Seniors Treasure Anderson and Daniel Mayorga-Alvarez are two of 45 members of St. Peter Clavers 2011 graduating class.
Four years ago Daniel Mayorga-Alvarez and Treasure Anderson took the challenge of enrolling in a new high school with strict disciplinary codes, high academic standards and the requirement of working a paid internship. The teens signed on to the inaugural, all-freshman class at St. Peter Claver Cristo Rey High School. The Cristo Rey Network affords youths from low-income families a quality Catholic education and professional work experience. The Class of 2011 filled this start-up's blank slate with memories and traditions, embodying the school nickname, Trailblazers. The gregarious Daniel and shy Treasure thrived in the rigorous work-study environment, even as classmates transferred or were expelled. Entering this year, the pair were among about 50 seniors set to graduate May 26. Then came the February 11 Archdiocese of Omaha announcement that the school would close in June due to its $7 million debt. The Cristo Rey model calls for employer partners to subsidize student tuition with paid internships. SPC’s struggle to find enough Hire4ED partners gravely impacted revenues. School and archdiocese officials say the recession exacerbated the shortfall. With no endowment as a cushion, the hole was deemed too deep from which to recover. The senior class, now 45, will be the first and the only in Claver’s abbreviated history. Since the shocking news, delivered at an emotional school assembly, a countdown's ensued to the end of this once promising experiment. Former school president, now chaplain, Rev. Jim Keiter, admires what Daniel, Treasure and others did. “The entire class will forever be etched in my mind,” he says. “They were pioneers. It took guts to come to a new school that never existed and that sent you to work one day a week. It took guts to be the only class, with no upper class to look up to. It took guts to come to a school without all the electives at most any other school. These were courageous kids. They still are. What I’ll remember most is their courage, their trust, their perseverance, their diligence.” He says Daniel and Treasure exemplify what Claver accomplished. “They learned incredible things about the importance of work, education, setting goals, being honest, seeking to be a good Christian, a good human being, a good citizen. They’ve demonstrated tremendous growth — spiritually, emotionally, mentally, academically. These are two kids that have done well. They've persevered and have overcome challenges.” The Reader first profiled Daniel and Treasure in May 2008, near the end of that flush-with-excitement opening year. Today, these poster students describe mixed emotions as the reality sets in they won't have a school to come back to anymore. Much has happened in three years. Most dramatically, Treasure is now a mother; and her chronically ill father, Christopher Anderson, received the kidney transplant he'd been waiting on. Meanwhile, Daniel's been balancing school with working 30 hours weekly to help support his Mexican immigrant family. Each is bound for college on a scholarship. Student transition director Joe Ogba says they "know how to deal with adversity and they know how to be leaders, because they had to be leaders from day one." Despite the school's impending demise, Daniel and Treasure harbor no regrets for taking a leap of faith. School administrators and staff stung by the school’s collapse remain convinced of Cristo Rey’s work-study approach. They envision success for Claver students. Daniel, who will attend the University of Nebraska at Omaha in the fall, says, “If I had gone to a public school I don't think I would be where I’m at, and I wouldn't have learned lessons I learned here. The teachers are so supportive. I’ve made good friends. As for my education, it didn't slack in challenging you." His mother, Maria Mayorga-Alvarez, says she appreciates how her youngest of three boys “has become more independent” and assertive. For the second consecutive year Daniel’s internship has been at Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Company, where he’s found a niche. “The internships have really kind of opened my eyes to just what I have a passion for,” he says. “When I hit Woodmen I really liked it. I liked the whole corporate setting, everything I do over there. I fell in love with business these past few years.” He credits Claver with expanding his horizons. “It’s shown me the sky’s the limit. You can really go anywhere you want to just as long as you try and put in the effort,” says Daniel, whose parents work blue collar jobs. “It definitely boosted my confidence and made me more determined. It gives me more inspiration for the future. I’m eager to go ahead to put myself out there and see what I can accomplish.” Ogba recalls the irrepressible Daniel making an immediate impression when, as a 14-year-old, he volunteered to address a thank you luncheon for employers providing internships. “We kind of put him on the spot ... but he went up there and did it, and he did a phenomenal job,” says Ogba. “That let me know this kid is destined for success. He's not scared of anything; he's definitely a go-getter. “That’s what it’s all about — giving kids an opportunity and watching them make the most of it.” Ogba says Daniel also benefits from a "strong, loving family" that supports his educational aspirations. Treasure’s father is glad she went to a school that demanded so much. “It’s a blessing for her to go to that school. I believe it helped her tremendously — the structure of the school, the academics. Numerous colleges wanted her. I’m happy to see she's grown up the way she has,” says Christopher Anderson. “She's very independent thinking. She's not a follower, that’s for sure. The maturity, it’s always been there, but she's voicing it more. “She has a lot of determination. Her potential is unlimited.” Treasure says she feels like an old soul, particularly after giving birth to her daughter Kera in October. She and the infant’s father, Derrick Jackson, whom she met at Claver, are preparing to live on their own. He works two jobs. She describes him as “my best friend,” adding, “he's really involved” in caring for Kera. “We’re teenagers, we’re in love, we have a child, we’re happy,” she says. The goal-oriented young woman credits much of her resiliency to her father and how he’s handled his health crises, including a serious setback last year. “It was really hard — that really tested him, but he got through it,” she says. “It’s the struggles that get us through life. That’s how