How many 15-year-olds have completed résumés? Opened a savings account? Or done their taxes? At Cristo Rey New York High School, the answer is at least 220.
One of 12 private Catholic high schools in the nationwide Cristo Rey Network, the school shows what can be accomplished with a vision: "Transforming Urban America, One Student at a Time."
Started in Chicago a decade ago by a Jesuit priest, Cristo Rey schools recruit financially disadvantaged students – students must meet that criterion to be accepted – and provide them with an intense college-preparatory course load, in addition to part-time work that offsets tuition costs.
"In Chicago, 10 years ago, the Jesuits came to this community of basically Mexican immigrants and they asked them, 'What is it that you need?' and the response was 'education,'" says Lucia Cardenas, the school's assistant director for its Corporate Work-Study Program.
"The public high school had a high dropout rate, so they said, 'We can create a high school, but we want to make it independent,' so they're not depending on donations. Hence the idea of asking companies to pay the tuition."
The Cristo Rey campus in New York is located in a 19th-century building in East Harlem that was once a convent, then a home for immigrant working girls, and then a day-care facility before being completely renovated to serve the more than 220 students, 75 percent of them Hispanic.
Like a traditional high school, Cristo Rey NYHS has dances and field trips. But what you won't see is the typical high school attire of T-shirts and jeans. Students must dress every day as if they were going to a job – boys with button-down shirts and ties, and girls with button-down shirts and slacks.
This dress is required from the start, at a rigorous month-long business boot camp and academic prep course that begins the August before school starts. Half of the students' day is spent with their teachers on college prep materials, and the other half learning business etiquette, software such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and business skills, from shaking hands to basics like faxing, copying, and filing.
Students must pass the business boot camp before they are formally accepted at the high school. They are expected to be prepared to absorb the deeper refinements of business etiquette they will learn, be ready to go to work, all in addition to taking all of their regular classes.
Some of Cristo Rey's Finest -- Back (LtoR): Lidibeth Inoa, Roberta Nunez, Michael Anthony Gonzalez, Juan Orellana; Front (LtoR): Genesis Cedeno, Vanessa Ruiz.
"Freshman and sophomore years, we have to take classes on how to do résumés, or do our taxes," says junior Roberta Nuñez, 16. "Each semester, we also have to do a project. This year we had to read [financial maven Robert T. Kiyosaki's] Rich Kid, Smart Kid and write a report about it. Then recently I went to a bank, and had to do an interest comparison, like how much you would get for a CD or a savings account."
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