(CNS) -- As Precious Mayfield and Froylan Avila awaited the arrival of U.S.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at their school May 23, the two students
talked about the impact that Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis
has had on them and their families.
two teenagers will both be the first in their families to go to college.
makes me feel very accomplished that I can fulfill the dreams that my family
has," said Mayfield, who is 17.
nearby, 19-year-old Avila said, "Anything is possible if you put your mind to
it, and you work hard."
later, Mayfield and Avila were among a group of students who were welcoming and
shaking hands with a smiling DeVos as she entered the school that combines a
work-study program and a college preparatory education for students from
a model that has led all 46 students in the school's class of 2017 to be
accepted into college. It's also a model that intrigued DeVos so much that she
made a special visit to Providence Cristo Rey as part of her two-day trip to
May 22, the secretary of education arrived in Indiana's capital to address the
national policy summit of the American Federation for Children, a national advocacy
organization for school choice that she once served as chairperson.
the summit, DeVos noted that President Donald Trump is "proposing the most
ambitious expansion of education choice in our nation's history."
she didn't offer details of the president's plan, she did add, "If a state
doesn't want to participate, that would be a terrible mistake on their part.
They will be hurting the children and families who can least afford it."
34,000 students in Indiana attend private schools through the state's school
choice program. About 8,000 of the 24,000 students who attend the 69 Catholic
schools in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis are there because of school choice.
And 97 percent of the 255 students at Providence Cristo Rey are there through
Indiana's voucher program.
came to Providence Cristo Rey as the high school marks its 10th year of
existence. She met with students, staff and stakeholders of the private school.
to people who were there for her meeting with stakeholders of the school, DeVos
said she admired the approach of the school and wanted to learn more about the
national network of 32 Cristo Rey Catholic schools that has about 11,000
students across the country.
that meeting, DeVos heard from Jane Genster, president and chief executive
officer of the Cristo Rey national network of schools.
are honored that the secretary of education wants to come to our schools and
see what we're doing," Genster said after the meeting. "Our schools are deeply
connected with their communities through the work-study program. That sense of
community is a very Catholic quality."
Sister Dawn Tomaszewski also spoke. The superior general of the Sisters of
Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods told the secretary that the Archdiocese of
Indianapolis had come to the Providence sisters for help in establishing the
knew we could make an impact on the lives of children who are economically
challenged," Sister Dawn said. "They're learning about God, and they have hope,
and they have faith."
also heard from Montanea Daniels, a member of the first graduating class of
Providence Cristo Rey, who is now a member of the school's board of directors
and a biologist for Eli Lilly & Co., in Indianapolis.
school changed my life," Daniels said.
theme echoed through DeVos' visit to Providence Cristo Rey. When school
president Joseph Heidt and school principal Brian Dinkins led her on a tour of
the school, they stopped in a science class. After observing a lesson, DeVos
asked the students if any of them wanted to talk about their experience at the
school. Three did, offering such glowing praise that Dinkins joked that he
would have to buy them lunch.
DeVos didn't take questions from the media during her visit, she repeatedly
showed her interest and engagement by asking questions of the teachers and the
students she met that morning.
working a day a week make a difference in your education?" she asked at one
many of you have learned through your work experience that you wanted to do
easygoing interaction relaxed the six seniors, including Mayfield and Avila,
who were chosen to share brief presentations about the impact that their
work-study programs had on their confidence, their career choices and their
class graduated May 25 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis; 75
percent of the seniors have earned college scholarships.
listening to their presentations, DeVos told the six seniors, "It sounds like
this whole experience has given you a whole lot of confidence."
she finished her 90-minute visit to the school, DeVos had one last question for
the six students: "If you were to encapsulate your experience at Cristo Rey in
one sentence, what would that be?"
first to respond was Cheick Diallo, who has earned a scholarship to the
University of Notre Dame where he wants to pursue a major in neuroscience.
smiled at the secretary of education and said, "Take advantage of the
opportunity because it really is life-changing."