By Fr. George Welzbacher
September 9, 2007
The focus of last week's Pastor's Page was the recent founding of a number of brand-new Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S.A. -Ave Maria University near Naples, Florida being a notable example-in response to Pope John Paul's call (in Ex Corde Ecclesiae) for the integration of Christ's saving message as transmitted by His Church with the entire curriculum of higher education.
Such integration used to be taken for granted in institutions of higher learning that identified themselves as Catholic. But in the last generation or two, seemingly in an effort to become "just like everybody else", many self-described Catholic colleges and universities have lent themselves, particularly in their theology and philosophy departments, more to the subversion than to the elucidation and defense of the faith, though signs of a return to the aforesaid institutions' authentic mission are beginning to re-emerge on some of those campuses. Thanks be to God!
This week I would like to turn the spotlight on a brand-new Catholic secondary school in the Twin Cities, all the more significant because it is one unit in a network of nineteen such schools founded in recent years by the Jesuit Fathers across the U.S.A. for disadvantaged teenagers from ethnic minorities who are hungry for an education that will enable them ultimately to escape from the impoverished and violent neighborhoods in which they currently live. Given the situation generally prevailing in our inner cities' public schools, such an education has until now been for far too many simply out of reach.
Each of these new Jesuit high schools goes by the name of Cristo Rey (Christ the King) School. In these schools the school week is structured differently, with the students attending four long days of school, Monday through Thursday, and then working under supervision on Fridays as intems in various places of business. The aim is to introduce the students to the forms of behaviour and the panoply of skills that will enable them to ftmction effectively in the business world after graduation. The Cristo Rey schools are selective, accepting and retaining only those who profess and demonstrate a desire to work hard, following a strict code of discipline. The businesses that employ these students one day a week underwrite much of the cost, with the understanding that the business community will benefit from the expansion of a pool of skilled and reliable workers. Society will also profit from the development of a socially responsible cadre of young workers, and through these schools Christ's Church will be able more effectively to bring His message to bear on the lives of young people whose out-of-school environment is anything but friendly to the Christian way of life.
A fascinating article on Minneapolis' new Cristo Rey School appeared in The Star Tribune for Sunday, September 2, 2007. I reprint it here.
* * * * *A New School, a New Start.
Star Tribune 9/207
A Jesuit high school opens in south Minneapolis to help low-income, minority students gain an edge in life.
Dyleydy Vaidivie attended three junior high schools in three years. But now that she's in high school, the aspiring child psychologist is counting on spending the next four years in one place: a new Jesuit high school in Minneapolis that will require her to take rigorous classes, dress up, and work one day per week.
Cristo Rey Jesuit High School starts classes this week in the Phillips neighborhood, with a student body of economically disadvantaged teens. The private school is one of 19 in the national Cristo Rey Network, which touts tough standards and high graduation rates as proof of its success.
"I wanted to come here, because when I grow up it's going to give me a better job and better everything," said Vaidivie, 14, whose passion is working with children and the deaf.
One recent morning, the school's 99 ninth-graders piled into the Colin Powell Youth Leadership Center's pumpkin-and-lime green second floor, its layout more like an office building than a school.
Vaidivie and others were leaming skills for work: punctuality, drug tests, how to fill out paperwork. One teacher taught the art of conversation to students who had been instructed to dress in "business casual" attire.
One student was asked to introduce himself in a loud, crisp voice. Again. And again.
Downstairs, tables with folded napkins and sparkling silverware were set up for a lesson on dining etiquette.
All of this took place before Tuesday's official start of school. To prepare them for work and academic expectations, students had to attend three weeks of orientation.
"I got interested because it was safe here to learn and no one will judge you," said Jose Montes-Osorio, 14, an aspiring computer technician who lives six blocks from the school.
Kristine Melloy, a professor at the University of St. Thomas who is taking a leave absence to serve as Christo Rey's first principal, said most of the students are two or three years behind academically.
