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How to Make Systemic Change, One Student at a Time June 7, 2021

How to Make Systemic Change, One Student at a Time

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Written by

Gail Black Smith and Brian Wilkinson

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Cristo Rey, a Catholic high school in Boston, Massachusetts, is changing the trajectory of their students’ and consequently, their families’ futures. Exclusively serving families of limited economic means, Cristo Rey is committed to removing institutional barriers, decreasing economic disparities, and advancing racial equities.

Rigorous college preparatory academics coupled with a demanding corporate work-study program allows students a unique opportunity to prepare themselves for the ramp-up to the college application process, school selection, and the transition from high school to college life. Cristo Rey provides support all along the way. Metaphorically, the Faculty and Staff take these students’ hands and they do not let go.

Cantina was selected to produce their first virtual Academic Signing Day video series based on our sincere understanding of their mission, acute creative capabilities and outstanding technical expertise.

Academic Signing Day is modeled after the widely acclaimed National Signing Day, the first day when graduating high school athletes nationwide can sign a binding letter of intent to accept a college offer. This new academic model is the importance of celebrating academic achievements, with the same, if not more, adulation, pride, and inspiration, as athletics.

Cantina has been a supporter of Cristo Rey for a few years including participating as a Corporate Work Study Partner (CWSP). Before the pandemic hit the U.S., we accepted a freshman student to join our fast-paced consultancy one day a week to learn what it is like to work in a professional environment with the expectation that they would make meaningful contributions. That is indeed what happened. Our student was understandably shy and reserved coming to our high-rise office building with so many unfamiliar faces and tasks. Still, they continued with grit and determination, with a willingness to listen and to learn, to roll up their sleeves, ask questions, to be heard, and complete their assignments.

We learned from them as well, how to slow down, check our assumptions, to remember to be patient with someone learning on the fly, and to be with them on their path of growth. As a corporate work-study partner, we promised to help provide the necessary resources to ensure their success and teach skills they could apply at any step of their journey with growing confidence.

Our involvement for the Academic Signing Day required seven videos, produced from story development through post-production, in a six-week time frame.

In a year where the pandemic greatly affected schools around the country, this fundraising event for Cristo Rey was the first-ever (mostly) virtual event, with the added financial complexity that their Board of Directors, in recognition that communities of color have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, would offer a full tuition scholarship to all admitted students effective February 1, 2021; setting a high bar.

The Cantina Team worked closely with our stakeholders at Cristo Rey, with a high level of communication and mutual respect that allowed for all voices to be heard, sometimes challenged, and to stay true to the goal of producing award-winning videos.

It was critical that we could deliver content to grab people’s hearts, cry in their seats and tell a story that as Rosemary Powers, President for Cristo Rey, asked in her interview, “in this extraordinary year, please give an extraordinary gift.”

The Students, Faculty, Staff, and board members we met with all had tremendous stories to tell about their roles. We worked on honing the narratives from 22 hours of footage to deliver compelling video series. Our videos capture emotionally rich interviews that celebrate and give voices to these amazing students as well as highlighting the love and support Cristo Rey has given them to become the best continually evolving version of themselves, with soaring dreams of what is possible.

It was announced on their website that this event met it’s 1 million dollar fundraising goal that night. Extraordinary. We can all be proud of that.

Congratulations to the entire class of 2021, their parents and families and the inspiration they provide to their siblings, underclassmen, students exploring high school options, and existing and potential Corporate Work Study Partners.

We hope you take the time to listen to the Cristo Rey 2021 story to learn about the amazing work everyone is doing to make real and impactful differences in the city of Boston and beyond.


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