“An experience which will never be forgotten…truly a wonderful day!” These are the words expressed by junior Emmanuel Johnson to describe Tuesday, November 14th, another milestone day in the history of our school. After being sent off with some encouraging words from North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, Jr., a group of 45 freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, along with several staff and board members boarded a motorcoach to head to Washington DC. The purpose of this trip: to advocate on behalf of the more than 11,000 Cristo Rey Network students nationally that would be negatively impacted if the proposed tax bill is signed into law. The students’ advocacy comes in response to the devastating effect the proposed Tax and Jobs Act will have on their school, their path to college, and their future.
“Many of our students have never left Newark before, much less the state of New Jersey. It shows you how worried we all are about the proposed legislation that these kids and their parents are willing to overcome their fears to make this trip,” said Father Robert Sandoz, our president. “All our students attend school on the work-study model, whereby they work one day a week in a corporate setting to gain real-world experiences and earn up to $5,250 to put toward their $12,835 annual tuition. The proposed legislation would tax this tuition income that currently goes directly to the school. Many of these economically disadvantaged families are already on food stamps and in subsidized housing so the additional taxable income may threaten their eligibility and force some families to choose between preparing a child for college and having enough to eat.”
Although the very aggressive schedule for the day did not allow much time for sightseeing, a brief visit was made to the Lincoln Memorial. To say the students were in awe would be a gross understatement. Meetings with congressional aides and a guided tour of Congress were next on the agenda.
First stop, the Dirksen Senate Office Building to visit with Chad Maisel, tax legislative aide to Senator Cory Booker. He listened intently as several of our students shared what it would mean to them if Section 127, which addresses Educational Assistance Programs in the IRS tax code, were to be eliminated.
Following a stop at the office of Senator Robert Menendez to speak with his legislative correspondents, Joe Braiuca and Josh Sanders, the group then split up. The majority went with principal, Fr. Greg Gebbia, work study program manager, Brenda Pescoran and Monique McKeon, a trustee of our board to take the guided tour of the Capitol. The smaller group, lead by Melissa Honohan, the VP of Corporate Work Study Program and Lisa Papciak from our development office, moved to the House side of Capitol Hill. There students met with Austin Bone, aide to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ 11th).
Visits to the offices of Rep. Albio Sires (NJ 8th) and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ 13th) rounded out this portion of the afternoon. Once everyone regrouped, they headed to the Canon House Office Building to meet with Jamiyl Peters, education legislative aide to Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ 10th). Much to everyone’s delight, Congressman Payne was in his office and available to meet with the entire group. He was so impressed with our students’ lobbying efforts that he assured them he would speak about this topic on the House floor within the next few days. The highlight of the day was the opportunity to take an official photo with the Congressman on the steps of the Capitol.
It is no exaggeration that this was a life changing experience for our students, teaching them to own their destiny and work to make the process of government responsive to all. Sophomore Grace Owusu shared, “I can finally have my voice heard at this age and not have to wait until I am older,” while junior Lenika Jean Philippe believes that “without the Cristo Rey Network of schools, many of us would lose our advantage to achieve a better education in life.”
As promised, on Thursday, November 16, 2017, Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. spoke about Cristo Rey Newark’s visit on the floor of the House of Representatives. It doesn’t get any better than that!
*A special “THANK YOU” to our sister school, Don Bosco Cristo Rey in Takoma Park, MD, for hosting dinner for 45 very hungry and very tired students before they headed back to the Garden State.