“What Cathedral High School does better than any other school is provide opportunities for students,” Head of School Dr. Oscar Santos explained. “The place itself is a jewel people need […]

“What Cathedral High School does better than any other school is provide opportunities for students,” Head of School Dr. Oscar Santos explained. “The place itself is a jewel people need to learn more about.”

Raised in Dorchester, Dr. Santos is no stranger to Cathedral High School’s work in Boston. “We work hard for students, we support them, we work with their families, and we have fun.”

For eleven straight years, Cathedral High School has graduated every one of its students, with 100 percent of seniors also earning college admission. In his new position, Dr. Santos not only focuses on getting students into college, but making sure they succeed in college. “To me, that’s the next level of growth for the school.”

Inspired by his work on transforming schools into learning communities, Dr. Santos organized the school into a “house” system. Arranged by grade, students work with the same teachers throughout each house. “Getting teachers across all disciplines to work together with a set of students creates a more student-driven and student-centered environment,” he said. “That is absolutely the most amazing way to support them.”

For 11th grader Taylor Driscoll, the house system also generates leadership opportunities. “Being in House 3, the younger kids really look up to me,” Taylor said, referencing the house for 11th and 12th grade students. “They know that I am an upperclassman and they want to be like me one day.”

It is exactly this type of leadership opportunity Dr. Santos believes is essential to education. “Students will be successful if they are given the opportunity,” he said.

Among the new educational experiences Cathedral High School now offers are “Extended Learning Opportunities.” These required enrichment activities are scheduled into the school day, and include art club, social media club, mock trial, homework club, a spoken word and poetry group, and more.

“If you look at anyone who is happy in their careers, it is because they enjoy doing it,” Dr. Santos said. “Extended Learning Opportunities provide students a holistic approach to life, not just the classroom.”

Taylor Driscoll Cathedral Student

Taylor Driscoll, Class of 2016, said of extended learning opportunities: “Mock trial gave me an idea of what being a lawyer is like.”

For Taylor, Extended Learning Opportunities gave her a glimpse into the legal career. “Mock trial gave me an idea of what being a lawyer is like,” she said. “It helped me think very logically, and helped improve some skills that may help me in my future.”

This holistic approach to learning continues through the school’s new mentorship program. In collaboration with external organizations, students visit worksites and understand what it means to be a professional in the field. “I want to make sure the school, the families, the community, and the curriculum of learning that take place here are all interconnected,” Dr. Santos said.

Of the continuing improvements at Cathedral High School, Taylor found The August Institute most exciting. During The August Institute, students study robotics, complete Lego designs, participate in simulation labs, visit the Patriots’ Training Camp and Harvard Medical School, and collaborate with their classmates.

Inaugurated this past summer, The August Institute is required for all students entering grades seven through nine. Despite being held during the final weeks of summer vacation, it saw a 95 percent attendance rate last term. Dr. Santos attributes the program’s success to its focus on applied learning. “It’s not only about school, it’s an opportunity to be creative, design, and play,” he explained. “What kid wouldn’t love that?”

Above anything else, the program empowered Taylor. “The August Institute helped us make a smooth transition into high school,” she explained. “When a kid feels comfortable in the environment they’re supposed to be learning in, it makes it a whole lot easier for them to participate and do the best work they can.”

Students in the August Institute for Learning at Cathedral

Students at Cathedral engage in hands-on learning during the August Institute for Learning.

Since being named Head of School in 2013, Dr. Santos has increased the use of relevant in-classroom technology, developed a partnership with Admitster, appointed a Director of Family and Community Partnerships, and integrated college readiness teachers and classes into the curriculum. However, he is quick to use the term “improvements” instead of “changes” to describe the developments.

“When people hear the word ‘change’ they automatically think something is wrong,” he said. “What we have done is built on the good things already in existence.”

These improvements would not be possible without support from faculty and staff, parents, students, and the community.

“A lot of people don’t realize how much goodness and philanthropy there is out there,” Dr. Santos said about the school’s board of trustees and many generous supporters. “People really want to see students succeed.”

Dr. Santos places a strong focus on college success because he emphasizes that college education provides students with an abundance of opportunities and choices for their future and leads to a more fulfilling life.

“We want to give our students the opportunity to have a more impactful life,” Dr. Santos said. “We’re not only investing in the them for six years, we are investing in them for their whole lives.”