a different mindset,” she said. “The other thing that impressed me about this class, they’re career ready. So the fact that they’re working one day out of the week, they’re getting that corporate internship experience. It’s just a different level of student than you would see in a regular high school.”
Where are they going?
The students at Cristo Rey College Prep were accepted to 48 different colleges and universities.
Abilene Christian University
Angelo State University
Appalachian State University
Buena Vista University
California Lutheran University
Cleveland State University
Colorado Christian University
Colorado Mesa University
Columbia College Chicago
Franciscan University of Steubenville
Hawaii Pacific University
Houston Baptist University
Johnson & Wales University
Kansas State University
Loyola New Orleans
Midwestern State University
Minneapolis College of Art and Design
Mississippi State University
New England College
New Mexico Community College
Northern Arizona University
Notre Dame University
Oral Roberts University
Our Lady of the Lake University
Saint Anselm College
Saint Catherine University
Saint Edward’s University
Saint John’s University
Saint Louis University
Saint Mary’s University
Sam Houston State University
Santa Clara University
Seattle Pacific University
Stephen F. Austin University
Tarleton State University
Tarrant County College
Texas A&M Commerce
Texas A&M Corpus Christi
Texas A&M San Antonio
Texas A&M University
Texas Christian University
Texas Tech University
Texas Wesleyan University
Texas Woman’s University
University of Dallas
University of Houston
University of Kansas
University of Mary-Hardin Baylor
University of Nevada at Las Vegas
University of North Texas
University of Richmond
University of Texas at Arlington
University of Texas at Dallas
University of Texas at El Paso
University of Texas at San Antonio
University of the Incarnate Word
University of the Southwest
Wichita State University
Cristo Rey’s unique work study model gives the students one day a week to go work an internship with a corporate partner. The internships pay for part of the tuition for students, which is on a sliding scale based on the family’s income.
Jiménez previously worked at a local public school, and she said the accomplishments of the graduating class surpass others. She said a typical public school senior class has about 250-300 seniors and brings in around $3-5 million in financial aid and scholarships. The 48 students at Cristo Rey have topped that.
“I’ve been doing this type of work for over 20 years,” she said. “And I’ve never seen anything like that.”
CEO Nathan Knuth said he always knew the students would be successful, but these results were more than they could have dreamed possible.
So many people invested in the students to help them get to this point, from the faculty and staff to the corporate partners that allowed the students to work in their companies, he said.
“Their grit and their determination and their desire to be represented, and to have a voice and to do what they want to do and pursue their dreams — it’s just all come together,” Knuth said of the graduating class. “And you see the results.”
College counselor Brian Hernandez said he sees the students come together to help each other with scholarships and other applications. Instead of competing, they come together to help everyone succeed.
It’s great to have adult help in the college admissions process, but it changes the game when students have their peers lifting them up too, he said.
Meet some of the faces of the class
Rosales, who will attend Kansas State University, always enjoyed math, but he was not applying himself. Encouragement from his teachers and peers helped him get to where he is now.
As he prepares for college, he said he is looking forward to studying abroad. His parents didn’t go to college and he said his mom already is getting emotional about him leaving.
A classmate, Amber Castenda, is another first-generation college student who will attend the University of Richmond to study business administration. She said there is no other way to describe her high school experience besides incredibly unique.
“You’re not only at a high school where everyone is basically a minority and you’re all navigating this space where you’re working,” Castaneda, 18, said. “You’re also a student in college prep curriculum. And you’re doing that all together all at once and you have this community here at school.”
She’s learned valuable skills — like professionalism and code-switching — but Castaneda said she’s also learned the importance of finding community and going back to that community to recharge.
When she started applying for colleges, she knew she wanted to go out of state, which Castaneda said her family struggled with.
There’s pressure in Hispanic culture to stay close to family, she said, and she will be the first person in her family to be more than 25 minutes away when she starts college in Virginia.
Going into the application process, Castaneda said she knew financial responsibility would fall on her because she understood her family did not have a lot of money to cover all the costs. Now, she has enough scholarships and aid to not have to pay for school, and her family is rallying around her.
There’s a registration they’ve put together to help her buy stuff for her dorm. Her family is proud and supportive, she said.
“They all know this is a huge step for not only myself, but for everyone else around me,” she said. “And I’m incredibly grateful to say I’m going to do this for my other cousins and my extended family members and the cousins that I call my cousins when they’re really just like family. I’m doing this for me and these next four years are for me, but in reality, it’ll serve much more than that.”
To help her mom ease her transition going out of state, Kaitlyn Garcia, 18, and her mother visited Notre Dame, where she will study chemical engineering. Garcia will attend as a QuestBridge scholar, a national nonprofit that matches low-income students with colleges and universities.
For three years, Garcia did her internship with GM and one year with Oncor electric company. Her mentors in those jobs helped her choose her major. But she always knew her dream was Notre Dame.
She hopes she brings her adaptability skills with her to college, Garcia said. In her internships, she learned how much can change quickly in engineering. As the youngest person there, she learned how to adapt to situations quickly. She said she knows she will need these skills in college.
After she walks the stage, she hopes the graduates who are coming after her will take advantage of everything Cristo Rey has to offer, like she tried to do.
“If you do, you’ll be great,” Garcia said. “You’ll be successful. You’ll make so many connections.”
Those connections will continue to serve them. Counselor Hernandez said the plan is for them to continue to check in with students even after they graduate. The goal is to prevent dropping out of college.
Overall, the staff is proud of what the first graduating class has accomplished.
“They say in education, ‘You set the bar where you want it to be, and kids will rise to that expectation,’” Jiménez said. “And I’ve seen the bar set really high at this school and these kids are surpassing that.”
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect the campus is Cristo Rey Fort Worth and the graduation is at 10 a.m.
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.