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The Cristo Rey Network
By David W. Kirkpatrick (June 05, 2008)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

 
 In 1996 the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School opened in a Mexican-immigrant inner-city neighborhood in Chicago. Not just another school for disadvantaged students, Cristo Rey began with a number of innovations.
 
First, it opened without a freshman class so it wouldn't compete with existing area Catholic schools. For the same reason it scheduled entrance exams on different dates from other schools. Many classes were offered in Spanish, the native language of many students.  Perhaps most significantly, however, was its distinctive approach to raising funds to cover operational costs although, opening in a former middle school,  it conducted capital campaigns to raise funds to construct new buildings.
 
Most unusual, however, was the development of a Corporate Internship Program whereby students, originally teams of five, would share the same job which each working eight hours, or one day, a week with the pay for the job being assigned to the school in lieu of tuition.  The goal was for the CIP to account for 90%of the school's operating costs.  This ratio meant that if enrollment totaled 500 students, for example, it would be necessary to arrange for 100 fulltime jobs for the students.  Nor could these be low-wage menial jobs.  The school was successful not only in lining up such jobs at such places as leading law firms and universities, but it worked so successfully that many of these offices and firms have continued to participate over the years even as individual students moved on.
 
The school ran significant deficits for the first five years which necessitated seeking outside funding but with the understanding this was to be a short-term effort.  At the end of the five years, in 2001, the school had sufficiently demonstrated the value and validity of its model that another school was separately established.  More have followed around the nation, with seven new ones opening this school year, three more scheduled for this fall and others in planning stages.
 
Space will not permit detailed review of the original school's remarkable story to not only educate a student body with real needs, but to help them acquire valuable work experience and see a significant number go on to college.    Details of the school's creation, programs and early years can be found in a new book by G. R. Kearney, one of the school's volunteers - More Than a Dream, Chicago: Loyola Press, 2008 (www.morethanadreambook.com.)
 
A major result has been the creation of a Cristo Rey Network for the schools. To be a member of the Network, Kearney notes, pp 342-3, that each Cristo Rey school must adhere to the following nine point program: Each
 
         "1. Is explicitly Catholic in mission and enjoys church approval on a diocesan and local level, with sponsorship by a religious congregation if required by the diocese.
 
         2. Serves the economically disadvantaged, is open to students of various faiths and cultures, and is culturally sensitive and community based.
 
         3. Is family centered and plays an active role in the local community.
 
         4. Is accredited by a recognized regional accrediting association and has a college preparatory curriculum designed for a high level of student engagement in their learning.
 
         5. Requires participation by all students in a work program that follows the Corporate Internship Program (CIP) developed at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago.
 
         6. Has an effective administrative structure–normally including positions such as separate president, principal, CIP director, and development director----and a board structure that includes religious, education, community, business, and civic leaders; complies with all applicable state and federal laws, including immigration, labor, and not-for-profit tax laws.
 
         7. Is financially sound: at full enrollment----normally three hundred to five hundred students after five years----the school's revenue from tuition and work study covers more than 90 percent of operating expenses; in addition, the school maintains an aggressive development/advancement program to ensure financial stability.
 
         8.  Seeks to understand and improve how its students learn and grow.
 
         9. Is an active participant in the collaboration, support, and development of the Cristo Rey Network."
 
The Network has a website: www.cristoreynetwork.org. as do individual schools.  An oddity is that the Cristo Rey phenomenon has received better coverage in local and national media, than in educational outlets.

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"During the 2007-08 school year, 4,234 students are enrolled in 19 Cristo Rey schools...Ninety-two percent of the students are racial minorities...Ninety-eight percent of last year's graduates enrolled in college in the fall of 2007...the Cristo Rey Network of schools was founded in 2001."  www.cristoreynetwork.org website.

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Copyright 2008 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633

E-mail (tchrwrtr@aol.com)

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