Editor’s note: DC Service Corps Volunteer Anne-Marie Elsinger shares her admiration for her ministry site, Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School.

Tucked into a corner in Takoma park, Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School and Corporate Work Study Program seems like an ordinary Catholic high school; however, DBCR is not like any other school. It is incomparable to other private schools, catholic schools, public schools, or charter schools. Besides it being a Cristo Rey school, where students spend five days a week in a professional workplace, DBCR is also a Salesian school which means that “family” is one of its core values, and it embodies it proudly.

Coming into DBCR, I was expecting to work with average high school students. From previous jobs, I was prepared for all kinds of behavior or any issues I might encounter. However, I shortly found out that although these teens still have troubles and attitude, they unite as one family full of love and support. Yes, they pick on each other; yes, they play fight; yes, there’s a ton of school drama; but there is also an incredible support system of accountability.

DBCR has implemented many ways of ensuring that this family value remains effective. One way is through “House.” Each student is given a “House Number” in which they will stay for their four years. This is similar to homeroom; however, the teachers (house parents) also stay the same. The Houses participate in competitions, team-building exercises, and events together to help bond them. Within this system, seniors and freshman get to know each other on a more personal level, which fosters the “family” feeling throughout the school.

One of the teachers has a saying: “If we are going to get free, we are going to get free together.” This saying begins to address the discrimination they experience by being 98% students of color, but it also means that in order for us all to be successful, we need everyone’s help. One teacher congratulates students who get honor roll by saying, “It is great that you made honor roll, next time bring someone with you,” and the following quarter that student brings another student with him.

The other day we had a talent show, with students ranging in talents and abilities. While all 400 students and 35 staff members sat on the floor of the gym, there was an energy that infected us all. A few fantastic performers went up, but there were also a few who needed additional hours of practice. With that being said, there was not a single boo in the house; instead, a steady clap began to keep the performer on beat. I looked around and said to myself, “Are they helping her out? Are they actually encouraging her to continue and shine?” The students whooped and hollered praise and encouragement to everyone who went up to perform. My mind was blown and my heart was touched.

These instances are not singular, they happen every day and in every moment, and I am thankful to be a part of it.

Reflection question: When was the last time the integrity or goodness of someone or something blew you away?