Cristo Rey New York is the Talk of the Town

The Cristo Rey model of schools, begun in the Pilsen area of Chicago by John Foley, SJ, is one of the great ideas of the Jesuits in this country in the last 25 years.  Essentially, high-school students from poorer backgrounds work to help defray the cost of their tuition, and at the same time gain tremendous experience in positions with significant responsibility: for example, in law firms and other large corporations.  It's a creative model that everyone like: some people like the idea that the young men and women are supporting themselves, bootstraps and all; others that the Catholic church is reaching out to the marginalized; others that companies are able to incorporate into their workforce a diverse group of young men and women.  It's just a great idea all around.  Currently there are Cristo Rey schools springing up all over the country.  The New Yorker thinks they're a good idea too, and this week features in its "Talk of the Town" section a profile of the school in northern Manhattan, run by Joseph Parkes, SJ (a former Jesuit provincial and former business manager at America.)  AMDG. 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Crystal Watson
5 years 9 months ago
Maybe it's just me having gone to public high school, but I think it would be better if high school kids didn't have to have jobs while going to school.  Perhaps Catholic schools could charge less or offer more places to kids whose families are poor?
Anne Chapman
5 years 9 months ago
I have to agree with Fr. Martin - from what I know of Cristo Rey, in my own community and in other cities, it is a very good thing for the students fortunate enough to be there.

Everyone speaks from their own experience. I went to a public high school in a small town, rural area, but I also worked throughout high school because it was a financial necessity. Having extensive work experience from age 13 on, primarily dealing with the public as a cashier etc, was very, very helpful to me at the time, and also much later, when I joined the ''professional'' world of work after college.  I learned a great deal from the experience - it was invaluable really. Although it was not a financial necessity for our kids, we expected them to have jobs during high school, at least during the summers. We felt that what they learned from these jobs was as important as what they learned in the classrooms. Sometimes during the school year also, but it was harder for them to find a job then because due to being very active in sports after school and on weekends. But they all worked during the summers as soon as they were able to get work permits, and before that, they mowed lawns, shoveled snow etc. Although we live in one of the ''best'' public school districts in the country, our kids mostly attended private schools (Catholic and Episcopal - there really is an indefinable ''value added'') and I am very grateful that they had the opportunity and we had the means. I went to college on academic scholarships, and I support the scholarship programs of my kid's private schools as well as of my undergraduate and graduate schools (both are Jesuit universities).

I have had professional colleagues who were born and raised in the inner city, who were able to break out of the poverty cycle by attending private (often Catholic or other religious) schools. One friend, who now has a PhD, went to a Jesuit high school on scholarship, before going on to college. The Jesuits helped him immensely, including by also giving him a job at the school answering the phone in the priests' residence so that he wasn't dead tired from doing his early morning paper route every day - the money was needed to help his family.  

I agree with those who say it begins in the home, however. I once compared the outcomes of the public schools and parochial schools in a few inner cities, and did a fair amount of research. The kids who went to parochial (and other religious - therefore cheaper than most private) schools graduated at much higher rates than the public schools whose per pupil costs were four times as high, and most went on the higher level education that gave them the background, knowledge and skills needed to get jobs that paid more than minimum wage. The parents were critical. Even though the parents may have been just as poor as  other families in the neighborhood, they made it work. They cleaned more houses, or office buildings, or took more shifts to pay their share of tuition (and also set a good example in taking this responsibility - tuition instead of iPods - which most inner city kids have even though parents are poor). Yet, in spite of the long hours, they also made sure that their children did their homework, and got to school on time. They reviewed the vocabulary words and multiplication tables. Basically, they cared enough to get their kids into a school where the kids could learn, a school where not only the faculty cared, but a school where the parents cared. A friend who taught in an inner city school in Oakland for several years told me that the hardest part was that the parents didn't care. She said at least 1/3 of the class was missing each day, and that there could still have been progress if it had been the same 1/3, but it was different kids each day, which made it very hard to make progress. In the worst cases, she picked kids up at their homes and brought them to school because their parents didn't care enough to even wake up and get the kids out the door. The problems with public education are deepseated, and in spite of years of trying different approaches, and huge amounts of money spent in public schools, little progress has been made.  The late William Raspberry understood that the role of the parents, of the home, was the fundamental piece and that it was important to support parents in teaching their preschoolers. He started a Foundation to do this in his own home town -

While it is critical to continue to try to improve the public schools, it is also good to help kids trapped in an inferior school system (that will not be magically improved overnight) get into schools that will help them succeed and give them the tools they need to support themselves with a 'living wage'' throughout their lives.

