By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published September 18, 2014
CHICAGO—Andy Laureano, a graduate of the original Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, received a full ride scholarship to the University of San Francisco.
It was a long way from the gang-infested neighborhood of Little Village where he grew up.
“I definitely had a great experience there,” said Laureano of his time as a Cristo Rey student.
Laureano is one of 6,800 Cristo Rey alumni nationwide. He is among the 42 percent of Cristo Rey graduates who went on to earn college degrees. While Cristo Rey has a 100 percent college acceptance rate, some graduates attend college for a while and others enter the workforce immediately. Yet all are better prepared for life.
Upon graduating from college, Laureano returned to Chicago. After working for Loyola Press, he became the associate director for college initiatives at the Cristo Rey Network.
In Laureano’s neighborhood, the public schools were underfunded. Gang fights and teen pregnancies were common.
“I wasn’t very well-informed about the options I had,” he said.
For most of Laureano’s relatives and friends, the end of high school was the end of education. His parents learned about the inaugural Cristo Rey High School in Chicago, which opened in 1996, and found the work component in exchange for tuition appealing.
“They felt it was something different,” said Laureano.
By attending Cristo Rey and working, Laureano learned about the differences between his community and others.
“You kind of learn early to fight for these opportunities,” he said.
Part of Laureano’s role at the Cristo Rey Network is helping the schools connect with alumni and providing resources for alumni pursuing post-secondary educational goals.
Graduates of Cristo Rey schools are completing college at twice the rate of their low-income peers. According to the network, there were nearly 700 alumni enrolled in a college or university in 2013.
“It takes a lot of helping hands to get to college,” noted Laureano.
At the University of San Francisco, Laureano earned a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing. Attending college on the opposite coast away from family meant creating his own support system.
Now, Laureano helps “find those doors for our students.”
There are 46 university partners that actively recruit and then support the success of Cristo Rey students pursuing degrees. They include DePaul University in Chicago, Southern Illinois University, Georgetown University, Holy Cross College, Loyola University and Wesleyan University.
Twitter and Facebook pages offer Cristo Rey alumni information on scholarships and job postings nationwide.
Laureano is also involved with Holy Family School Chicago Scholars as an academic director. He helps manage the academic experience for low-income students attending private schools in Chicago.
Laureano has an interest in organizing community service days for alumni nationwide.
The Cristo Rey education was a “life-changer,” said Laureano. During his high school years, he had the opportunity through the work-study component to be employed at a law firm, a museum, and in the bond market.
Part of the Jesuit training, he says, was “Don’t forget where you come from. Now it’s your turn.”