High school gives students work experience

By Michele Chan Santos

Known as the “The School That Works!” San Juan Diego Catholic High School in South Austin has an eighth grade academy and a college preparatory high school. Each high school student works five 8-hour days out of the month at a professional internship. 
A team of four students shares a full-time equivalent position at a company, such as Dell, the Diocese of Austin, Brodie Animal Clinic, St. Edward’s University, Texas Capital Bank, Seton Healthcare Family, University of Texas Environmental Engineers, several local law firms and many other locations.
Pam Jupe was appointed president of the school on July 1, and will continue to serve as the principal of SJDCHS for the immediate future. She said the students “are prepared academically for college, and they are also prepared for the work force after college … An internship is such a valuable commodity.”
One former SJDCHS student, now attending Barnard College in New York City, recently wrote Jupe with exciting news –– she was hired as an intern at MTV Networks/Viacom in New York. The high school internship she did at the Austin advertising firm GSD&M played a key role in earning her internship. 
One hundred percent of SJDCHS’s graduating class of 2013 was accepted into a four-year college or university; 65 percent of those students were the first generation in their families to attend college. All students take an ACT preparatory course, as well as a seminar course focusing on college applications, essays and financial aid. Currently about 170 students attend the school.
SJDCHS’s unique combination of corporate internship and financial aid helps make a private Catholic high school education available for families in a wide range of financial situations. Sixty-three percent of the students at SJDCHS qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Tuition assistance is provided for many students. 
The development team at San Juan Diego raised $800,000 last year, and most of that went to tuition assistance, Jupe said. 
The annual tuition cost for a student at SJDCHS is about $10,000. However, the corporate internship program covers $6,000 of that amount. Many of the students receive enough aid so that their monthly tuition expense is significantly lower. Every family fills out a PSAS (Private School Aid Service) application to determine how much aid they may receive.
SJDCHS also participates in a partnership with Sacred Heart Parish in Austin whereby the parish pays for part of the tuition for parishioners who send their children to the school. (See box.)
Student life
Don Hill is the director of development at SJDCHS. He said the school has a closely knit and supportive atmosphere.
“People think it’s amazing when they stop and talk to a student here. It’s ‘Yes, ma’am’ or ‘Yes, sir’ every time. There’s a tremendous respect between the students, faculty and staff. We are really giving them an edge for life after graduation,” Hill said.
Dr. Ned Vanders, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Austin, is impressed with the SJDCHS students who work at the diocesan offices during the school year.
“There is a team at the Pastoral Center and I have observed firsthand the difference the school makes in the lives of the students,” Vanders said. “The school not only prepares the students for the real world but puts them in the real world.”
Although a student does not have to be Catholic to attend SJDCHS, the Catholic identity is strong.
“We have weekly Mass, and different celebrants every Friday,” said Gerard Cisneros, director of admissions at the school. There is also a strong parent-school connection. 
Sacred Heart Parish in Austin has a Parent Association group for parents of students attending Catholic schools. Many of the students come from predominantly Spanish-speaking homes (82 percent of the school student body is Hispanic) and the monthly parent meetings are held in Spanish and English. 
Diocesan and school officials attend the meetings to listen to the parents, Sacred Heart pastor, Father Mark Hamlet said. “These meetings have resulted in understanding and responding to many unanticipated problems, such as transportation, or meeting the children when they get off the bus (a problem for many working parents).”
SJDCHS does have bus routes available for most of their students and the school also transports the students to and from their internships.
The future
SJDCHS is currently housed in a two-story former elementary school building that was built in the 1950s. There is no gymnasium, locker room or cafeteria. The hall at San José Parish next door is used when available. The school also needs new science labs.
The board of SJDCHS has launched a $12.6 million campaign to construct a new high school. Plans for the new high school include a math and science center with laboratory space, a fine arts performance area and a gymnasium.
Vanders said SJDCHS has a bright future. “Launching the campaign for new construction is exciting,” he said. “The school is alive and vibrant and growing.”
To arrange a visit to San Juan Diego Catholic High School, contact Gerard Cisneros, director of admissions, (512) 804-1935, ext. 308, or gcisneros@sjdchs.org.

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