 One of the tragedies of the bishops' failures is that they are closing Catholic schools in the inner cities because their own irresponsibility has cost the church in the US billions of dollars and is still costing millions. If B. Finn had simply admitted he was wrong at the beginning and pled ''guilty'', he would have not gone to jail, but he would have saved his diocese more than $1.3 million in his own trial, and that is just the beginning, since the diocesan trial is still pending. What a waste. If he had been honest and humble, that money could have done some good in Kansas City. How many schools will close now? How many parishes?
David Smith
5 years 9 months ago
Crystal, as I understand it, the work-study thing was originally supposed to pay for the system - that was an integral part of the model. As it turns out, it doesn't. There is a shortfall that must be paid for by the parents or donated by someone else. So, the model really doesn't work, and it might be just as well if the companies that ''hire'' these kids were to simply donate the money they're ''paying'' directly to the schools. Of course, that wouldn't be as good public relations, either for the schools or the businesses, but, in accordance with your suggestion, it would give the kids considerably more study and learning time than they have with these ''jobs''.

No matter which way you look at it, Cristo Rey schools are paid for almost entirely by the business community. It's good old-fashioned charity.

By the way, the article is hardly about the Cristo Rey model at all.  It's mostly a giggly description of kids playing with phones and copiers. 
Tom O
5 years 9 months ago
Crystal wrote: "The private school system is for the elite and a few lucky poorer kids who have good test scores.  The public school system sees that no one gets left behind."

To clarify, the Cristo Rey model brings private school level education to those "poorer kids" in larger quantities, specifically targeting those low income families. Also, in poorer communities, many students get "left behind", unfortunately.

To David re: mid-sized cities. Yes- there's only a certain size the schools can reach in each city given the business community and need for jobs. That said, check out the list of cities with successful schools: Since the school's started expanding to other cities from Chicago, only one school has failed (in Omaha).

Crystal Watson
5 years 9 months ago
Hi David,

I did look up how much Cristo Rey schools cost per year - the page I found seems to say that the parents of the child must still pay between $2,000 - 3,000 (and normal Catholic high schools seem to cost per year around $6,000 to 10,000!). Maybe I'm spoiled by the state offering a free education to children, but as far as I can tell, Catholic schools are businesses, not charities.
Crystal Watson
5 years 9 months ago
Fr. Martin,

I didn't say I was against Christo Rey.

I am all for Catholic high schools that help poor students.

My concern is this: 

Why does Catholic school cost so much, even Christo Rey?  Perhaps I misunderstood but if I understand correctly, the poor students who attend through the Christo Rey program still have to pay thousands of dollars to attend. I don't see why poorer students cannot be allowed to attend for free.  I also don't really understand why the poorer students have to work  in order to attend the high school.  I do  understand that this allos them to get work experience, but why is it that the poor students need the work experience, not the affluent students? 

I'm sorry I haven't just embraced the program and that I've asked questions about it and that I've spoken up for public schools.  I guess I should just shut up now.

Tom O
5 years 9 months ago
Crystal and David,

Catholic schools have found difficulty staying open in low income neighborhoods because families cannot pay $6-$13k per year for tuition. The Cristo Rey model is college prep, and the cost to educate a student for a year is about $13 or $14k, similar to other private, college preparatory schools. The companies that employ Cristo Rey students pay for 40-60% of that cost. Another portion is paid by a donor or scholarship. Lastly, each family pays an amount based on ability. The model adequately solves the funding problems.