we build ourselves. They make us who we are. He has made me who I am today and I am thankful for him in every way possible. He's a strong man, he's been through a lot. I love him to death for it. I do.” Getting pregnant her junior year, then getting sick enough to be hospitalized, then giving birth, resulted in her missing much school. She fell behind but got back on track. “The struggles, the obstacles, being thrown a curveball every now and then, have impacted on my life, they have made me who I am,” she says. “I’m stronger. I’m not afraid to say, ‘This is hard’ or ‘I need help,’ because there’s always another day, there’s always another chance to get back up and keep going.” Ogba’s struck by how she’s weathered it all. For example, he says, “she never brought it to school with her when her dad was sick,” adding, “She held it together real well.” He’s seen the same grit in her since she became a mother. He says her “strong, caring family” at home and second family at school pulled her through. “Teachers made sure she was able to get work made up. They kept encouraging her not to give up, it’s not the end of the world. That persistence from the home and the school sides," Ogba says, "is the reason why she kept on pace to graduate, kept applying to colleges, and will be starting at Bellevue University in the fall.” She attributes her endurance to “being an Anderson.” The prospect of her not finishing school, Christopher Anderson says, “never was a concern to me. I knew she had the support. School was her first and main and only (priority). My mom watched Kera and now Derrick’s mom watches her. She had every option available to her. She had a sister that offered to adopt if she couldn't handle the baby.” The baby never became an excuse for sloughing off or feeling sorry for herself. “She was never, ever ashamed about being pregnant,” Anderson says. Says Treasure, “There was no doubt in my mind I would complete high school because I knew I had the capability to.” Likewise, she never considered giving up her baby or her dreams, saying, “I do have strong expectations of myself.” She feels ready for raising a child as a young single mom and new college student. “I have no doubt it will be hard. That struggle doesn't scare me. I think it will work out.” She anticipates a full-time summer job, confident her impressive work history, which includes stints at Immanuel Hospital, Creighton University, the Open Door Mission and the Henry Doorly Zoo, will get her hired. “With my resume I feel I do deserve a good job and I will excel.” Daniel says his internships helped him land his call center job at Oriental Trading. Treasure says she gained valuable office and people skills at her internships, although some positions were eliminated when the economy tanked. The same thing happened to dozens of Claver students. “A lot of us were let go,” she says. She and classmates subsequently worked at the school with little to do, in effect biding time in study hall. Daniel was among the lucky few with internships not impacted by the downturn. His supervisor at Woodmen, advertising manager Tonya Kalb, says she feels fortunate to have had Daniel work there two years. “He's been an asset to the team,” Kalb says. “He's so open to ideas and learning things. He catches on so quickly. I’ve been able to teach him more and more about the company and advertising as time goes on, and everybody enjoys working with him. He's just so approachable and so energized. He's kind of a breath of fresh air.” She sees a bright future ahead for him. “With his personality I can see him getting into sales, he's just so good with people. He's really easy to talk to and he's so positive.” Ogba sees Treasure's nurturing personality meshing well with her interest in human services work. Just as Treasure's academics suffered during her pregnancy, Daniel lost focus working long hours outside school before, Ogba says, "he toed the line and got back on track, which shows his maturity and his ability to see the big picture." Kalb hired Daniel last summer. She’s already lined him up for this summer and hopes to employ him again when he starts college. She says Woodmen was a major employer of Claver student interns and looked forward to hiring more. “We've been involved from the beginning,” she says. “It’s too bad about the closing because we see nothing but positive outcomes from the whole model.” In the end, there weren’t enough employers who embraced the program like Woodmen. Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the Omaha archdiocese, says, “The job program was the weak link at the school.” Fr. Keiter says fundraising lagged as well. The failure of Claver and the struggles of other start-up Cristo Rey schools explain why the network now requires new schools to have $2 million secured before opening, says McNeil. While Daniel and Treasure get to finish what they started at Claver underclassmen must find new schools. “That’s probably the saddest part,” says Daniel. “I really do feel for them.” Treasure says she regrets her younger siblings “won’t be able to come here and have the opportunities I had.” She says it will be weird not having a school to visit. “I can’t bring my daughter here down the road and introduce her to teachers and tell her, ‘These are the hallways I walked,’ because it won’t be here. The building itself might be, but the love in it, the passion, the people will be gone, and it’s really kind of sad.” With the seniors' last day the 20th, there’s no time for tears. Plenty were shed when the closing was announced. Everyone expects the graduation at the Kroc Center on the 26th to be a big cry-fest. Claver staffer Joe Ogba says, “I’m bringing my own box of tissues.” Even without an alumni office, Daniel and Treasure anticipate their class will stay connected through social media because of how close they grew over four years. Annual retreats helped build bonds. For now, Treasure says she’s focused on “my family, my friends, my career, my love, my passion, my desire.” She intends studying behavioral sciences, hoping for a career in social work. Daniel just wants to be successful for his family. Christopher Anderson’s gotten to know the Class of 2011 at open houses and other events. He says “they are just as mature and goal oriented and futuristic and determined” as his daughter. “I believe they're going to succeed.” He says the school’s closing is just one more thing that’s made them stronger. Fr. Keiter agrees, saying, “They're going to do very well. They'll have their ups and downs, but I think they have the skills and the gifts and the talents to be resilient.”