November 19, 2014 – In the summer of 2010, Phillip Benevides (C’15) arrived on campus for the Georgetown University Summer College Immersion Program, which gives a select group of high school students a taste of college life.
Benevides, then a student at Cristo Rey Boston, fell in love with Georgetown and later applied to the university and got accepted.
Four years later, the son of Portuguese immigrants is closer to his dream of becoming a psychologist.
“My Cristo Rey education taught me how to balance and manage my time in an efficient manner,” Benevides says. “… my education also taught me that if I put my complete dedication into something, I can and will succeed.”
He now volunteers with Georgetown’s Financial Aid Peer Counseling program, helping other students with financial aid questions, serves as a mentor in the immersion program and has a show on the university radio station and another on Georgetown University Television (GUTV).
The Cristo Rey Network (CRN) comprises 28 high schools that provide a rigorous and quality Catholic and college preparatory education to 9,000 students with limited educational options in 27 urban communities.
Member schools couple a rigorous academic curriculum with a Corporate Work Study Program, in which students work in professional settings, such as banks, law firms and hospitals one day a week.
The students gain valuable work experience, contribute financially to their Cristo Rey education and reinforce skills and behaviors learned in the classroom.
“Enhancing and increasing the opportunities for education for low-income students is critical,” says Jane Genster, the former senior counsel to Georgetown President John J. DeGioia who became president and CEO of the network on Nov. 1. “Cristo Rey has a distinctive and very powerful approach rooted on the best traditions of Catholic education that is helping to educate high-character students who are college-ready and workplace-savvy.”
A whopping 100 percent of Cristo Rey students get accepted to two- or four-year universities, including Georgetown.
Benevides first learned about the Cristo Rey Network when he was in eighth grade.
“I remember a student from Cristo Rey Boston coming into my class to talk about the school and … he mentioned the corporate work-study program,” he says. “I really wanted to get a better sense of working and wanted to go out into the real world and see what it would be like to balance my time between having a job and attending school.”
Georgetown became a national university partner of the network in 2009 after serving an integral role in forming Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Maryland, in 2007.
Since then the university has welcomed more than 180 students to the immersion program and more than 30 participants are now Georgetown students.
“Creating the national partnerships are a way both to strengthen the network financially and also to strengthen the connections between the Cristo Rey Network schools and colleges and universities to whom Cristo Rey students might aspire,” Genster says.
It was during the immersion program at Georgetown that Benevides met Darnell Bland Jr. (B’15) – who attended Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis.
The two now host a one-hour show on WGTB Georgetown Radio every week.
Benevides is used to making the most of extracurricular activities.
At Cristo Rey Boston, the Somerville, Massachusetts, native joined the school choir, the drama club, and the yearbook and prom committees.
He also worked at an off-Broadway theatre company, which closed during his freshman year. Benevides then worked at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the facility’s medical records department.
He says he enjoyed his Cristo Rey experience so much that he stuck with it when the school moved from a 15-minute walk to Cambridge to a long, morning mass transit commute to Dorchester during his senior year.
“You can only imagine during the winter when the trains would just stop working, we would just get stuck and the doors would be open and it would be outside and it would just be freezing,” he recalls. “But it was worth it – it built character.”
As a Cristo Rey national partner, Georgetown works with the network on issues of higher education affordability, academic and social support and pre-college enrichment programs.
“Our community has been strengthened and enriched by our relationship with Cristo Rey over the past several years,” DeGioia said in 2011, when the Cristo Rey Network honored the university for its partnership and commitment to underserved youth.
The first network school, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, opened its doors in 1996, after Rev. John Foley, S.J., responded to the needs of a working-class Hispanic neighborhood.
The school combined a college-preparatory, Catholic education with an innovative business model where the students would work five days a month at a professional company doing entry-level work.
“We did not know what an impact the program was going to have on the students,” said Foley during an EWTN interview in 2012. “If you ask any of our students through the whole network of schools ‘what do you like best about Cristo Rey?’ They’ll say the job.”
With the success in Chicago, other Cristo Rey schools in Portland, Oregon, Denver and Los Angeles opened between 2001 and 2003 and the Cristo Rey Network formed with Foley serving as its first president.