With this economic model, the student receives an outstanding, college prep education (with a longer school year and school day) and receives work/internship experience in the corporate world, further preparing them for the ''real world'' after high school and college. Maybe you disagree, but the work experience is invaluable and something that many low income students would not experience otherwise. 

Also, your characterization that it's ''kids playing with phones and copiers'' is wrong. Students complete real work, as a college intern would. Students work with patients, children, and the elderly; learn and use Excel and other computer programs and databases; provide IT support; give tours at museums; answer phones and work front desks; and provide administrative support to high level employees. Not to mention, they're able to learn the ins and outs of the workplace at a young age (eye contact, handshakes, communicating effectively, etc.), setting them up for future success in college and jobs. 

Imagine applying to college with a college prep education and 4 years worth of intern experience on your resume! I think the best part, however, is that Cristo Rey schools are effective. 85% of students go on to college from CR schools ( CR schools are an excellent option for college-motivated students and families in neighborhoods where public schools are struggling.
Anne Chapman
5 years 9 months ago
Crystal, I don't want to jump into the middle of your discussion with Fr. Martin. (but ....I guess that's what I'm doing!).  

From some professional experiences working with a program that meant to support inner city kids in avoiding ''risk behaviors'' and encouraging them to stay in school, I learned a lot more about the realities of these schools than I had known previously. I also learned something about the reality of their lives in general.  I believe that the work experience provided by Christo Rey is about a lot more than the money for tuition - middle class kids grow up in environments where they absorb certain life skills and lessons along with the air they breathe in their homes - lessons about responsibility, accountability - about ''showing up.''.

 Inner city kids often don't grow up in environments where the skills and attitudes needed in the world of work (and in their own personal lives) are taught - either in so many words, or modeled.  The work experiences for them are most likely every bit as valuable to them in terms of their futures as are the academic lessons.  Those who support private schooling for inner city kids are not turning their backs on trying to improve public schools. But until some miracles occur in too many cities, it will be generations of school children before these schools can give them what private (usually religious) schools can give them now. We need to help as many as we can - simultaneously working for better public schools, but giving a helping hand to as many as possible through supporting schools like Christo Rey.

Catholic and Christian schools in general charge far less than do other independent schools. But, they still have expenses - including staff salaries and benefits, and infrastructure costs.  It would be nice to operate them without any tuition charges, but they don't have taxpayer money supporting them.  The cost of most of the parochial schools in the affluent county I live in ranges from $4000 - $7000 (in the very richest parish in the county).  This is remarkably efficient, but the schools do have expenses. The per pupil expenditure in the public schools in the county is more than $14,000/year.  In the city (Washington DC, with a dismal high school graduation rate of fewer than 60% of students who begin high school) it is about $19,000/per pupil/year.  Lack of money is not the problem in many public schools. Someday there may be a ''magic bullet'' to fix it, but in the meantime, thousands of kids lives are thrown off track because of the failures of the system. 

So help these kids if you can by supporting scholarships in the schools that reach out to the inner city and other poor kids, even while working towards finding solutions for the failing public school systems.
Tom Maher
5 years 9 months ago
Crystal Watson # 1 and 3

Oh please. How can you ask  "Perhaps Catholic schools could charge less or offer more places to kids whose families are poor?" 

What are assuming and why?   Do you think the cost of educating a person in a religous school in the 21st century are not substantiall?  Paying the salaries of qualified teachers who have state of the art expertise in their subject and are able organize and convey this subject information to students is substantial cost for any school.   The staff of any religious school will be mostly if not entirely lay professionals with families and expenses that need to be paid.  Religious schools  have few if any religious teachers anymore but even they have to paaid.
Crystal Watson
5 years 9 months ago

Thanks for explaining. 

Perhaps it's unrealistic to expect charity to actually be "free"?  And maybe my sense that poorer kids are being groomed to have a certain kind of outcome, that these programs are in a way not really  about open ended education but about vocational training, is me not being pragmatic. 

I don't have any experience in education beyond my own. I was lower middle class, went to an ok high school but I had to work my way through college, including some financial aid jobs.   I guess I have a lot of baggage in this area.

