On any given school day, throngs of students step off buses or the M train on Metropolitan Avenue — or walk from the nearby neighborhoods — and descend down the hillside toward the grand beige brick building that sits at the bottom of the valley.
Marching in packs, the groups of teenagers chat and laugh as they make their way into the iconic edifice for yet another day of learning.
Welcome to Christ the King Regional High School.
Though younger than most of the borough’s Catholic high schools, Christ the King has etched its place in Queens academia. It’s colors are a vibrant purple and gold — hues that fit the school’s sports name, the Royals.
And sports has put the school on the map. Christ the King has produced a slew of basketball stars — both male and female.
But while Christ the King’s staff will laud its athletic accomplishments, the school community will be the first to tell you sports is only the beginning.
Christ the King welcomed its first freshman students in 1962 at Mater Christi High School in Astoria while its Middle Village campus was under construction. When the students first sat in their desks in the new building in May, 1963, construction was not even finished yet. The school divided the genders — boys in one wing, girls in the other — until 1973, when Christ the King become coeducational.
Since then, CTKHS has grown into something far more than just a high school.
“We don’t even consider ourselves just a high school anymore,” said Margaret Tapalaga, Christ the King’s public relations coordinator. “Fifty years is a long time to build roots.”
What began as a response to the rising need for Catholic education in Queens has evolved into a full community center — a town square, so to speak — for this part of western Queens. The school boasts a popular day care program, a continuing education program for adults and tutoring and test prep programs for students — and not just the ones who go to Christ the King. Community Board 5 regularly holds its meetings in the school cafeteria and many other neighborhood events are held there. In 2010, the state Department of Transportation used the school for a town hall meeting on the proposed replacements for the nearby Kosciusko Bridge.
“We’re lucky enough to provide the services that the neighborhood needs, both as a high school and a place with community services,” said Principal Peter Mannarino “When the community has a need, we try to do what we have to in order to accommodate them.”
Mannarino said the community-centric policies of CTKHS help students become more “community-minded” themselves, which is one goal the school sets for its graduates.
And on academia, Christ the King is proud of its math club, which has consistently finished in first place in citywide competitions against other high schools. The school’s speech and debate team made it to the state championships this year. Christ the King has also implemented tech programs in which juniors can take Microsoft IT classes and graduate with a certification — one of the first schools in the country to have such a curriculum for students.
“We’ve concentrated more and more on the academic side,” Mannarino said. “And that is really starting to bear fruit.”
He highlighted the school’s chess and robotics clubs, both started by students who came to him with those interests.
Its academic reputations have even won back some alumni, who choose to pursue their teaching careers at Christ the King.
Heather Arzberger graduated from CTKHS in 2000. Today, she teaches music in classrooms where she once sat.
“I loved the family environment at Christ the King,” she said. “I felt comfortable here and I saw a lot of potential in bringing music to the school and I knew I would get the support I needed. Music and musical theater have grown immensely in terms of student interest, and I chalk that up to the school’s response to it and how they welcome it as an important part of the program.”
Arzberger, who works with the school’s concert band, marching band and musical theater program, said she enjoys the fact some of her colleagues were her teachers.
“I can still look at them as mentors,” she said.
Christ the King’s athletics program has given the school national recognition. Basketball stars Lamar Odom, Sue Bird and Tina Charles are all alumni. The school’s women’s basketball team won the state championship in Federation Class AA last month. Coach Joe Arbitello was awarded Coach of the Year, while senior and guard Jon Severe won Varsity Player of the Year.
CTKHS attracts students from all over the borough, and even from as far away as Nassau County and Brooklyn, in part due to its athletic program.
At its core, however, Christ the King is a Catholic school and is dedicated to the catechism. CTKHS holds regular Masses with the student body and sacraments are offered for those who have not received them.
Sister Elizabeth Graham, one of the campus ministers, works directly with students in both religious settings and in helping them through their high school years. She organizes the senior-freshman connection program, in which incoming seniors are paired with incoming freshman to help them through their first days at Christ the King.
Even though it requires some commitments over the summer, Sister Elizabeth said there is a lot of interest in it.
“It’s a really popular program,” she said. “Juniors are already asking about it.”
Sister Elizabeth has worked in the campus ministry office since 1986 and enjoys her work with students, especially during private conversations she has regularly with them in the chapel.
“When we are in chapel, it is just the student, God and me,” she explained. “I think what would surprise people is their level of thought is probably better than most adults will credit to them.”
Mannarino has set high goals for the next 50 years.
“My expectation is that we will continue to grow academically,” he said. “We will maintain our high-profile sports exposure, and we will really see what the community needs and is asking for and fulfill their needs and expectations.”
The Golden Jubilee celebrations will begin on Friday, April 19 with a gala dinner Dance at El Caribe in Brooklyn from 7 to 11 p.m. and continue throughout that weekend with musical performances and a celebratory Sunday Mass.