Working their way through high school

Cristo Rey Catholic schools, which require students to pay tuition by working one day a week, teach more than academics, concludes a Reason Magazine story. Low-income minority students learn about the professional world they hope to join.

Almost every weekday, 14-year-old Tiffany Adams rises before 6 a.m. in the Newark, New Jersey, home she shares with her grandmother and sisters. She dons her school uniform and catches two New Jersey Transit buses across the city, arriving at Christ the King Preparatory School, a Catholic high school that opened in September 2007, at 8.

. . . five school days a month, Adams skips the uniform and dons business attire. On those days, after a morning assembly, she bypasses the classrooms and hops instead into a van bound for Essex County College. There Adams works in the human resources department from 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. or so, scheduling résumé appointments, doing clerical work, and generally keeping the place functioning.

. . . talk to students at Cristo Rey schools, and they tell you that, for all their hours spent graphing algebraic equations, it is their jobs that get them thinking most about the future. In their gleaming office buildings, they see men and women who earn enough to afford nice, safe homes. They see how people set priorities and deadlines and execute projects. It’s easy to mock corporate America, but compared with the chaos of inner-city life, a cubicle with your name on it can seem like heaven.

A Cristo Rey school in Chicago is one of the “relentless” schools profiled in David Whitman’s Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism.

Work is the motivator for the low-income and working-class Mexican-American students I met in writing my book. They want an education so they can get decent jobs, live in a safe neighborhood and drive a car that starts reliably. Many don’t know college-educated people, except for their teachers. They don’t know what possibilities are out there.

About Joanne


  1. Joanne,
    I think you’re spot on with your assessment of the Cristo Rey schools as related to your book. I taught at the original Cristo Rey school in Chicago from 1999-2001, just after I got out of college. The students who attended Cristo Rey came from families with hard working parents. For the most part, the parents worked in blue collar jobs and the students didn’t spend much time out of their neighborhoods. As a result, many were myopic about their futures. Many seemed to just assume they’d have the same type of lives as their parents. The Cristo Rey schools give them access to many different opportunities and environments that often give them a chance to dramatically increase their understanding of the world, the economy, and their own capabilities. Whitman’s book, which you mentioned, has been criticized by some for using the term paternalism to describe the approach of the schools. Some are viewing paternalism as pejorative. Another read on it is that any father would like his kids to have options. The aim of the Cristo Rey schools is to give young people who have limited opportunities options.
    I’ve written a book about the unlikely and inspiring development of Cristo Rey. The book, like yours, also profiles students and the effect the school has on them. THose who are interested in this model might also be interested in

  2. I think this is a really great idea for students to get them excited about the future. On a side note, I just finished reading Our School and I have to say it was absolutely amazing. As I am getting ready for my first year teaching in public schools it was absolutely inspiring. Really, a great book that I can’t wait to recommend friends.

  3. Nice link for the phrase relentless schools. I think prescriptive schools” is a much better phrase wink wink. 🙂

  4. I think this is a great idea to motivate change in kids. They can’t aspire to something that they can’t see or envision.

  5. Jasmin Lorie says:

    This sounds very much like making education relevant/authentic. 🙂 Way to go!

  6. What a wonderful program! My special ed students were in an occupational diploma program (not recognized as a state diploma)but they followed a curriculum that geared them to learning how to function in the workplace. I had one student who had no idea of what she wanted to be and after working in a court office, decided to graduate, get a GED, and go to Tech school to become a paralegal. She has the ability to succeed and I am so proud of her but she would never have tried this if she was not motivated by her work experience.