DePaul Cristo Rey makes history with first graduating class

When DePaul Cristo Rey (DPCR) opened its doors in 2011, no one predicted the success that first class would see.
It was Greater Cincinnati’s first new Catholic high school in 50 years, so expectations were high and strong communities of supporters were determined to prove its viability. Four years later, there’s little room for doubt, as the school’s first graduating class has finished with a 100 percent graduation rate.

More impressively, all 48 DPCR seniors have been accepted to college, earning more than $2.9 million in scholarships ... and counting. Principal Andrew Farfsing says it’s the single greatest honor of his life.
“We’ve been a piece of the conduit that’s allowed some of our kids to change their family tree from here to who knows when,” Farfsing says. “It’s allowed them to become college students, to become what it is they were never able to dream potentially.”
Since the school’s inception, it’s always been the goal for students to not only become college-ready but, maybe more importantly, to believe they have the potential of doing so.
According to the Cristo Rey Network, which comprises 28 schools nationwide, 96 percent of its student population comes from families with an average annual income of $34,000.
Yet despite difficult economic situations, students are hopeful and determined.
“The kids who show up on our doorstep are already tapped in to a promise inside themselves that they want more, want to be more, want to do more,” says Sister Jeanne Bessette, DPCR’s president. “How a 14-year-old kid figures that out I don’t know, but these kids have some little spark of hope in them.”
And it’s that spark of hope that — with guidance from DPCR staff and Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP) partners — ignites passions that become the basis for promising futures.
Take 18-year-old Katie Stanton, for instance, a DPCR graduate who was accepted to seven colleges and who will be attending Morehead State University in the fall to study history.
Her initial love for the subject matter came about in elementary school when she says her peers were falling asleep but she was upright and all-ears, fascinated with King Tutankhamun. Her interests developed during her time at DPCR when she found herself having conversations with her teachers outside of class.
“Before coming here, I had never experienced anything like it,” Stanton says. “But I’ve gotten so close to teachers, and I’ve formed friendships. It’s been the most amazing experience ever to me.”
Classmate Jabril Bryant, who says he entered DPCR with apprehension, shares similar sentiments.
“I wasn’t always sure about coming here, because freshman year I was dealing with a lot of anxiety problems,” he says. “But as I’ve grown you get used to it and start to like people here. You form bonds. It’s a really family-oriented school.”
Margee Garbsch, DPCR director of communications, says it’s been wonderful to watch Bryant blossom and that he — like all DPCR students — is like one of her own children.
One of best things that happened to her this year, she says, is when Bryant received his acceptance letter from Ohio University.
“I had offered to look over his essay — he was just really stressed — and I’d give him these pep talks, but we couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t heard from OU. He really wanted to go there,” Garbsch says. “And at 10 p.m. at night I check my e-mail, and he had forwarded the acceptance. There had been a mix-up — they had the wrong address and had accepted him into nursing, which we were all laughing about — and I was so keyed up. But then I get there the next morning, and he’s waiting outside my office to tell me he was accepted.”
Bryant will attend his school of choice in the fall to major in screenwriting and film producing, a field he was able to see first-hand during his work-study time with WCPO Channel 9 this past school year.
Private education is an investment, but at DPCR it’s one that all families — regardless of economic status — should be able to afford. To mitigate the cost of education, students participate in the CWSP, gaining access to the corporate world while funding their own studies.
“Working at WCPO was something similar to what I want to do with my time, and it’s a unique experience to see people working in a newsroom, trying to tiptoe while they’re filming or on-air,” Bryant says. “But seeing the background and what they do on the side — they don’t just do news, they do community affairs and other things — it broadens your perspective a lot on what you can do.”
The school’s current tally of corporate partners is at 104 and is composed of nonprofits, Fortune 500 companies, family-owned businesses and everything in between. It hopes to add 15-20 more next school year.
For students, the experience is empowering and also provides a leg up as they’re exposed to the corporate world long before most of their peers.
“They’re talking about collaboration in the workplace, talking about not working in lone cubicles but in areas where everyone on a team works together, talking about networking with adults,” Bessette says. “It’s just a different kind of language than I think most 18-year-olds are tuned into yet.”
For Lisa Claytor, CWSP director, the program’s educational impact on students’ futures is undeniable but is a community-wide effort, and Greater Cincinnati does not disappoint.
“Education is the best shot kids have at changing the trajectory of their lives. It’s the only way out of poverty,” Claytor says.  “And the Cincinnati business world has been great. We are blessed to be part of a community that truly values educational opportunity for all.”

Read more articles by Brittany York.

Brittany York is a freelance writer, adjunct English composition instructor and server at Orchids at Palm Court. She loves travel and photography. Keep up with Brittany on Instagram @brittbrittbrittbrittany.
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