"They're not run-of-the-mill students," said the Rev. John Foley, president of the Cristo Rey Network, headquartered in Chicago, "They're kids who are motivated. They're kids who want something more. They're not necessarily well-prepared. We told them, 'If you do your best, we'll take care of the rest."
Corporate funding comes from Microsoft founder Bill Gates, venture capitalist B.J. Cassin and area businesses, which will employ students.
Like many in the network, the Minneapolis school sits in a poor neighborhood. The spacious new building on 4th Avenue S. near E. Lake St. also houses Urban Ventures, a faith-based community organization.
Light pours through floor-to-ceiling windows. A portrait of Powell, the former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who is scheduled to be in Minneapolis for next month's building dedication, hangs in the main hall.
Religious studies are in the curriculum, but daily services will be optional, said the Rev. David Haschka, the school's president.
We're not going to downplay the Christianity, but we're not going to shove it down anyone's throat, " said the Rev. Bill Johnson, Cristo Rey's admissions director.
The inaugural class includes Muslim Somalis, Hmong students from shamanistic backgrounds and students from Baptist and other Protestant families, Johnson said.
Sixty percent of the student body is Hispanic, 35 percent black and 5 percent from other racial backgrounds. The school draws largely from the Phillips neighborhood, but it also has enrolled students from St. Paul and Richfield.
The school day starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. with academic-oriented extracurricular activities until 6:30 p.m. Athletics aren't Part of the program, although Haschka said that could change as the school adds a new grade level each year. There's no band or orchestra, either.
The school year is longer than average, running until June 18 with only a week off at Christmas and a two-day Easter break.
Cristo Rey Network officials said all that work yields high graduation rates. In 2006, their schools had a graduation rate of more than 90 percent, according to the network's website.
That compares with a 64 percent graduation rate for the St. Paul high schools that year, 60.7 percent for Minneapolis (including several alternative schools); and 92.3 percent for the state's largest school district, Anoka-Hennepin.
Cristo Rey officials and outside experts agreed that the school's success is partly due to an application process and rigorous demands that attract willing students and families.
"A kid has to want to come to this school, " Haschka said.
Last year, the average family income for the 2,882 students attending Cristo-Rey- affiliated schools was $33,051. That means a substantial number of lower-middle-class families are in the mix, as are families living below the poverty level, which is $20,650 for a family of four.
"What that does is get relatively stable families," said Harry Levin, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University.
While lacking an independent study of the schools, Levin said he trusts Cristo Rey's numbers and approach because it's forthcoming with information about its schools.
The school will seek formal accreditation as soon as it is eligible, after several years of operating Haschka said. The current class of 99 came from about 150 applicants. Prospective students sent in applications, letters of recommendation and transcripts. They were interviewed by an admissions committee; their parents were interviewed separately.
Families are expected to contribute about $200 per month toward a total "cost of education: of about $11,000 to $12,000 a year, Haschka said. School officials shy away from the word "tuition."
The rest comes from what students earn at their jobs, which is paid directly from the sponsoring businesses to Cristo Rey. Dorsey and Whitney, Allina Hospitals and Clinics, Best Buy and Catholic Charities are among the partners who will employ Cristo Rey students.
In Cleveland, when students from Cristo Rey's St. Martin de Porres High School first came to Huntington National Bank seeking work, executive assistant Daphne Washington didn't know what to do with them. But once she began treating them like adult employees, giving them computer access and greater responsibilities, "it was a beautiful thing," she said, "Never underestimate them."
Allina, headquartered near the Minneapolis school, got involved to help create a pipeline of qualified health care workers.
They're critical to the revitalization of the neighborhood," said Dick Pettingill, Allina's CEO. "We have to make a long-term commitment to this community. Over the course of time, you'll see the results of that."
For Matt Dyson, with Best Buy's Geek Squad affiliate, "The goal with partnering with Cristo Rey is that we can inspire and teach a new generation to embrace new ideas. Our world needs some point people to lead the charge."