Cristo Rey achieves perfect senior graduation rate


But many students don’t make it to that senior year

In these days of achievement gaps and disappointing graduation rates, one South Minneapolis high school this year graduated 100 percent of its senior students. And they’re all going to college.

David Sacta-Espinoza and Alexandra Bell
David Sacta-Espinoza and Alexandra Bell

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, located just one block north of Lake Street on Fourth Avenue South, was founded in 2007. In June of this year the school graduated all of its seniors for the first time. All 61 students will attend either a two- or four-year college this fall.

“College was something my parents said I had to go to. There really wasn’t a choice,” admits Alexandra Bell, 18, of Brooklyn Park, who plans to major in theatre at Augsburg College beginning this fall.

David Sacta-Espinoza, age 17 of Burnsville, who will be a senior this fall, says he’s looking at three colleges to choose from when he graduates next year: University of St. Thomas, St. Mary’s University, and the University of North Dakota. “My main goal right now would be St. Thomas.”

Jeb Myers
Jeb Myers

“Our goal is 100 percent of our freshmen graduate from [high] school and college,” notes School President Jeb Myers. The Minneapolis school is one of 28 Cristo Rey private schools run across the country by the Catholic Jesuit order “for under-resourced students of all faiths.” Its student population is 13 percent Black, 80 percent Latino, and 94 percent students who qualify for free or reduced lunch (i.e., low-income).

Admissions and Communications Director Annemarie Hansen tells the MSR that each student participates in the Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP) that earns half their tuition costs by working five days a month in a corporate job. Between $7,000-$8,000 is paid to the school by each employer, she adds.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” says Sacta-Espinoza, who worked at two downtown law firms. “I had a huge variety of [jobs].”

Filing and scanning documents were her primary duties at a paint company her freshman year. Then she was at the University of St. Thomas Minneapolis campus during her sophomore year. Her last two high school years she worked at the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC), where her duties included interviewing several CTC staff.

Working at the theater was more to her liking, she says. “Whether its lights or being on stage, I love it all. That’s where my passion is.”

Bell says she visited Cristo Rey Jesuit on a field trip as an eighth-grader. Her mother saw an information brochure, and a family friend’s daughter who graduated from the school and is now in college was convincing enough for Bell’s family to send her there as well.

“I didn’t want to come here [at first]. I remember freshman orientation, and I didn’t want to be here at all. Then I fell in love” with the school, says Bell.

“What interested me the most was just how [the teachers] show a lot of support,” adds Sacta-Espinoza, who learned about Cristo Rey Jesuit after school officials visited his grade school. “I decided to check it out.”

The school’s curriculum, eight-hour school days and a 10-month school year from August to June isn’t for everyone, notes Myers and Hansen. “Not everybody stays at Cristo Rey all four years,” he says. “The class Allie [Bell] graduated started with about 150 students, and 61 graduated. David’s class started with 100 students, and there are 88 right now.”

Both Bell and Sacta-Espinoza, however, agree they’re glad they stayed. The teachers care about “the whole person. Even the president knows all the student names, first and last,” Bell proclaims. “I don’t think you get that at a regular school, [or] at least I haven’t gotten that at any other school I’ve been to.”

“They actually help you and guide you through…to be successful in college,” Sacta-Espinoza adds.

States Myers, “It is about relationships. What we really try to do is develop [the student] academic side, spiritual side, and help [their] physical side…developing all of the student. Our whole school is based on individual learning — it’s not just on teaching.”

The CWSP is part of the learning because it provides many students their first exposure to Corporate America and helps prepare a diverse future work force as well, says Meyers.

“This is a way we can introduce them [to corporate employers] because our students belong in these companies. They belong there and have the talent to do it and do it well. I have high hopes that here in Minneapolis, we have an opportunity to be a leader in the country…in opening doors to our students. They are hungry and talented.”

Myers says Cristo Rey Jesuit wants to have a faculty and staff that best reflect its student body. “We work hard to recruit nationally… About 33 percent of staff are persons of color. Our leadership team is about 40 percent people of color. We’re getting better and better at that.”

Hansen reports that Cristo Rey Jesuit recently stopped taking ninth-grade applications for the upcoming school year and now has a first-ever waiting list. She says that 140-plus new students — the school’s largest freshman class — are expected to enroll this fall.

Sacta-Espinoza says that he has mixed feelings coming into his senior year. “I’m really nervous that I’m ending high school and going into college. But at the same time, I will be able to pursue the things I want to do in life.”

Bell says, “I’m a bit nervous but I am very excited,” as she works at her now-former school this summer before heading to Augsburg. “Way more excited to start doing something away from home… I’m ready to learn new things.”


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to