fulfilling potential, one girl at a time
“My first Holy Child memory is when I was four years old. My family visited the school when my sister was applying. Ms. Bush walked right up to me and said, ‘Oh, are you coming too?’ It felt like she knew me.” - Crislaurys Torres, CMS ‘14
Crislaurys Torres and her family came to the Cornelia Connelly Center nearly a decade ago when oldest daughter Sonia applied to join the CMS Class of 2007. Since then, three of the Torres sisters have graduated from CMS, including Crislaurys who is now a first year college student at Manhattanville College.
All five Torres children, along with parents Jose and Sonia, entered the Holy Child community when Sonia began in the fall of 2003; three years later next oldest sister Genesis started her journey through the program. While every family is welcomed, CCC Director Heather Raftery notes that a unique pact is also made with each girl. “We promise every student, if you have the ability and the desire, we will find a way – a way to get you to the best high school for you, a way to get you to college. Making that agreement is inspiring each girl to be her best self.”
That promise can be tough to believe for one student, let alone a girl with three sisters. When Sonia started high school at Notre Dame School, Genesis felt it was too good to be true. “Holy Child had already given me and my family so much. I felt like my going to Catholic high school was out of reach because of the financial aspect. I didn’t want to go back to public school, but if it had to happen, I was ready to do it.”
Heather smiles knowingly, recalling Genesis’s high school application process. “She was willing to make the sacrifice. It’s so characteristic of Genesis and really of her whole family – always willing to put others first for the greater good. But we made the same promise to Genesis that we made to Sonia and to every other student. And there was no way she was going back to public school.” The next fall Genesis began at Notre Dame School, joining Sonia. One year later the third daughter, Crislaurys, entered 220 East 4th Street for the first time as more than just a younger sister – she was now a Holy Child student too.
Crislaurys knew that she was entering a special place with a special relationship to her family, but much like Genesis before her, was still unsure what that meant for her. “My sisters talked about how it was a second family,” she remembers, “But I didn’t believe it until I got here. I had to come and experience it for myself. Now Holy Child is my second family and I can’t live without it.”
Crislaurys is embracing the next step in her journey - college. Sonia attended John Jay College of Criminal Justice to pursue forensic sciences. Genesis received the highest score in the state on the 2012 Regents’ History Exam and went on to attend The College of the Holy Cross. She is now working at CCC as the Graduate Support Program Fellow. The Torres sisters, both individually and together, are beautiful examples of CCC’s vision for its students – to support each girl in becoming her best self and just what God wants her to be.
“Wherever I’m supposed to be, I’ll be there. And I was definitely meant to be at Holy Child.”
By the time Carla Maza (CMS ’12) came to Connelly Middle School for her admissions visit, she’d already attended five elementary schools. Forever used to being the “new girl,” she didn’t expect to stay long and never dreamed that she’d become a member of the Holy Child community. But that is exactly what happened. By her 7th grade year, Carla had created strong bonds with not only her classmates, but her schoolmates, one of whom inspired her to work harder for her future. “Katie [Casado, current 10th grader at Philips Exeter Academy] is a year older than me. She pulled me aside and said that if I wanted to go to a good high school, my 7th grade year really mattered. That’s when it clicked for me and I started working really hard. After that, my grades went up a ton!” Carla says, her face lighting up recounting the drastic improvement.
Through the Graduate Support Program, Carla was connected to A Better Chance, a non-profit that works to place high-achieving minority students in prestigious boarding and day schools. Ms. Karina Rodriguez, Carla’s advisor and CMS teacher, supported Carla through the application process. “When Carla said she was interested in attending boarding school, I was thrilled. Though she was unsure about the nature of boarding school and the reality of her acceptance, she was up for the challenge,” Ms. Rodriguez remembers.
Staying after school and working through lunch hours, Carla completed applications to multiple boarding schools, eventually interviewing at her top two – Cambridge School of Weston and Dana Hall School in Wellesley, MA. Though a couple hundred miles away, the community of an all-girls school committed to small classes, rigorous academics, and holistic student development offered by Dana Hall felt a lot like the school family Carla already knew – Holy Child. Our Holy Child family includes a Dana Hall alumna, Susan Restler, who also encouraged Carla’s pursuit. Susan, a CCC Trustee, wasn’t surprised that Carla felt a similarity between the two. She notes, “The most obvious and yet the most potent parallel between Dana Hall and Connelly is that both schools nurture and celebrate girls - as thinkers and innovators and as concerned and active participants in their communities. Both schools are full of caring adults who are primed to change lives - and they do!”
Carla recalls her visit quite vividly. Despite knowing she was qualified to be there, stepping onto campus was still an emotional experience. “It was a big shock even seeing them, but my mom fell in love with Dana Hall and so did I.” Her bigger shock came in January when Carla’s admitted students packet arrived. Not only would she be attending Dana Hall, she would be doing so on a full scholarship including travel expenses to visit home 4 times each year. Carla may have been surprised by the generosity of her acceptance letter, but Ms. Rodriguez and the rest of Holy Child was not. “Carla has always displayed an insatiable thirst for knowledge. It’s incredible to watch the timid but inquisitive 6th grader blossom into a mature, intellectual young woman with a desire to challenge herself and who is willing to go the distance for her education.”
Carla is now a junior at Stony Brook studying Health Sciences.
“If I hadn’t come to school here I’d be an entirely different person. Holy Child is a second family and home. It is what keeps me grounded. Holy Child keeps me striving and wanting more.”
Yerlyn Rojas (CMS ’08) always dreams big. “When I was in 8th grade I decided that I wanted to be the president.” Even though her dreams have changed a little, Yerlyn still approaches life with wide eyes and a limitless perspective. She graduated from Georgetown University in 2016 on a fully-funded scholarship, with aspirations to utilize her education to travel the world providing opportunities for under-resourced children, much like she was. “What makes me so special?” she poses, “there are kids everywhere with potential.”
Dr. Andria Wisler, former CMS intern teacher and former CCC Trustee, knows exactly what makes Yerlyn so special.
When the time came for Yerlyn to apply for college, there was no question that Andria would be involved in the process. “It was the easiest letter of recommendation I’ve ever written. What has always impressed me about Yerlyn, is that she had a goal and a vision of success – go to Georgetown and change the world – and she had the energy, perseverance and optimism to make it happen. It’s so special just to be a part of it.”
Yerlyn started her college studies early, participating Georgetown’s Community Scholars Program over July and August. During the five-week summer intensive, she not only excelled academically but reaffirmed her sense of self. “Don’t let your background define who you are meant to be – I want to be a role model to my other Holy Child sisters that you can make it far.”