Washington (CNN) — There was a time not too long ago when 19-year-old Derontae Mason slept in homeless shelters and school playgrounds.
Now Mason is heading to college with his sights set on becoming a pediatrician, thanks to the Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Maryland, a Catholic college prep school for low-income teens.
“I had many obstacles that came across my way and made me want to be like, just forget it, throw in the towel you know? But the teachers, the staff, friends, family they all pulled together with Don Bosco and helped me overcome those obstacles,” said Mason.
Mason is part of Don Bosco’s first graduating class of 70 students, all of whom have already been accepted to various colleges and universities, said Rev. Steve Shafran, president of Don Bosco Cristo Rey.
High school wasn’t always easy for him. In his junior year, one of his close friends was killed in a drive-by shooting. But his teachers kept prodding him to stay on track, and now, Mason is bound for Potomac State college in West Virginia on a scholarship.
“For me, Derontae is a great story for a lot of inner city kids that don’t have hope, that don’t have somebody to help them move forward,” Shafran said.
Domestic problems and personal conflicts forced Mason out to the streets when he was 15. As one of six children being raised by a single mom with little money, he was in and out of homeless shelters.
A child advocate first alerted Mason’s mother about Don Bosco, one of 24 schools in the country that use the Cristo Rey model: a combination of employment and academics.
Students must work at one of the school’s designated job partners. The students are paid when the employer makes a financial contribution to the school. So, as it turns out, the students are working their way through school.
“They’re picking up the culture of that corporate environment. They see the people that are there, and they’re picking up some great skills of interaction that’s helping to mold them and their own character,” said Shafran.
For Mason, Don Bosco went even further, helping to arrange housing so he wouldn’t have to sleep on the streets. Families of other students at the school agreed on a rotation to let Mason to stay in their homes.
For Mason, it’s just the beginning. A determined, soft-spoken young man, Mason said he will always cherish his four years at the high school.
“I walk away from Don Bosco knowing I have people who care about me, more determination, perseverance than I can ever imagine.”
CNN’s Lisa Sylvester and NuNu Japaridze contributed to this story.