WEST HAVEN – One of Notre Dame High School’s recent graduates was suddenly surprised to realize that his journey to that milestone was made of many "firsts."
"I was a member of the first class to graduate from St. Martin de Porres Academy. I, along with six of my classmates from St. Martin’s, would be the first Shepherds/St. Martin’s class to graduate from high school," said Branden Rose, the graduate. "And, the third of four children, I will be the first in my family to attend college and to earn a college diploma."
Shepherds is a nondenominational program that partners with several Catholic schools while matching teens from the inner city with adult mentors and role models. Founded 15 years ago in Bridgeport, the program this year had 75 students in three Catholic high schools, including 30 at Notre Dame.
Branden said that his Shepherds scholarship to Notre Dame enabled him to "attend a great high school" while challenging him to expand his horizons and encouraging him to do his best daily.
He will attend Quinnipiac University in Hamden in the fall.
Branden said of all the opportunities that Shepherds offered, the most meaningful for him was his relationship with his sponsor/mentor, Dr. John Aversa.
"An orthopedic surgeon, he took time out of his busy schedule to get to know me and to attend school-related and athletic events. Also, because of my interest in physical therapy, he got me an internship at Star [a sports therapy and rehabilitation group], which gave me a chance to get an inside view of a profession that I plan on pursuing," he said.
He added, "Without his help, the success that I have had in the past couple of years would not have been possible. I have a lifelong friend."
Shepherds students earned diplomas from Notre Dame, including the inaugural candidates from St. Martin de Porres Academy, Kolbe Cathedral in Bridgeport and Xavier High School in Middletown.
For the seventh consecutive year, 100 percent of the graduates – most of whom are pioneers as the first in their families to earn a high school diploma – earned college acceptances and access to higher education, said Norma K. Darragh, Shepherds’s executive director.
She said Shepherds’s mission is to provide at-risk inner city Connecticut youth with the opportunity for a quality high school education at a nonpublic high school with the introduction of a positive role model or mentor.
This year’s Shepherds graduates will enter Quinnipiac, Albertus Magnus College, the College of New Rochelle, Gateway Community College, Sacred Heart University, Southern Connecticut State University, the University of Bridgeport, University of New Haven, and Suffolk University and Mount Ida College in Newton, Mass.