Faith & Leadership: Cristo Rey: Schools that work
With demanding academics and an innovative work-study program, Cristo Rey Catholic schools have thrived, sending thousands of disadvantaged students to college and creating a new and sustainable model of Catholic education.
... Today, 6,900 students, mostly Hispanic and African-American, are enrolled in Cristo Rey Network schools in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
How successful are they?
Last year, every member of the Cristo Rey class of 2011 nationwide was accepted into a two- or four-year college. For the classes of 2008 through 2010, 85 percent enrolled in college, far above the matriculation rate for all high school students nationally, and more than twice the rate for African-American and Hispanic students. After two years, almost all -- 88 percent -- are still in school. They don’t drop out.
The key to Cristo Rey’s success is a work-study initiative pioneered at that first Cristo Rey school. Under the program, students work at paid internships five days a month in law firms, banks, hospitals and other professional settings. The internships not only introduce students to the workplace; they generate revenue -- currently about $32 million a year -- that covers the majority of the students’ education. ...
... More than 1,500 partner businesses provide the internships for Cristo Rey, including such blue-chip names as Blue Cross Blue Shield, Deloitte, JPMorgan Chase, Raytheon and Wells Fargo. The companies tend to be thoroughly satisfied with the students, with 93 percent re-enlisting for the program each year. When businesses do pull out, it’s usually not because they’re dissatisfied but because they have moved, been sold or gone out of business.
O’Keefe, Lyons & Hynes, a Chicago tax and corporate law firm, has participated in the Cristo Rey work-study program from the beginning and currently employs eight Cristo Rey students.
“The moment I heard the concept, I was all for it,” said Mike Heaton, a partner at the firm.
Heaton said he never worried that the kids from Pilsen and Little Village could do the work. He had seen his own teenage children and those of his partners do the same jobs as summer interns.
“Having our own kids down here convinced us that the kids of Cristo Rey could come in and do the job,” he said.
The law firm doesn’t consider the internships a charitable contribution to Cristo Rey, Heaton said. The students actually solve a big problem for the firm. In today’s workplace, answering phones, filing and making copies is difficult work that most adults don’t want to do.
But when four students share the job, it becomes a learning experience for them, he said.
In many instances, interns move up to roles with additional responsibility, such as doing research. One former Cristo Rey student, Cristina Garcia, a graduate of Marquette University, is currently working at the firm for a few months before starting law school in the fall.
“They do good work,” Heaton said.
The students, though, aren’t the only ones who learn from the work-study program. As Pilsen teens and downtown corporate lawyers get to know each other, eyes are opened, attitudes changed.
“It goes both ways,” Heaton said. “There’s no doubt these students have changed the perceptions of some of our staff and the lawyers. At the same time, we see the students change and become more relaxed and confident by the time they’re juniors and seniors. When they first arrive, they’re shy and perhaps wondering what kind of ogres we might be.” ...
There is a Cristo-Rey High School just a few blocks from my house here in Kansas City. I had a chance to do a site visit and tour last year. It is truly an amazing program.