Cristo Rey found a creative way to fund most of the tuition. First, in Columbus, $5000 per student per year is potentially available from Ohio’s school-choice voucher program; if a student’s home school is designated as a “failing school,” that money can “follow the student” to a school of choice. Right now, 59 percent of Cristo Rey Columbus students are voucher eligible, a number the school expects will rise once the troubled Columbus City School system completes its audit and more schools will likely be classified as “failing”. (For more on some of the troubles of Columbus Public Schools, read
here and here)
A Cristo Rey student at work (CristoReyColumbus Facebook)
Now enters the second piece of the business model, the hallmark Cristo Rey Professional Work Study Program. Each student works five days per month (one day a week, and two days every fourth week) at a paid position in one of Columbus’s
partner companies or institutions. Student earnings, about $6500 per year, are applied directly toward tuition. Unmet differences come from donations, fundraising, grants, etc. Families are asked to contribute as well, even if it is just a token amount. The school also expects “sweat equity” from families, as Ragland calls it, which means volunteer work of a variety of sorts.
But make no mistake: The work-study program is much more than kids going to work one day a week. Many of Cristo Rey’s partners have established creative, far-reaching programs. Nationwide Children’s Hospital provides the students preventative medical services at the school every Friday. The PNC bank offers a financial-literacy course for the students and their families. Other programs are in process: The library is partnering with the school to create ESL and literacy programs for the families; Franklin University and the school are talking about continuing-education programs for the students’ parents.
Cristo Rey Columbus students
Carolyn Flahive, who directs the work-study program, and Amanda Detry, who plays the critical hands-on roll of matchmaker, give a sense of what the program means to the students. Students are prepped for interviews (look people in the eye), guided hands-on with dressing professionally (how to tie a tie), introduced to the places they’ll work and given basic training and expectations of the actual jobs, taught to ask questions (using the register of language you use at work and school). Businesses know that Cristo Rey expects daily time sheets, evaluations, identifying where the kids need more help, and site visits from the school. Sometimes companies go well beyond this, maybe out of their way to bring a student into staff meetings or arrange a meal with the executives.
Kaveion Martin, who finally gave in to his mother’s wishes to attend Cristo Rey, worked at an insurance company. I asked him about his experience. “WE LOVE EACH OTHER,” he practically shouts. “I love them and they love me!” It’s easy to imagine that is true. He says his favorite duty is mail delivery, because he can see and learn about every part of the company. Emily Morales, another tenth grader, said her dad brags on her professional job all the time.