Thursday, October 15, 2009

Christ the King Prep

Changing Inner City Secondary Education - One Job at a Time

The Newark Club is a beautiful venue to hold an evening event. Located on the 22nd floor in the heart of Newark’s business district the wraparound windows offer crystal clear views of New York City and Newark. With two lush bars and delicious (near endless) food Christ the King Prep President, Fr. Robert Sandoz OFM (Franciscan) made his message clear at the school’s gala – “Our greatest treasure is our students”.

In the political world no one dares discredit the importance of education. Everyone heralds education as a bedrock of our country, but the consensus agreement is that we must do better particularly in urban cities. It’s an issue that has been around for quite some time as the evening’s top honoree, Fr Edward Glynn SJ has dedicated his life to education in underserved populations. The real rub arises in how to bring about change. In today’s NYTimes, Nick Kristof highlights the growing problem, the counterproductive teacher unions and some researched based initiatives that are producing results.

The Christo Rey network stands as an example of how innovation and a shared mission can provide opportunity to students with very limited funds. What’s innovative? The students have longer school days and school years than others. They have a rigorous academic program that focuses on core subjects and lifelong learning principles like complex reasoning and collaboration. Other schools do this as well, but where the program differs is in its motto “The School that Works!”.

The schools recruit students whose families are living below the federal poverty line and only allow students whose families make up to 75% the per capita income of the local community. The network exists because of a novel idea to intertwine corporate America and high school education. Students are grouped together (in four or five) and work for a local business or organization (one student works Monday, another Tuesday etc). Their collective salary greatly defrays the cost of tuition. In turn, the students are exposed to an environment where they grow to recognize the value of their education. The bottom line is 99% of the students are accepted into college and many are the firsts in their family.

The Christ the King Prep in Newark is one of the newer schools in the network. Opening in 2007, their elder statesmen are the Junior class. Every Junior I spoke with at the gala highly valued the experience and often responded with an enthusiastic “great” when prompted about the working. What the school needs is more employment opportunities for the students. They say “Growth is Life” but here it’s “Jobs mean Growth”. Therefore, I encourage you to find the nearest network and look into the potential of employing a group. From medical clinics to law firms, each job brings a world of opportunity to a handful of resource limited teens.

The evenings other honoree was former Georgetown Coach John Thompson and in his address he focused on a core concept – “Faith without works is meaningless”. The Cristo Rey Network and Christ the King Prep in Newark have become the newest work of several religious orders combined. What was started by the Jesuits of Chicago has grown with the support of the Sisters of Charity, several Archdioceses and many Jesuit provinces. Together with the laity and the local communities change is coming to inner city secondary education – one job and five students at a time.

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