C Walter Mattingly
5 years 9 months ago
David (2) and Crystal (3),
The model of CR "doesn't work" because parents "have to pay $2 - $3,000" tuition a year? And that Catholic high school tuition is normally "$6 - $10,000!" while public school tuition is "free?" Wouldn't you be willing to invest a couple grand a year to put your child in a school where 85% of the graduates will go on to college rather than barely more than half that number? Obama is willing to pay $66,000 to send his two kids to such a superior religious private school.
The average cost per student in the NYC public school system is $19,597. And those figures are now two years old. The taxpayer pays more than twice as much for that "free" public school education. It's just "hidden" in NYC's high rate of taxation. 
Wouldn't it be a good thing to provide those inner city kids half as much of the city's money and increase their chances to attend college to boot? That's what Corey Booker has included for Newark. 
Crystal Watson
5 years 9 months ago
I had a friend who worked for a Catholic school - it's been a while, so maybe things have changed, but he didn't need anything but a ba and no teaching credential - and he was paid way below the standard pay for teachers in public schools.

My feeling is that the education of all our children is a common concern.  It's to the advantage of all of us that kids get a good and affordable education.  If the wealthy can pay for their kids to go to a schhol that will guarentee them getting into a good college where they will graduate to a high paying job, then of course that is to that family's advantage.  But most people go to public schools, schools that have standards for teachers, and schools that have to accept all students, whether they have money or not,  whther they have a certain level of intelligence or not, whether they are disabled or not, etc.  The private school system is for the elite and a few lucky poorer kids who have good test scores.  The public school system sees that no one gets left behind.
Crystal Watson
5 years 9 months ago
PS - speaking of a Catholic education ....
Beth Cioffoletti
5 years 9 months ago
I tend to think that the whole thing is going to have to fall apart before we can get it back together again. 

It hasn't been that long - 100 years? - since children were taught in one-room schoolhouses supported by local farm families.  My own father's early education began in such a place, and he could do math in his head like nobody I know today. 

What if people started offering what they know to others for free, in less structured institutions? 

Learning is learning.  Degrees have become tickets that you buy for higher paying jobs.

What if we stopped by homage to, and being enslaved by this system?

Is that a revolution?
David Smith
5 years 9 months ago
Tom (#4), I wrote:
By the way, the article is hardly about the Cristo Rey model at all.  It's mostly a giggly description of kids playing with phones and copiers.
The article, not the school. I have no doubt that once kids begin to learn that work is earnest, they stop giggling.

Thanks for the clarifications. I'm willing to believe the best about the Cristo Rey network. I've seen a little of it here in Cincinnati. It's tough sledding - so tough that, I imagine, a single school is about all medium-sized communities - like Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati - can support. A workable model, probably - hopefully - but likely not one that can be scaled up, because each school drains a substantial amount of what's available locally.

In the end, it's the home that has to change. Schools - public or private - can do only a little. Efforts like Cristo Rey are the exception that proves that rule.


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

A U.S. Border Patrol agent watches as people who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, stand in line at a facility in McAllen, Texas, Sunday, June 17, 2018. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Rio Grande Valley Sector via AP)
I humbly exhort you to listen to and follow your conscience during these stormy times.
Tobias WinrightJune 21, 2018
Demonstrators in Managua, Nicaragua, stand behind a barricade during clashes with police May 30. (CNS photo/Oswaldo Rivas, Reuters) 
Nicaragua’s political crisis is in its second month, and President Daniel Ortega’s soft authoritarianism has turned into violent repression.
Jan-Albert HootsenJune 21, 2018
Rodney Earl Sanders made the pleas to two counts of murder in state court in Lexington, blocks away from where Sisters Margaret Held and Paula Merrill had worked as nurse practitioners in a medical clinic.
Pope Francis arrives in procession to celebrate Mass at the Palexpo convention center in Geneva June 21. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
“Walking, praying and working together: This is the great path that we are called to follow.”
Gerard O’ConnellJune 21, 2018