Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School, established in 2012, provides a college prep education to students from low-income families who could not otherwise afford to attend a private school.
The key to funding students’ tuition comes from Cristo Rey’s signature Work-Study Program. Each student works five days a month at one of the school’s 70 business partners around the city. These jobs help the students pay tuition with their earnings, as well as provide them with hands-on experience in the professional world.
“These are the poorest kids in the city and, in many cases, they have not even been out of their neighborhoods,” said President John McConnell, 62. “It is totally unfamiliar to them, so the experience of working with these companies is life-changing.”
Tuition at Cristo Rey, an independent Catholic school, costs $12,000 a year, but the student pays only a fraction of that price. Students earn $7,500 a school year via the Work-Study Program, covering 60 percent of their tuition, demonstrating the significance of this program to the network’s operation.
Parents pay between $20 and $200 a month and donors cover the rest, according to Principal Michael Gomez, 40. Students’ household income averages about $27,000, just below the federal poverty level for a family of five.
“We have exactly what they need to escape poverty,” said McConnell (below).
The ultimate step towards escaping poverty requires a college degree, a key principle taught at Cristo Rey.
The Cristo Rey Network consists of 28 schools across the country and 99 percent of the network’s graduates are accepted into college.
“The students’ skill sets and performances directly impacts their ability to pay for their education and stay at the school – and they know that,” freshman theology teacher Sean Murray, 33, said.
Aside from earning over half of each student’s tuition, the program offers much more than monetary benefits.
Sixteen-year-old junior Raven Parker-Watson said, “They give us a lot of opportunities and we need to take advantage of them … We get the opportunity to experience the real world for ourselves and learn real-life [skills].”
While the program clearly serves to benefit the students, it mutually benefits other parties involved as well.
“Naturally, the work experience broadens the world of the kids [for numerous] reasons,” McConnell said. “But it also broadens the world of the business people because, for the most part, they have never really seen poverty before and they discover that our kids are not much different from their own.”
– Images, video and text by Nickee Plaksen