Four years ago there was a vacant lot at 6601 San Fernando Road on Tucson’s south side, dusty and strewn with debris. Today there is a high school campus that serves some 230 students. On May 17, 2008, the inaugural graduates of San Miguel High School – the class of 2008 -- will receive their diplomas in the school’s brand new student center and gymnasium.
All of the 37 students in the class of 2008 have been accepted to colleges and universities, with at least 119 acceptance letters coming from 34 different institutions. Their financial aid awards total nearly 3.6 million dollars, including offers of four-year full scholarships at schools such as Boston College and the University of San Diego.
“I am overwhelmed and overjoyed at these numbers,” says San Miguel’s College Counselor Brother John Hoover, FSC, a member of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, the congregation of teachers that sponsors the school. “I don’t know if any other high school in Pima County can say that all of their senior class students have college acceptance letters. And to have these scholarship awards on top of that is fabulous.”
“The need for education that is Catholic, college-preparatory, and affordable for low-income families is great everywhere in the nation. Answering that need effectively in the western United States is our Lasallian educational mission,” said Brother Stanislaus Campbell, FSC, provincial of the western province of the Christian Brothers, the District of San Francisco. “San Miguel represents one attempt to answer that need, and its success owes much to the persistent efforts of many dedicated people. There were more than three full years of preparatory work done before the school opened its doors in 2004. Without that careful preparation on the part of so many, the foundation for this achievement would not have been laid.”
San Miguel is one of four new schools founded by the District of San Francisco in the past decade: La Salle High School in Yakima, Washington, was founded in 1998; De La Salle North Catholic High School in Portland, Oregon, and De Marillac Academy in San Francisco, California, were opened in 2001, and San Miguel High School in Tucson admitted its first freshmen in 2004. Today, Christian Brothers from both the District of San Francisco and the New Orleans-Santa Fe District work at the school.
San Miguel High School is a “Cristo Rey model” school, using a corporate internship program developed by the Cristo Rey Network, which now consists of 19 high schools across the nation, all of which serve families of low-to-moderate assets. All students in all grades work one day a week at intern-level jobs in local corporations, companies, and nonprofit groups, thus earning tuition support and becoming acquainted with the wider professional and educational community in their area. In Tucson, these corporate partners number more than fifty. Among them are medical service providers, municipal offices, banks and credit unions, manufacturers, research laboratories. and educational institutions, including such groups as Advanced Ceramics Research , the Arizona Daily Star, Caid Industries, Compass Bank, the Diocese of Tucson, El Rio health clinics, La Frontera Center, Texas instruments , Tucson Electric Power, Tucson Museum of Art, the University of Arizona, and many others.
The corporate internship program teaches office skills and workplace behavior, and the school requires business-dress attire. The school day is long, the school year is long, and the curriculum is comprehensive and rigorous. George Sanchez of the Arizona Daily Star, writing earlier this year about San Miguel High, quoted mother Gloria Navarro, whose son Jessiel is completing his freshman year, on her view of the school: "It prepares kids,” she said. “They don't act like kids anymore. They're young adults, and I see the change in my son." Kathy Wells, chief operating officer for La Frontera Center, a mental health clinic where San Miguel students do administrative work, gave Sanchez the perspective of a business partner in the corporate internship program: “You can really see how the school is focused on creating community leaders, not just students who make A's and B's”
OnnaLee Terraza, a graduating senior who has worked in the corporate internship program at a hospital and at a genomics laboratory at the University of Arizona, told the Arizona Daily Star that she is thinking of a career as an interpreter to take advantage of her bilingual skills. Her experiences in the working world have been positive, she says. “They've taught me a lot about dealing with people, that not everyone's nice, and that not everyone's mean. You just have to learn not to take it personally," she said. San Miguel’s emphasis on preparation for college also helps, she says, in the process of maturation. "All the college stuff that they talk about, it helps us grow up," she said. "It helps us become more responsible and have a different perspective on the world -- that it's not just all going to be out there for us. We have to look for it and work hard."
Celestino Fernandez is a professor of sociology at the University of Arizona and is the chair of the Board of Trustees at San Miguel High School. He says, "The success of our first graduating class is receiving college acceptances and much-needed financial aid clearly testifies to the fact that the mission of San Miguel High School is being fulfilled. The Board of Trustees is grateful to the Christian Brothers and to the many other individuals who have worked so tirelessly to get us to this point.”
Jeff Thielman, vice president for new initiatives at the Cristo Rey Network, says, "We at the Cristo Rey Network are very proud of the first graduating class of San Miguel High School. They have set high standards that will be followed by other classes. The De La Salle Christian Brothers and their lay colleagues have established a model school that is visited and admired by the other schools of the Cristo Rey Network. We congratulate school president Elizabeth Goettl and her team for their outstanding leadership. We are grateful to the board members, benefactors, and corporate sponsors who have made San Miguel the school it is today."
On the evening of May 16, in St. Augustine Cathedral in downtown Tucson, the school will hold its baccalaureate Mass. On May 17, the Commencement ceremonies will take place on the San Miguel campus – the very first event ever to be held in the newly constructed Student Center and Gymnasium.
For more on San Miguel, visit the web site www.sanmiguelhigh.com
For the Arizona Daily Star’s reporting on San Miguel, visit www.azstarnet.com.
For the Cristo Rey Network , go to www.cristoreynetwork.org