What Comes Next for NDCR Graduates May Not Be as Easy as People Think

by Rebecca Twitchell, Marketing and Communications Director, Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School

Since its inception in 2004 in Lawrence, MA, an old mill city, Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School, a predominantly Hispanic high school, has been known for its 100% acceptance rate into four-year colleges and universities.  It is known for its college completion rate of 62% compared to a national average of only 9% within the same demographic. And it is known for its unique Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP), where all students work one day a week at a company so they may earn the majority of their tuition … a tuition that their families, families with very limited financial means, would not be able to afford if not for the CWSP.

Heartwarming speeches are given from the podium by valedictorians and salutatorians each year, and classmates look on, beaming with joy – we made it!  Tears stream down the faces of families, so proud of the accomplishments their children have made towards the goal of becoming college graduated leaders, ultimately working towards breaking the cycle of poverty within their communities – they made it!  And faculty, staff and CWSP supervisors pose for photos with the students they have helped to guide and mentor over the last four years.

But after the lights are turned off on the stage, tables and chairs put away, and the last graduate drives away … faculty and staff wave goodbye, keenly aware that these graduates still have many barriers they will face over the next four years, and their work has merely taken a pause for one celebratory day.

Faculty and staff at NDCR immediately pivot to college encouragement mode. They know that the summer is a critical time to keep graduates motivated about continuing down their path of a college degree, despite the very real possibility that graduates may decide to stay home to continue to help their families with bills and childcare.  This, in addition to how hard staff worked with students to advocate and appeal for more financial aid and tuition assistance at the colleges and universities of their choice, many students are not able to afford the tuition and question taking a gap year or not attending a four-year university at all.

When students do successfully matriculate to the colleges and universities they have worked so hard to get into, NDCR keeps in very close communication with them. Through dedicated alumni staff positions, staff who understand the challenges students will soon face, students know they can count on their high school alma mater for support.

Over the years, asked the question, “what else can NDCR do to prepare students for college?” alumni panelists have shared their gratitude for the rigorous academics, time management and the confidence they have towards building relationships with adults … but that they were not prepared for how they were going to feel being at predominantly white schools.

Managing racism on campus, microaggressions in the classroom and isolation as students, NDCR graduates have yet another long four-year road ahead of them which will require the same resilience, strength, and hope that they needed to navigate their previous young adult years.

Accompanying social and emotional struggle is financial struggle. From stories of being the only students on campus over break because they cannot afford to go home or on the trips that their classmates take … to not joining friends for off-campus dinners because they cannot afford food outside of their meal plans, the reminder about being different is constant.  NDCR has set up an emergency fund to support alumni through these financial challenges, which is depleted much faster than it is growing.

NDCR alumni (and many BIPOC students) are among students who receive significant tuition-based scholarships … which often becomes a point of contention with other college students.  They will be the students who most likely have work study jobs on campus so they can afford everyday essentials … some may hold a few jobs, like they did in high school.  Several students become Resident Advisors … which adds to an already very demanding workload.

NDCR students are some of the hardest working students on college campuses, doing everything in their power to get by, knowing that they cannot depend on their families financially … like many of their classmates can.

NDCR is still a relatively young high school, having graduated 788 scholars. Learning every day about how to better serve the young men and women who have chosen to join the school community, they will continue to pour into the lives of those students they worked so hard to build up, despite the increasing expenses. NDCR understands that while the academic journey comes to an end for graduates every year in June … a different journey, a more challenging journey socially, emotionally and financially … lies ahead.

For more formation about Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School, please contact:

Sr. Mary Murphy SNDdeN
Founding President
mmurphy@ndcrhs.org