Schooled in success: Cristo Rey alumna says Catholic high school enlarged her passion and purpose
FORT WORTH — For Rennata Sandoval, the road from a small town in Jalisco, Mexico, to Boston College was paved by Cristo Rey Fort Worth High School.
Rennata and her family moved from Mexico to California in 2019, where Sandoval attended public high school her freshman year which was disrupted, as it was for all students, by the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the Sandovals moved to Fort Worth the following year, they learned about Cristo Rey High School from Rennata’s cousin, who had applied.
After Rennata was admitted among a handful of sophomores, she found that her teachers were “way more attentive” than those in her previous school. They knew her name and made sure she had all the resources she needed.
“Even though it was virtual, it was a great experience,” Rennata said.
She soon started the work portion of Cristo Rey’s unique work-study model at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, where she worked in customer service.
At school, she learned the value of using a planner to keep track of daily homework and going to office hours whenever she needed help, two habits that would prove exceptionally fruitful in college.
Her senior year working at GM Financial inspired her to look at a potential career in marketing or human resources.
“It builds confidence that you can do this job and helps you know what you might want to do in life,” Rennata said.
The college decision
Meanwhile, she was unsure about where she wanted to go to college. As a first-generation college student, she didn’t know what kind of university she wanted to attend, and she knew she would need financial help.
She applied to QuestBridge, a program that matches high-achieving students from low-income families with colleges that provide scholarships and financial aid.
QuestBridge finalists select several universities that they would like to attend. If the university agrees, it’s a match.
Rennata’s top pick was Boston College, and that was due to a Cristo Rey teacher, Chris Rauchet. Rennata had never been to the Northeast but learned about Boston College from Rauchet, who graduated from BC in 2022 and taught Rennata’s AP Chemistry class.
“He has a lot of school spirit,” Rennata said of Rauchet.
She was thrilled when she matched with Boston College, a liberal arts Jesuit school with an enrollment of about 9,500, but she was also nervous about going a long way from home and her familiar community.
Her Cristo Rey teachers and other mentors told her, “You’re going to find your own group,” and it came true.
She found friends with whom she can explore the region and loves the historic area, the ocean, and all there is to do.
Rennata is currently majoring in English and is interested in going back to GM Financial to work in marketing or perhaps HR, or for a nonprofit.
She returned to Cristo Rey over winter break to visit with students and staff, and now she’s got lots of Boston College school spirit.
Whatever she does, she wants to return to Cristo Rey regularly and encourage younger students.
“I just want to give back to my community,” she said.
Setting students up for success
Chemistry teacher Rauchet said that Cristo Rey sets students up for success.
“Cristo Rey has a rigorous college prep program and a unique work program that exposes students to professional work life,” he said. “We have a very significant structure in place to promote the success of our students.”
Teachers provide office hours after school where students can receive extra help or explore potential careers, he said.
The work experience they receive helps them develop both professionally and personally.
“Our students are incredibly professional, unbelievably professional, in the way they interact, write emails, and behave in the workplace,” Rauchet said.
He got to know Rennata in class and office hours and was glad to write her a letter of recommendation for QuestBridge and point her to Boston College.
‘A future talent pipeline’
Rennata’s story is emblematic of the Cristo Rey experience, said Dani Ray Barton, Cristo Rey’s interim president.
This year the school has 230 students, but plans are in place to grow the student body to 375-400 students, Barton said.
Cristo Rey Fort Worth opened in 2018, graduating its first seniors in 2022.
Barton said that Bishop Michael Olson was instrumental in bringing the school to the Fort Worth Diocese.
Part of a 38-school network that gives students of limited economic means the opportunity for a Catholic college prep education, Cristo Rey offers an innovative work-study program.
While most schools start with interested community members who initiate a feasibility study, the Fort Worth campus started when Bishop Olson contacted the Chicago headquarters because he believed it would benefit the community.
Barton came on board after the initial contact to help with the feasibility study.
When the school opened, they were housed in the former Our Mother of Mercy School building in the Terrell Heights neighborhood. In 2019, they moved into their current campus in south Fort Worth.
The school started with about 20 corporate work program partners and now has 70, with plans to add another 15 to 20 partners next year.
The partners include businesses like Alcon and Bank of America, healthcare organizations like Texas Health Resources and Cook Children’s, and nonprofits like Meals on Wheels of Tarrant County and several schools in the Fort Worth diocese.
Companies get involved because they want to help students, Barton said, but they soon see real benefits as they develop “a future talent pipeline.”
Partners pay the school for work performed by students and the funds go towards students’ tuition. This year’s students will earn $2 million to help pay for their Cristo Rey education, Barton said.
Each student spends five days a month (one day a week plus one Friday a month) working at the same business for the entire school year.
Many of the corporate partners also hire students during the summer or part-time after school.
Barton said that Cristo Rey students live by the school’s core values: GRIT, which stand for Grace, Responsibility, Integrity, and Tenacity.
Students are expected to arrive at school early and stay late on days they go to work and to manage their homework, work schedule, and extracurricular activities.
Planners help students learn to manage their time.
“It’s one of our first gifts to our students,” Barton said. “We can’t expect students to know how to do something if they don’t put it into practice.”
The school is not just focused on getting students into college; they want to help their students get through college.
“We’re making an eight-year commitment to our students,” she said.
They just established a college support team to assist recent graduates like Rennata because 97 percent of their students are the first in their family to attend college.
Students are encouraged to come back during breaks and meet with faculty.
Rennata said, “It’s what you make of it. There are people here who want to help you.”
Leaving school with four internships helps Cristo Rey students stand out, she said, and the Catholic education “gives you a bigger passion and purpose.”