Cristo Rey: Work, study, get ahead

Students from Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Baltimore, at their employer’s office.

Combining academics, Catholic values and work experience is working for the Cristo Rey network of high schools, according to a new Lexington Institute report.

Twenty-eight Cristo Rey schools serve 9,000 students, nearly all low-income and working-class Latinos and blacks. Each student’s family contributes $1,000 for tuition, on average. Employers pay the rest — and provide one day a week of work experience for students.

Ninety percent of Cristo Rey’s 2014 graduates enrolled in college.

A new San Jose school is using self-paced, “blended” learning to help students catch up in an intensive summer program.

Cristo Rey is showing that “education can untie the Gordian knot of poverty,” writes Daniel Porterfield in Forbes.

The weekly work experiences helped students mature. They learned work etiquette and became problem-solvers. They figured out how to talk with adults of all ages and ethnicities. They discovered that they liked working. It gave them new skills and self-confidence.

The jobs showed them why school matters too. They could see that there was real opportunity in their city’s local economy—and that adults with college degrees had interesting careers that paid well.

In Putting Education to Work, Megan Sweas explains how Cristo Rey creates a culture of high expectations — and keeps improving.

Schools that work, literally

In Schools That Work, Literally in National Review, Samuel Casey Carter praises the Cristo Rey network of urban Catholic schools which send students into corporate jobs one day a week.

“The educational quality of the program is fundamentally different in kind from what anyone else offers,” says Christopher Connor, the CEO of Sherwin-Williams, “because these students are employable. They have work skills and life skills to match that come through the work-study program.”

As much as 70 percent of school costs are covered by students’ earnings, allowing the schools to charge very low tuition to low-income and working-class parents. If students work extra days, they keep their earnings.

 Cristo Rey provides rich and regular opportunities for its students to acquire the skills, relationships, and professional behaviors of successful adults by exposing them to the rigorous expectations of the professional workplace.

Despite the four-day academic week, Cristo Rey students complete college-prep courses. At the school in Boston, all graduates were admitted to a four-year college or university this year. One girl is headed for MIT.

Inner-city Catholic schools close

Despite a track record of success, inner-city Catholic schools are closing, writes Samuel Freedman in the New York Times.  The list includes Rice High School in Harlem, acclaimed in Patrick McCloskey’s The Street Stops Here for turning young black and Hispanic males into college-bound “Rice men.”

Over the last half-century, the number of Catholic schools has fallen to 7,000 from about 13,000, and their enrollment to barely two million children from more than five million. A disproportionate share of the damage has come in big cities.

So when a landmark topples as Rice did — and as Cardinal Dougherty High School did in Philadelphia last year, and as Daniel Murphy High School did in Los Angeles two years before that — it ought to provoke more than sentimentality or tears. It ought to sound an alarm about a slow-motion crisis in American education.

With a diminishing supply of low-cost teachers with religious vocations, Catholic schools have raised tuition just as charter schools are providing a no-cost alternatives. Pedophilia scandals have drained church coffers.

The Christian Brothers religious order, which founded and operated Rice, filed for bankruptcy in late April, collapsing under the weight of payments to victims of sexual abuse by the order’s members, particularly in the Seattle area.

The Nativity Miguel and Cristo Rey networks are opening small, academically intensive middle and high schools, but the new Catholic schools are much smaller than the big schools that are closing, Freedman writes.

Catholic philanthropists aren’t filling the funding gap.

“Given all the money that’s been raised for charter schools — from the Gates Foundation, from Eli Broad, from hedge fund managers — I find it perplexing that Catholics can’t raise money for their own schools that have a track record of success,” says Michael Gecan, a national organizer for the Industrial Areas Foundation. “I don’t think they’ve tried hard enough. They’ve lost focus on their core mission.”

My husband is grateful for the education (and the partial scholarship) he received at Brother Rice High in Chicago. He’s a donor. He also gives to the Cristo Rey schools in Chicago.