How The Cristo Rey Network Prepares Students to Succeed in College
February 10, 2014 | 2216 views
The following series has been produced by the Skoll World Forum with the participation of today’s leading thinkers and innovators in education. All of the contributors represent projects that have won WISE Awards, which recognize innovative solutions in overcoming barriers to education. This series aims to shed light on those projects that have helped provide access to quality education around the world. WISE brings together the world’s education innovators through an annual Summit, and several ongoing initiatives including the six annual WISE Awards --for innovative projects-- and the WISE Prize for Education, the only global distinction recognizing a world-class contribution to education by an individual or a team. The Prize, presented at the WISE Summit, includes a gold medal and a $500,000 (US) award.
What was the one moment or experience that gave rise to the Cristo Rey Network?
The Jesuits of the then Chicago Province (now the Chicago-Detroit Province) approached Cardinal Joseph Bernardine in Chicago to ask if they could do something for the Hispanic population of the city. The Cardinal offered them a parish in the Pilsen neighbourhood, a heavily Hispanic area on the near southwest side and the Jesuits began canvassing the neighbourhood to find out their biggest educational need, where their efforts could make the greatest difference.
It became apparent that the most pressing need was for a college preparatory high school. There were at the time 10,000 young people in Pilsen with only two public schools to serve them. The first school founded by the Jesuits began in Pilsen 1996, and within a few years there were requests for similar schools in other parts of the country, and that was the beginning of the Cristo Rey Network.
What would the world look like if you achieved your vision?
All students, regardless of income, would have access to a quality, college preparatory high school education that prepares them for success in college. As a result, they would bring prosperity and value to themselves, their families, and their communities. If the Cristo Rey Network achieved its mission, we would be out of a job.
What has been the impact of your efforts thus far?
Our impact to date is impressive, but our work is far from complete. Ultimately, the Cristo Rey Network’s success is defined by the number of students who graduate from Cristo Rey schools college-ready and who are successful in graduating from college. According to National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), for the graduating classes of 2008-2011, 90% of Cristo Rey graduates have enrolled in college and 90% of these students (for the classes of 2008-2010) have persisted into their sophomore year. For our graduating classes of 2005-2007, 42% have graduated from college. This is nearly twice the rate of their peers from the same economic background.
What were some of the barriers you’ve had to overcome–either personally or professionally–to be successful?
Young people who were graduating from elementary school were and are often enough, victims of “social promotion.” They were going ahead in their schooling even when they had not mastered the material. As a result, it is very common that students are coming in to freshman year in high school with a deficient preparation.
Our challenge is to take students into the ninth year of their schooling (freshman year in high school) when they were generally two years behind. Cristo Rey then tried to give these individuals hope and help them overcome this deficit, letting them know that indeed they did have a future and that they could be prepared to go to college even when they seemed so far behind.
What kind of impact are you looking to have 5 or 10 years from now, and how do you plan to get there?
As a recipient of a WISE Award in 2012, we have been able to grow our work and network of support and have been able to provide even more underserved youth with access to quality education.
In terms of what’s ahead and in the face of this enormous need to provide more underserved youth with a quality education option, the Cristo Rey Network plans to scale by (1) opening 14 additional schools and (2) increasing average student enrolment at existing schools to serve over 15,000 low-income students across the country by 2020.
To do so effectively, the Cristo Rey Network national office must build its capacity to not only support the expansion of new schools, but also to manage the evolution of the Corporate Work Study Program to secure enough entry-level jobs that meet the demands of the changing workforce and support the organization’s future growth.
Therefore, to ensure that Cristo Rey’s current and future students have the skills and opportunities to create value in the future economy, the organization recently launched a project aimed at (1) improving the social and technical skills Cristo Rey students acquire by working in entry-level corporate jobs while attending high school and (2) scaling those evidence-based practices so that Cristo Rey schools can serve more students.