Cristo Rey High interns experience work life in the Capitol

For a lot of high school students, getting a “who do you think you are?” look in the halls is a daily fact of life. But for most, those looks don’t usually come from registered lobbyists at least twice your age.

But on a busy day near bill deadlines, that’s what Clarisa Gutierrez sometimes gets when bill season heats up and the halls fill with lobbyists who look up and wonder who the young-looking 17 year old is walking in and out of the offices of the Secretary of the Senate.

She and fellow intern Marcus Jones, 19, are old hands, nearly done with the second year in that office. The pair are also seniors at Cristo Rey High School, a local Catholic school that demands all of their students work part time and jobs that could help lead to careers down the road.

“When we come down the halls, all the lobbyists look at us like “How did you get in?” Gutierrez said, who will attend Sacramento City College this fall.

Another Cristo Rey student, Ernesto Lepe, has been working this year in the office of Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Van Nuys. Three other Cristo Rey students have been working with the Secretary of the Senate this year as well: senior Julia Flores and juniors Katilyn Endicott and Joanna Manzano.

“They’re fantastic. They’re such a wonderful group of kids,” said Bernadette McNulty, assistant secretary of the Senate. She definitely wants to have Cristo Rey interns next year, but said it would be hard to replace Jones and Gutierrez in a couple months. “I’m going to be very sad to lose them.”

Cristo Rey opened its doors in 2006 and currently has 250 students. It’s part of a network of 24 Catholic high schools around the country using this same work-study model, spread across 18 states and Washington, D.C..

Gutierrez adds that her Senate job is something she probably wouldn’t have thought to do on her own. She’s still in contact with friends at the public high school she probably would have attended had she not enrolled in Cristo Rey. Their lives are radically different from hers, she said.

“None of the people I know have ever had a job that wasn’t Pizza Hut or Target,” she said. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But me, I can say that I’ve met a lot of senators.”
They’ve even helped some of those senators with their own educations. The pair recently played the role of senators in an exercise with Sen. Curren Price, D-Inglewood, helping him learn how to preside over full sessions of the Senate. First elected to the Assembly in 2006, Price has only been in the Capitol a couple years longer than they have. Gutierrez said she used the playacting opportunity to take an aggressive, argumentative tone, like she’s often heard Senators do when she and Jones sit in on debates.

“We love it when they argue,” she said. “That’s what we look forward to.”

It’s all part of a busy schedule for the pair. Cristo Rey seeks out lower income students. But they have to be in good academic standing to start with to show that they can handle the demands placed on their time.

For instance, Gutierrez and Jones work standard eight-hour workdays in the Senate every Monday and Thursday. The other weekdays, they go to classes—with the hours extended to help make up for the two days they don’t go. On top the regular academic workload, they take four years of theology classes—this is Catholic school after all—as well as attending occasional church retreats. Plus the school requires community service hours from every student: 10 hours a year for freshman and sophomores, 15 for juniors and 20 for seniors.

“Our schedules are so jam-packed right now,” Jones said. “Once we get to college, I’m not saying it’s going to be easier, but we’re gonna be used to having a big workload.”
Jones also found time to play on the football team. As a junior he logged over a 1,000 yards at receiver for the Cristo Rey Saints; the teams uniforms look a lot like NFL’s New Orleans Saints redone in purple and white. He missed most of his senior year with an ACL tear, but is currently deciding between playing for Butte College or walking on at Oregon State University.  

The school doesn’t specialize in those who’ve had academic or behavioral problems in the past. Both Jones and Gutierrez said they came in with good grades. Instead, both say they’re trying to avoid the problems and temptations they saw sucking in people around them. Gutierrez said that her would-be high school has a reputation as a “party school.”

Jones spent his first two years of high school at McClatchy, which is known as a pretty good school. But he said it was a little big and chaotic for his tastes. And then there was the day he was walking to school and saw five SWAT trucks after a shooting incident. He has family in law enforcement and would like to be a SWAT officer after college—but didn’t want the SWAT team to be part of his high school experience.

“I was like, ‘Just get to class, just get to class,’” he said.

Both have had previous work experience through Cristo Rey. Jones worked at Big Hairy Dog, a Sacramento firm that does software testing. Gutierrez, who came to Cristo Rey as a freshman, has worked for Catholic Healthcare West and for a vision center.

But both say the Capitol experience has been special, for how much responsibility they’ve been given, and for what the building represents. Jones said that despite living in Sacramento, he’d never even been to the Capitol before coming to work there, but now he avidly follows bills that interest him.

For Gutierrez, it helped bring her family history full circle. Her great grandfather came from Jalisco as a bracero, a temporary worker program that began during World War II. Last year, the Legislature passed AJR 2, a measure by Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, which offered a settlement to braceros and their families for wages they were cheated out of in the 1940s.

“When I brought my grandparents to the Capitol, I had a copy of that bill,” Gutierrez said. “My grandmother cried. It’s a big part of our history.”

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