BY ERIN CONWAY | November 22, 2017
Teaching high school seniors can be hard, especially as the calendar inches closer to Thanksgiving. College acceptances start to roll in, a five-day break is on the horizon, and students are restless and even a little bit cranky.
For our seniors in particular, I’ve noticed that glow of a Cristo Rey education has started to fade. They are tired of wearing uniforms, their Corporate Work Study jobs are beginning to wear on them, and they watch their peers at public schools taking only a small number of classes and getting out of school well before 3:30. Although the next phase of life is in sight, we refuse to let them jump ahead. They must continue to show up, write papers, read books, and be the best version of themselves.
Because they are teenagers and, perhaps more importantly, human, I hear complaints on a daily basis. And because I am also human and anxious for the holiday, listening to these complaints wears on me. The last few weeks have been rife with desolating moments.
This past Friday my students took part in a seminar discussion to round out our introduction to vocation and much-needed consolation broke through. Over the past three weeks, we’ve looked at a variety of resources that examine the topic of vocation through an Ignatian theological lens, challenging students to ask themselves what God is calling them to do and who God is calling them to be. One of the final questions I asked them to consider (with some hesitancy, I might add), was whether their experiences while attending Saint Martin de Porres had helped them determine their own vocation. The question arose from a quote from one of our founders, Father Robert Welsh, SJ: “The purpose of our education is to give a young man [or woman] the tools whereby he [or she] can answer that question, what does God want from me?”
Here are some of the things my students shared, things that reminded me that a Cristo Rey education, like the one we provide at Saint Martin de Porres, does matter:
“By going to Saint Martin, I’ve heard, seen and felt God’s presence more than before high school. I didn’t even know I had a purpose on Earth, I just thought I was existing. I’d say Saint Martin has definitely helped me get closer to my purpose. Saint Martin helped me learn a lot of things about myself that I probably wouldn’t have learned so early in life. Whether it was a class, teacher, friend, or experience, it has impacted my life tremendously, and I greatly appreciate all that this community has given me.”
“Saint Martin helped me realize that I can do better and I will make it to college. They want us to experience new things in life and help us to be prepared. Saint Martin helps us be prepared in life by giving us jobs to practice from so we know what to expect in real life.”
“We are exposed to a lot of opportunities and programs for our interests and that helps us see what brings us joy and if we’re good at it. Saint Martin does a great job of teaching us how to make the world a better place, especially through Campus Ministry and all the helping opportunities we have.”
Through their responses, my students reminded me that they are listening even when they don’t act like it. I realized that although they like to complain, they see what Saint Martin (and Cristo Rey schools like ours) is doing even when they don’t know how to express it. They reminded me that the Holy Spirit is always at work.
In the coming days, lawmakers in Washington will be voting on a tax bill that could cripple the Cristo Rey Network. According to a statement released by the Cristo Rey Network, the proposed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would put the money our students earn from their work-study jobs in jeopardy. Currently, the money they earn is not taxed either when the student earns it or when it is passed from the company to the school. The new tax code would change this process. In addition to threatening a major source of revenue for our schools—at Saint Martin de Porres 33% of our operating budget comes from Corporate Work Study Partnerships—it could affect students’ access to college.
For those unfamiliar with the model, the Cristo Rey Network boasts a 100% college acceptance rate across all 32 schools. Acceptance is only the first step to college access for our students, however. Paying for college is the next hurdle, and the one threatened by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Financial aid for college-bound students is based on their estimated family contribution (EFC), which is determined by a family’s “taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits,” according to the Department of Education. This means that the higher a family’s EFC, the more they are expected to pay for college and the less financial aid they can receive. And as Cristo Rey CEO Elizabeth Goettl explained in a recent letter to Congress, proposed changes “would cause those students to be taxed on their income and would certainly affect their family income and potentially students’ ability to qualify for college aid and loans.” This tax bill would increase the reported income of Cristo Rey students, providing a distorted picture of their EFC and placing a college education just out of reach for many.
There are currently over 11,500 students attending 32 Cristo Rey schools across the country. Each of these schools accompanies students like mine as they learn to listen for God’s call and respond to the needs of their communities. They deserve our love and support. Please ask Congress to stand with them.
Erin Conway teaches senior Theology at Saint Martin de Porres, Cleveland’s Cristo Rey High School. Prior to her time at Saint Martin, Erin worked at Xavier College Prep High School in Palm Desert, CA and Saint Ignatius Loyola Academy in Baltimore, MD. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2009 and earned an M.A.T. from Loyola University in Maryland in 2012. Her dream is for all of her students to recognize God at work in their lives and to embrace the very real ways they can work for justice in their own communities.