CINCINNATI -- When 19-year-old Katie Stanton realized, during her first week at Morehead State University last fall, that she might be in over her head financially and needed to withdraw, she turned to her alma mater, DePaul Cristo Rey High School, for guidance.
Staying true to the school motto that all students will graduate from high school and college, DePaul offers its alumni a college support program to assist in the students’ efforts to acquire a college degree.
Shortly after leaving Morehead State, Stanton utilized DePaul’s help through the guidance of Jessica Smith, college support coordinator/college counselor, and Abby Held, alumni coordinator.
Smith and Held worked with Stanton to launch a plan for the Erlanger teen to attend Northern Kentucky University for the second semester as a commuter, and gave her a lead on how to find a job while she waited to get started at school.
“They have been helping me every step of the way. They even helped me find a temp agency for a job and helped with my resume,” Stanton said. “I talk to them once a week. All the people at DePaul are like a second family, a second support system.”
Forty-eight students make up DePaul’s class of 2015 – the Catholic high school’s first graduating class – all of whom were accepted to college (42 are currently enrolled full-time). The school is one of 28 high schools nationwide in the Cristo Rey Network, which makes a private, college-prep high school accessible to students who otherwise couldn’t afford it.
Every student at DePaul Cristo Rey receives financial help to offset the cost of tuition and every student works five days each month through the school’s corporate work-study program, which partners with local businesses to have students fill entry-level jobs.
Stanton was just one of the many young alumni Smith and Held have assisted. Because all DePaul seniors take a college readiness class and get to known both Smith and Held before graduation and during summer alumni events, they feel comfortable contacting them with questions as they attempt to navigate college. But Smith and Held don’t just wait for students to contact them, they also reach out to alumni on a regular basis.
“We check in with the kids to see that they have what they need to be successful,” Smith said.
During the summer, Smith and Held checked in with alumni to be sure they had supplies they needed, had completed registration and were attending orientation.
“We took a couple of groups to a local organization to get used computers they needed for college,” Smith said. “In early August, I was out buying twin extra-long sheets for dorms because they didn’t realize they needed those.”
Issues brought to the pair – and sometimes to teachers at DePaul – include financial-aid questions, academic struggles, concerns about having enough spending money for books or food, and how to secure a bus pass to commute to a local university, Smith said.
One alum, who was commuting to school and living at home, had to run her household and care for her younger sibling when her mother was hospitalized. While her mother was in the hospital, the family faced possible eviction. The young woman turned to DePaul for help.
“We gave her the resources to help her figure it out and we helped save them from being evicted from their home while the mother was unable to take care of that for her family,” Held said.
Because these college freshmen are DePaul’s first class of graduates, the school is still trying to navigate all the ways to serve the alumni. While they have developed a small, donor-sponsored fund to support alumni with some of the smaller financial things, connecting students with resources in the community or at their new school is a big part of the job, Smith said.
“We want to make sure to always ask about not just practical things, but we also ask about how they are doing,” Held said. “Are you making friends? Are you enjoying the classes you are in? Some questions are those a parent would typically ask, but a lot of our families haven’t been through college themselves and may not think to ask these questions. If you aren’t making friends, it can have an effect on how you are doing in school.”
Smith and Held have even visited some of the students on their college campuses.
“We took some of our seniors to visit alumni at Berea,” Held said. “Jessica and I took trips to Wright State, Wilberforce, Wilmington and NKU. We’ve tried to visit some of them and see them in their element. We have a lot of alumni at Mount Saint Joseph and we visited and shared stories and saw how they are doing. Some of them were so excited they asked us if we wanted to see their dorm.”
Smith and Held have more alumni requests for in-person visits to colleges than they can manage. Many alumni attend college locally and stop by DePaul frequently to visit.
“One of my favorite things is to come down to the office (at DePaul) and there’s an alum who came to visit,” Smith said. “They will stop by to see a teacher or to see us. They do feel connected here after they leave. We tell them all students will graduate from high school and college and we have to back that up with something. That is what this program is for.”