Georgetown’s partnership with the Cristo Rey network includes a three-week job training boot camp and a work-study program for high school students from the local Don Bosco Cristo Rey high School in Takoma Park, Maryland.
Since 2007, 91 students from Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School have worked at Georgetown.
“I think it’s … a great opportunity for us to give back to those kids and show them … you can be successful in the world,” says Pam Carter, McDonough School of Business director of faculty services, who supervises a Don Bosco Cristo Rey student in her office. “I just want to instill that kind of confidence in kids and I think this program does it.”
One of the partnership’s most successful programs is the Georgetown University Summer Immersion Program, where Benevides met Bland.
Created in 2010 with support from the Marineau Family Foundation, the three-week program offers top-performing rising high school seniors from the Cristo Rey and KIPP Foundation schools the chance to experience college by taking courses, living in residence halls, mentoring and reflection opportunities.
This past summer, 44 students participated in the immersion program.
“I think this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Derrick King, now a senior at KIPP Delta in Helena, Arkansas, said after the three weeks were up this past summer. “It really opens my mind on colleges a lot more than when I used to look at it.”
Students spend a week getting acclimated to campus and the remaining weeks immersed in college-level classes that include international relations, college writing, biology and physics.
They also work on a service project. This year participants filmed a public service announcement about college readiness aimed at fellow classmates, their families and high school counselors.
“The summer provides students with this intense immersion into college life where they have the opportunity to be residents on a college campus … and be exposed to college academic work and classes that are taught by our most prized teachers,” Genster explains.
The jam-packed schedule tends to mimic the time management skills the participants will end up needed as college students.
Students in the program also explore the nation’s capital, tour monuments, go kayaking on the Potomac River and attend a Washington Nationals baseball game.
“A program like this is really important because it helps with confidence,” says Samina Dunbar, who attends Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory High School in Houston. “I know especially coming from the South … a lot of people feel like that they can’t go far, they have to stay in their city and not aspire as high. This program has really helped me raise my confidence to where I can do anything and I can go anywhere.”
Applying to the immersion program also gives them practice in applying to college.
“We actually mirrored the Georgetown undergraduate process so that applicants get experience with that as well,” explains Kyle Burns, who directs the program at Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies. “It looks a lot like the undergraduate process.”
Program participants also take classes in English, soft matter physics and biology as well as college preparatory courses to improve SAT scores and develop necessary study skills.
Leticia Jimenez (C’15) attended the summer immersion program in 2010 and also enjoyed the academic side of the program as it helped shape what she wanted to focus on once she attended college.
“We took a mix of science classes and I love science but that made me realize that I don’t want to be a science major,” she said with a laugh. “But I really enjoyed the whole hands-on aspect [of the classes].”
Jimenez’s experience that summer and the university’s location inspired her to apply and matriculate to Georgetown.
As a college student, she studied abroad at Madrid Complutence Universidad this past spring and serves as a tutor for the DC Schools Project.
The sociology major and Cristo Rey Jesuit Chicago alumna is still connected to the summer immersion program, having served a mentor to participants.
“It was a good feeling just to kind of share some advice with them,” she said. “A lot of them were very nervous because … it was the first time leaving home or just traveling on their own and I had the same experience. … A lot of them did struggle with that, so they learned to persevere and not give up.”
Benevides also says received positive support when he became physically sick as well as homesick during the first week of the summer immersion program.
Now he mentors students as a program veteran, fostering growth and confidence in the rising seniors.
“We started talking about it and a lot of them were like, ‘I don’t think I’m going to match up with all the other students, I don’t perform well on tests,’ ” recalls Benevides about a reflection session over an SAT prep class. “I just kind of stopped the conversation and said, ‘You know what guys, you are all here for a reason. You were all chosen for this program for a reason and you guys can all do it. You need to take all that negativity and turn it into something positive.’ ”
Jimenez, who would like to work with a nonprofit educational organization after graduation, says being able to relate to her mentees is what helps make the immersion program special.
“I learned that it’s important to learn from your experiences and also help others learn from theirs,” she said. “It’s always important to give back.”