The crowning jewel of the Cristo Rey curriculum is its Corporate Work-Study Program. Students are placed into four-member groups and matched with corporate clients. Each student in the group works at the business one day a week and one Monday a month. This system allows companies to contract with Cristo Rey to fill a full-time, entry-level job for each job-sharing foursome. The students are paid $27,500, which goes directly to the school to offset approximately 70 percent of the tuition.
Students' families are required to pay something, with a $2,000 per year maximum contribution. There is financial help if needed. Jessica Dawson O'Brien, the school's director of development, says the school is funded mostly through individual donors, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in addition to a $12 million capital campaign.
Ms. Cardenas, the students' liaison for the work-study program, calls it a "win-win-win" for the companies, school and students.
"We approach companies and say, 'You need entry-level clerical work, we can give you four students. We're meeting your needs, but you're also investing in students. Hopefully later they'll become your employees in a more complex position.'"
Any given day, one-fifth of the students arrive at school and meet in their auditorium for a pre-work talk given by a member of the program staff. Topics range from motivation and career choices to job outsourcing or striving for better chemistry test scores. Ms. Dawson O'Brien says it allows the students some space and time to focus on what they're going to do.
"In a large part, we've found that it takes 18 months for kids to connect the fact that, 'If I apply myself here, I could do what people do at my workplace,'" she says.
"Right now, each year we get a different job, depending if you wanted to stay or not, and if you did a good job," Ms. Nuņez says. "I wanted to try things that weren't my type of field and I finally got one, which I really love, called Common Ground, whose goal is to solve homelessness."
A member of what will be the school's first graduating class, Ms. Nuņez hopes to go on to college and then open her own business camp for disadvantaged students, or possibly become a pediatrician.
Another student, Juan Orellana, 15, is originally from Honduras but moved to New York City when he was 11. He has been working at financial services multinational ING and hopes to get hired there after college.
Sophomore Michael Anthony Gonzalez, 17, worked for Merrill Lynch and even met the CEO. "In my first year, I worked for Christian Brothers Investment Services, and they told me to strive to go farther, and they mentioned Merrill Lynch."
While Mr. Gonzalez worked in the mail department last year, he hopes that his knowledge of the company and job assertiveness will be enough for him to move up.
The New York campus was one of six Cristo Rey schools opened in 2004. The network is looking to open seven more in 2008, for a total of 19.
"The initial impetus for the school was based on our principal, who was kind of the project leader, Bill Ford," Ms. Dawson O'Brien explains. "Bill has a long family history of being connected to the five boroughs, and he has a strong connection to the Hispanic community. There was a lot of outreach there."
It opened three years ago with just a freshman class, has added a grade per year, and will graduate the first class of seniors next year. The incoming freshman class is looking to be 100 students, with a total of approximately 325 at the school hailing from all five of the New York boroughs.
"We started in a tiny office in the Bronx. We had no school yet," says Ms. Cardenas, who has been with the school since June 2004. "It was interesting to see how the families had to make a leap of faith. When we opened that September, it was a nice thing."
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