DePaul Cristo Rey High School (DPCR), a Catholic, college preparatory school, opened in June 2011 as part of the national Cristo Rey Network (CRN), a system of schools that exclusively serves underprivileged students through a unique work-study program. All students at DPCR receive financial assistance and participate in the Corporate Work Study Program to offset part of their education costs. Families pay an average tuition of $500.
“The Cristo Rey Network is the only network of high schools in the country that integrates four years of rigorous college preparatory academics with four years of professional work experience through the Corporate Work Study Program,” CRN’s website says. “Comprised of 32 Catholic, college preparatory schools that today serve more than 10,700 students across 21 states and DC and collectively claim 11,500 graduates, the Cristo Rey Network delivers a powerful and innovative approach to inner-city education that equips students from economically-disadvantaged families with the knowledge, character, and skills to transform their lives.”
In January, DPCR held a pep rally to celebrate the Class of 2017 achieving a college acceptance rate of 100 percent.
“Every member of the Class of 2017 has been accepted to at least one college, most have been accepted to multiple schools, and these seniors have already earned $3.8 million in merit-based academic scholarships,” DPCR announced on its website in January. “And the acceptance letters and scholarship awards continue to arrive in seniors’ mailboxes.”
DPCR was honored in January by Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) with the Governor’s School Innovation Award.
“In recognizing the Cristo Rey schools, Ohio Governor John Kasich called the urban education model of college-prep academics and Corporate Work Study, ‘the coolest thing,'” DPCR reported on its website. “He said that all the schools recognized ‘take risks’ and ‘prepare students for the knowledge economy.’ He said that he hopes these schools inspire ‘education envy’ across the state.”
Students Overcoming Hardship
Sister Jeanne Bessette, the school’s president, says many DPCR students overcome adversity in their personal lives.
“Cincinnati has the unfortunate designation of having one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the country,” Bessette said. “That unacceptable statistic has a real face in our students, who manage to balance our college-prep curriculum, a corporate work study job, and family obligations while dealing with food insecurity and the transportation, health care, and family issues that stem from living in poverty.”
Work Study Success
DePaul students work five days a month in various industries as part of the Corporate Work Study Program, which Bessette says benefits both students and employers.
“Most significant has been the growth of our Corporate Work Study Program, the hallmark of every Cristo Rey school,” Bessette said. “These corporate partners provide the work-study jobs where our students do real work in real professional settings to earn a significant portion of their education costs. When DPCR opened in 2011, we had 24 partners. Six years later, we have over 130 partners across a wide swath of industries, including architecture, banking, construction, finance, health care, insurance, and law.
“Developing these partnerships is critical to our school,” Bessette said. “Partners are looking for real solutions to address workforce development, increase the diversity of their workforces, and help young people succeed in school and life. The success and growth of both DPCR and the Cristo Rey Network is appealing. It’s a proven approach.”
‘An Awesome Program for the Kids’
Judy Vann’s daughter, Imani, graduated from DePaul in May 2016 and is currently a freshman at Berea College in Kentucky. Vann says she credits the school with preparing her daughter for higher education and professional life.
“The work study is such an awesome program for the kids,” Vann said. “A lot of the kids come from the inner-city, where they don’t have that type of exposure to a job. They are enlightened as to how their day should be [at work study] and how to keep a certain level of professionalism. When the kids come in from their job, they are so excited they have employment and feel very good about themselves. Imani just sailed right into [college] without any difficulties. DePaul really got her prepared for the real world.”
‘Hard Work, Persistence, and Grit’
Bessette says the encouraging environment of DPCR makes all the difference in students’ lives.
“The success of three out of three possible years of 100 percent college acceptance is a testament to the hard work, persistence, and grit of our students,” Bessette said. “Many have come from prior schools where someone has told them they aren’t ‘college material’ or they don’t have family members who have graduated from college, so college enrollment has not been a supported goal. Yet when they arrive at DPCR, they are surrounded by people who encourage them, believe in them and tell them over and over that they will go to college.”
Vann says the school’s message of acceptance is an important contributor to the school’s positive learning environment.
“The kids are all from different backgrounds and cultures, and they get along very well together,” Vann said. “They’re taught inclusion and respect for each other, and that’s very important, because when you go out into the world, that’s what you find … a diverse set of people.”
Vann says DPCR is staffed by “awesome people” who “have care and concern for the children.”
“[They] go above and beyond,” Vann said.
Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.