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JulieTurkewitz School Work

JulieTurkewitz School Work

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Published by: julieturk on Nov 28, 2011
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School Work 
Can having kids earn their own tuition lead to success in school?
June 17, 2007By Julie Turkewitz, The Baltimore Sun
The first classes at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago began in a roller-skating rink.It was 1996 and the Rev. John Foley had come to Chicago's Southwest Side to begin a college-prepprogram in a neighborhood of Mexican immigrants. He wanted to provide an elite education for those whocouldn't afford it.The problem was money. None of these kids could pay the tuition private schools normally commanded.Then Foley hit on a shockingly simple idea: He would send students out into the workforce to earn theirown tuition. Chicago businesses liked it. Students liked it and excelled. The reaction was incredible, Foleysaid.The skating rink, a temporary location, soon made way for a real school and, in the years that followed,Foley began to replicate his Chicago success in cities across the nation.The Cristo Rey Network was born. "People were so desperate for a new idea for education that any newidea, they said `Let's do it,' " he said.In 2006, the network graduated more than 91 percent of its senior class. A full 96 percent of graduatesenrolled in a two- or four-year college.Now, Baltimore is about to get its own Cristo Rey Jesuit High School on South Chester Street in UpperFells Point.The school's debut couldn't come at a better time.Last week, Education Week ranked Baltimore as having the third worst high school graduation rate in thenation. Just 34.6 percent of Baltimore students graduated four years after they began high school, said thestudy based on 2004 data.Maryland School Assesment scores released Wednesday show that Baltimore students in sixth througheighth grades are improving. But their scores still lag far behind students elsewhere in the state. Just 44.7percent of city eighth-graders scored at advanced or proficient levels on their reading test this year,compared with 68.4 percent of Maryland students overall."I think there was really a need for an alternative for high school for Baltimore residents," said Mary BethLennon, the new school's director of communication.When Foley ambled into the school's administrative
building one day last week, wearing practical black round-toed shoes and thin-rimmed glasses, he washardly the picture of a superstar. But the parents meeting him at the office shook his hand vigorously andgushed shamelessly. "Here's the celebrity," said one.They had reason to gush. In 2001, the number of Cristo Rey schools grew to two, then three and four andthen suddenly ten in 2004. This past fall there were 12, all in urban areas, all solely for kids from thebottom rungs of the income scale. There were almost 3,000 students at Cristo Rey schools this past fall.The opening of the Baltimore school is part of an expansion this year to 19 schools that also includes one inWashington.In urban areas where schools - public, private and charter - are often starved for funds, Foley seems to havehit on something special. How, in areas of overwhelming poverty, high levels of crime and sinkinggraduation rates, have these schools succeeded?Foley attributes the model's success to the "mission-minded" people who staff the schools, as well as thesmall-group environment and rigorous academic and work program of the school.Most uniquely, the work-study business model has allowed each of the high schools to be nearly self-sustaining. "The biggest benefactors are our students," said Foley. And it's true - the goal is that at eachschool, student wages will bring in 70 percent of the operating budget. The remainder comes from donors,including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and student tuition, which ranges from $250 to $2,500,depending on a student's economic situation.Has Cristo Rey discovered a feasible and sustainable way to provide a college-prep education for urbankids?Private schools have traditionally been used as escapes in areas where public schools battle with poorstudent behavior, low test scores and budget issues. Private schools often offer smaller, more focusedenvironments.But the average freshman-year tuition at a Catholic school is $6,906, according to the National CatholicEducational Association. In Baltimore, tuition can cost thousands more, a steep price in a city with amedian household income of $30,078, according to the 2000 census. For many parents, private school justisn't an option, even with scholarships.As a result, declining enrollment has plagued urban Catholic schools because they are mostly tuition-driven."When you have escalating costs and when you have the only basic resource as tuition, you have theperennial problem of, `How do you keep tuition down?' and at the same time, `How do you reach the coststhat it takes to educate a child?'" said Ronald Valenti, superintendent of Catholic schools in Baltimore.Since 2000, the city has lost four Catholic elementary schools and a high school. In other cities, the numberof closings has been more dramatic. The 12 largest dioceses in urban areas (Baltimore is not included inthis number), have seen an 18.5 percent decline in enrollment, compared with a 15 percent enrollment dropnationwide, according to the United States Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools 2006-2007, anannual school enrollment report."We want to maintain the presence of Catholic education in the city, but it must be delivered in a differentway than years ago," Valenti toldThe Sun in 2005 when one of Baltimore's parish schools combined withtwo others. This is still the case, he said recently. "It's a continued Herculean task that you have to dealwith."
Some Catholic schools have applied for public funding, said Dale McDonald, the director of public policyat the National Catholic Educational Association in Washington. Others have launched more aggressivefundraising efforts.But so far there is "no one solution," for keeping tuition down and schools open, she said. Which is whyValenti praises Cristo Rey as a "classic" example of an innovative way make Catholic schools affordablefor urban kids. Cristo Rey will raise the number of Catholic high schools in the city to 10, and will be thefirst to open in 30 years."When you look at innovative approaches to education you can provide a resource for the community as awhole," he said.According to Foley, the work-study model has been successful at bringing in funds and keeping tuitionlow. In each district, businesses pay the equivalent of an entry-level salary, about $25,000 a year, for a teamof four students that fills one full-time position.In the 2005-2006 school year, the 10 schools in existence brought in $11,429,600 through students' work-study contracts. At the Cristo Rey high school that opened in the fall in Kansas City, Mo., all but one of the32 businesses with student teams will continue with the program next year, said the school's president,Vickie Perkins. Some will take on a second or third for 2007-2008.Students work five days a month, donning ties, skirts and button-down shirts for the office. "This is achance to help develop kids and give them good work habits," said Sister Helen Amos, executive chair of the board of trustees at Mercy Health Services, which will employ a team this fall.The scramble to get Cristo Rey student workers isn't just philanthropic. For businesses, it's a great deal.They get the equivalent of an entry-level worker without paying benefits.This year, 28 Baltimore-area businesses and nonprofits will participate in the program.Of course, some question whether this model could be replicated on a larger scale. Simply finding enough jobs to occupy all low-income students who wanted a private education would be daunting. McDonaldpraised Cristo Rey but said she didn't think the work-study model could work at the nation's more than8,000 Catholic schools."Cristo Reys are only a small entity," she said. "They are not going to be the norm. ... There are certainthings about this model that are built into smallness and it's difficult for schools to do some of theconversion."There's also the question of whether students with little to no work experience can meet employers'demands. At the Kansas City school a number of students were fired from their jobs, said Perkins, withemployers sometimes complaining that students lacked initiative or basic phone skills.Foley said, however, that the response from businesses has been almost all positive."It's amazing," he said. "Fourteen-year-olds - working in the Sears building. It's an incredible blessing andwe just fell into it."A sustainable economic model is not the only element in Cristo Rey's formula.Foley also credits the successes of Cristo Rey schools to a family environment and an intensive work andacademic schedule.

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