Opportunity matters in life. Twenty-five years ago, the first person I met at what is now Loyola University Maryland as an incoming freshman was Father John Brunett. He was assigned to be my academic adviser in large part because I was considered an "at-risk" academic admission.
My high school grades were well below the standards of those of my incoming classmates, and my study habits were undeveloped. Yet Loyola provided me an opportunity, and Father Brunett believed in me. He planted the inspiring seed of hope that if I studied really hard, he believed that I would graduate from college.
This story is not unique to me, but it does illustrate the important role that one person (and a school) can have on a student's future. With the help of many people along the way, I not only graduated from Loyola, but I went on to earn my master's and doctoral degrees in education.
I chose a career in education to pay back and to pay forward what others provided me: a chance, an opportunity, a bridge. I've never felt more blessed and purposeful than in the past year serving the students at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Upper Fells Point.
For the past 10 years, Cristo Rey Jesuit has been transforming the lives of students in Baltimore City using an innovative education model and providing the opportunity for students in need to experience a rigorous college preparatory curriculum and life-changing, four-year internship experience.
Many kids in Baltimore have so little in terms of opportunities and resources, yet they have experienced so many of life's challenges at an early age.
The success of Cristo Rey Jesuit over the past decade is undeniable. Cristo Rey has graduated 351 students — 100 percent residing in Baltimore, 100 percent low income. One hundred percent have been accepted and fully prepared for college.
Take, for example, Class of 2011 graduate Kendra Brown, a first-generation college student who was raised in Cherry Hill by her grandmother. She received her degree in criminal justice from Stevenson University and now works in the Carroll County State's Attorney's Office. Only 7 percent of Cherry Hill residents 25 years and older have earned a bachelor's degree.
To date, 35 Cristo Rey graduates have completed their college degrees. Three alumni are in graduate school, and more than 150 graduates are in the college pipeline. Cristo Rey alumni are equipping themselves with the strength of education to make a positive impact on Baltimore and the world.
Look at Darius Sanders, also Class of 2011, who just completed his master's degree in social work from New York University. He returned to Baltimore to work at Kennedy Krieger Institute as a full-time psychiatric social worker, wanting to contribute to making Baltimore a better place to live.
At the core of our students' success is our Corporate Internship Program. Every Cristo Rey student gains valuable experience by working five days per month in an entry-level administrative position throughout his or her four years at the school.
Our 351 graduates have gained 456,300 total hours of professional work experience. Cristo Rey's partnerships have grown from 30 partners in our first year to 120 corporate partners today from across the Baltimore region.
This year, Autumn Banks, a sophomore, is working at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital. Her goal is to become a doctor. Senior Jade Johnson is working in the obstetrics and gynecology department at Chase Brexton and is interested in pursuing a career in that field after college. Our students are expanding their horizons and developing connections and professional networks beyond their neighborhoods.
As we celebrate our 10th year, our work at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School is nowhere near finished. We know that the critically important investment in Baltimore, and specifically in Cristo Rey's students, is paying off as we develop compassionate, intellectually competent and determined leaders to help transform their neighborhoods and Baltimore for a brighter future.
Bill Heiser is president of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Baltimore; his email is email@example.com.