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Cristo Rey Richmond’s first graduating class has 100% college acceptance rate

Malik Bruce sitting on a picnic table in his Cristo Rey uniform
Crixell Matthews
VPM News File
Malik Bruce decided to attend Cristo Rey as a freshman in large part because of the school’s corporate work-study program.

The 55 students have collectively received more than 500 acceptance letters and nearly $4 million in merit scholarship awards.

This June marks the end of high school for the first graduating class of students at Cristo Rey Richmond, and all 55 seniors have been accepted into college. According to the school’s president, the seniors have received over 500 college acceptances across 25 states — with almost $4 million in merit scholarship offers.

Malik Bruce is one of those seniors now in the process of deciding where to go to school — among the two dozen colleges and universities where he’s been accepted. Before a meeting with his school guidance counselor Tuesday, he told VPM News his top pick.

“I’m leaning the most towards North Carolina Central, nothing else is really on my mind,” Bruce said, although he noted the purpose of the meeting later that day was to consider other options — taking into consideration the schools’ financial aid awards.

Bruce decided to attend Cristo Rey as a freshman in large part because of the school’s corporate work-study program. He’s had an array of experiences that he says have helped him gain some clarity about what he does — and doesn’t — want to study in college.

During his junior year, he worked for growth equity firm Blue Heron Capital. But at the time, he thought he wanted to be a certified nurse anesthetist.

“For the little kids going through cancer and stuff like that… I want to be that last face that they remember before they go into surgery, give them a smile before they have to go through this tough challenge,” Bruce told VPM News last summer.

This year, he’s working for the Bon Secours Memorial College of Nursing. And while Bruce said observing the nursing students’ work has been interesting, the experience made him realize that he doesn’t want to work in a hospital every day.

Because of that, he’s had to re-think what he plans to study in college. Right now, Bruce is entertaining the idea of a business degree because he dreams about someday opening his own restaurant.

“I enjoy cooking way more, because I feel that’s a way I can express myself. Through nursing, I don’t see how I express myself,” Bruce said. “And my mom has always told me that I shouldn't chase money, I should chase my dream — because that'll get me further. Like, I’ll actually be more happy.”

Cristo Rey Richmond President Peter McCourt said the work-study experiences have also been eye-opening for other students. He said the school has tried its best to match students with jobs that align with their career interests by junior or senior year.

“We had one student, for example, working at St. Mary's Hospital in town. He entered thinking he wanted to be a nurse. Now, he wants to be a physician and he's sure of it now,” McCourt said. “We had a student working at a law firm who came back one day and said, ‘I really don't want to be a lawyer anymore. It's kind of boring… all they do is read paper all day.’ And she felt less enamored with the law profession, because of what she saw.”

The private Catholic school opened in 2019, incorporating a corporate work-study program into its funding model. Students work one day each week for a corporate partner to earn over half of the school’s $17,000 annual tuition. It’s part of a network of 38 high schools across the country.

“And I think for a lot of our students, they enter high school — as many of us did — not even thinking about ‘what is my career life going to be,’” McCourt said. “And this corporate work study accelerates that discernment process for a young person.”

Cristo Rey exclusively serves students with limited economic means; students receive scholarships through a tax credit program to help cover costs. Students’ families chip in a percentage of the tuition as well. McCourt said the amount each family contributes is determined by their financial ability: This school year’s average family contribution is above 6% of the tuition cost, though the goal is 10%.

The school’s overall student body includes 60% of students from the city of Richmond, 18% from Henrico County, 20% from Chesterfield County and 2% from other surrounding areas.

When the school opened in 2019, 98 students were enrolled in its first class — nearly double the number of seniors remaining at the school. According to McCourt, several students left when their families lost jobs and income because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Others ultimately decided the school wasn’t the right fit for them.

“This is hard work when you have to go to school four days a week for a longer school day, and we have a requirement of taking [Advanced Placement] classes for every student,” McCourt said. “And so we're preparing you with college preparatory academics at a higher level than you might have been accustomed to in a prior school experience.”

Students are also required to take four years of religious studies, although McCourt said the school teaches about Christianity alongside other world religions and traditions.

Although about only half of the founding class from 2019 remains, students like Bruce have thrived. He’s serving as Student Government Association president while also working between 25-30 hours a week outside of school, playing basketball for Cristo Rey and more.

“He excelled academically, he excelled in leadership, he became a tutor for math students, he pushed for an accelerated math program, which they did implement in his 11th-grade year,” said his mother, Nicole Fields. “The school has allowed him a space to be.”

As his senior year comes to an end, Bruce said he’s excited for a trip he’ll take with his classmates where they’ll get to read letters they wrote to themselves as freshmen.

“I do not remember what I told myself at all,” Bruce said, who turns 18 next week. “I’m really wondering what the 14-year-old Malik would say to the 18-year-old Malik.”


Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia
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