by Vanessa Steger, Precious Blood Volunteer
Today, as I write this, it is the two month anniversary of my first day at Cristo Rey Kansas City High School (CRKC). When first asked to write this article, I felt I hadn’t earned the right to share my reflections on my work. Only three months ago, I spent my days in classrooms as a student at the University of Notre Dame. Now I spend my days in classrooms as a staff member at Cristo Rey Kansas City.
The Notre Dame Postgraduate Service Fair and mysterious inward promptings brought me to the Missionaries of the Precious Blood; my mechanical engineering degree brought me to Cristo Rey. The school’s 2013 strategic plan had as its first academic goal, “Develop and enhance robust curricular and co-curricular STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) programs,” and CRKC’s president had discussed getting help for these programs with our Precious Blood Volunteer Director. Come late November, there I was, an engineer in the stack of applications.
CRKC is part of the national Cristo Rey Network, 26 schools which share a mission to provide “a quality, Catholic, college preparatory education to young people who live in urban communities with limited educational options.” More than 90% of CRKC students qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program, and their work with our corporate partners five weekdays every month partly pays their tuition. Our student body is about 60% Hispanic and 35% African American, making me part of the minority for the first time in my life. CRKC empowers students with its educational emphasis on college preparation and Corporate Work Study Program. During my first week, I heard a student complain to the assistant principal that stuffing envelopes at her corporate work study job was boring. The assistant principal replied, “And that’s why you go to college—so you can get a more interesting job.” Our college counselor announced yesterday that 100% of the Class of 2014 has been accepted into a university or community college, proving true our tagline, “A school that works.”
Since early January, I’ve spent my afternoons teaching LabVIEW programming and modifying our robot named “Tracie” with the Robotics Club. In late January, we competed in the FIRST Tech Challenge at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, a robotics competition for seventh to twelfth graders, and now we focus on building foundational programming and engineering design skills. I am the chairperson of our first ever “Puma Science Expo,” a school-wide showcase of physics, biology, chemistry, anatomy, and forensics student projects and demonstrations. I supervise seniors taking online science courses, substitute teach as necessary, and help oversee daily lunch duty. Every day, I feel grateful that Precious Blood Volunteers led me to Cristo Rey to help open doors to interesting, high demand work in STEM fields for these young people. This opportunity humbles and challenges me.
I am an engineer at heart, and engineering means solving problems to meet needs. I see many needs within this vibrant community and within myself as I work with students struggling against incredible odds in a school committed to a lofty vision: the need for faith, the need for self-assurance, the need for persistent hard work. At Cristo Rey, students can clearly see the connection between education, work, and quality of life. My own remarkable parents told me long ago they donate to inner-city Catholic schools because education is the key to ending poverty. Hand in hand, the Missionaries of the Precious Blood and Cristo Rey have brought this vision to life.
To learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers you can visit our website www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org.