An alumni program helps
low-income students beat the odds
If you’re a graduate of Cristo
Rey in Kansas City, you can be sure Sister Linda Roth has her eye on you. As
the alumni director at the high school, she helps low-income students
transition to and stay in college. She has a big job: In Cristo Rey’s first 10
years, 100 percent of graduates have gone to college, which means Sister Linda
is tracking and supporting nearly 400 alumni.
Her flock faces enormous
challenges: homelessness, cash shortages for books and meals, and remedial
classes that can stretch a two-year program to a frustrating three-and-a-half
years. These problems can derail even the most motivated students, which is
why, nationwide, fewer than 20 percent of low-income students who start college
actually complete a degree.
Among Sister Linda’s current
concerns: one girl who suddenly turned down the chance to go to a four-year college.
Why? Because she didn’t have transportation. She also didn’t have a home until
her sister took her in. The girl chose a more accessible community college,
which can be a hard slog without the social structure typical of four-year
institutions. “But she’s on my radar,” says Sister Linda. “We meet once a
month. I think she’ll be fine.”
Besides advice and support,
the alumni program offers emergency cash assistance and help finding and
keeping scholarships. It works. Nearly 63 percent of Cristo Rey’s alumni have
graduated college or are in school now.
One of those college graduates
spoke at the 2016 graduation. Mone’kai Shannon-Thornton told Cristo Rey’s
seniors to always say “yes” to new things, to embrace college as a new
beginning, and to avoid comparing oneself to others—wise and inspiring
Still, Sister Linda isn’t
quite satisfied. “Sixty-three percent is not as high as I’d like it to be. We
want 100 percent,” she says.
Shared with permission of William G. McGowan Charitable Fund 2016 Annual Report, editorial content of Lee Reilly and photograph of Jenny Wheat.