Cristo Rey High School gives opportunities to teens

John Helms

In a world of clearly defined social gaps where the wealthy hold distinct advantages in terms of expensive private education, a new high school in urban Minneapolis challenges all seemingly fixed notions. Cristo Rey High School, located in the newly created Colin Powell Leadership Center just outside of downtown, gives inner city teens an advantage and motivation, that so many are deprived of during their high school years, through a Catholic college preparatory education.

Cristo Rey targets students that generally couldn’t afford this type of education. In fact, the school has a dedicated commitment to economic equality. “If you can afford to send your child to our school, it’s not the school for you,” said school President Father David Haschka said.

The school adheres to this commitment through an ingenious corporate internship program: the school sets each student participating in the program working as an intern at a specific corporate sponsor for the year. Four students essentially share one full-time job, each student working roughly once a week and five times per month, while specialized scheduling allows for no student to ever miss his/her classes. All student earnings are then forwarded to the school, taking care of about 75 percent of admissions tuition.

The school provides transportation both to and from work each day, as the students work from about 8:30 to 4:30. Although the program ends in June, the students’ corporate sponsors often offer to continue student employment throughout the summer months. “It prepares you for work and for college, and it can show you the future, and how to go into the world,” said Freshman Gabriela De Luna-Alonzo in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio.

As this is its first year, Cristo Rey currently only has a freshman class. Each year for the next three years, they will continue to add another incoming class until they have four full grades, eventually enrolling around 500 students. Even though this smaller environment is different for the teens used to large public schools, they have adapted very well so far. “Students overall are very appreciative of this unique place,” said science and health teacher, Ms. Trish Flock-Johnson. “It is a high energy, interactive environment. They respond well to working in small groups and using the learning spaces they are provided rather than sitting in one place during a full 90 minute period.”

However, the students are not the only ones who have had to adjust to the new environment. There’s a learning curve for teachers too. “Starting a new school is exciting and exhausting at the same time,” said Ms. Flock-Johnson. “There are so many details, technologies and systems to master.”
“The greatest challenge and the greatest rewards lie with each of our students. We have to work so hard to help them overcome challenges and it is a beautiful thing to watch our students mature and grow as young adults and students.”
In reality, the Cristo Rey High School in Minneapolis is one of nineteen schools in the Cristo Rey network across the nation, with the first being established in Chicago in 1996. The completion and success of the high school here in the Twin Cities can be largely accredited to two members of the BSM community: brothers Pat Ryan (daughters Maureen, ’07 and Courtney, ’04) and Jim Ryan (daughter Tess, ’07 and son Sean, ’04). The two spearheaded a fundraising campaign that raised around $31 million for the construction of the school.

So far, the objective to serve low income teens in urban Minneapolis through a Catholic educational environment has been very successful. Students have interacted well with each other and responded positively in their new school. “Our students have good relationships with each other, their teachers and the staff. This is great because I think that it feels like a safe and fun place for them,” said Ms. Flock-Johnson.