“If you’ve made the commitment to go to school here, then you’ve made the commitment to go to college.”
That’s what students at an all-boys, all-minority Los Angeles high school are told when they enter ninth grade, the school’s dean of counseling, Martinique Starnes, said recently. And it’s largely because of that college-going mentality instilled in students at a young age that Verbum Dei High School is celebrating — for the ninth year in a row – a 100 percent college acceptance rate for its seniors.
Seventy percent of the students at Verbum Dei are Latino, and 30 percent are black, NBC4 News reports. Many come from troubled neighborhoods with high poverty and gang violence. In Los Angeles’ Watts neighborhood, where the school is located, less than 3 percent of residents 25 and older have a four-year college degree. The nearby public high school has a graduation rate of only 64 percent.
The school, too, has experienced its share of struggles. It was formerly a “dumping ground,” where parents turned ”hoping the religious component and discipline would straighten out their troubled teens,” according to a 2013 article in the Los Angeles Times. In 2000, the school was in financial trouble and on the verge of closing.
Since then, the school has become part of the Cristo Rey Network, a national network of Catholic schools specifically for low-income students in urban areas. Students earn nearly half of their $15,000 tuition working one day a week as an intern through a corporate work-study program at places such as law firms, banks and engineering firms. The boys also receive scholarships to attend the high school, and while families are asked to contribute to the cost of tuition, no one is turned away if they’re unable to pay.
Each year, Verbum Dei seniors announce their college decision in a celebration similar to Signing Day, when high school athletes sign a letter of intent to play at their college of choice. According to the school’s Facebook page, the selective University of California, Los Angeles and Berkeley campuses were among this year’s destinations.