Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Trailblazers’ tour new Jesuit school in South Minneapolis

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School for low-income students combines academic rigors with employment experience

Natty De Luna of Minneapolis believes a new Jesuit-run high school with a unique education model will help his daughter achieve success. Gabriela De Luna Alonzo was one of five eighth-graders from Risen Christ School in Minneapolis who recently toured Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, being constructed in South Minneapolis.

The students each received acceptance letters to attend the school when it opens in the fall. De Luna said he chose Cristo Rey for his daughter because it has “a goal for the future to help the kids go to college and be successful people.”

Since 2001, 12 Cristo Rey schools have opened around the country, with seven more, including the Minneapolis Cristo Rey, opening in 2007. Cristo Rey’s mission is to provide a quality, college-preparatory education to families who otherwise could not afford to send their children to a private school. The success rate is high. In 2005, 98 percent of Cristo Rey students graduated. An impressive 95 percent went on to attend a college or university.

The school that works

What makes Cristo Rey unique is that students help pay for their education by working entry-level jobs at hospitals, law firms, banks and other corporate offices and non-profit organizations one day a week. Students can earn up to 75 percent of their tuition through the work-study program. Families are expected to pay the remaining $1,400 per year, with financial aid to those who qualify.

The Minneapolis Cristo Rey is the result of a partnership between the Jesuits, the Urban Ventures Leadership Foundation and Ryan Companies.

Jesuit Father David Haschka, president of Cristo Rey, said the Jesuits, widely known for their academically rigorous schools, have been interested in opening a school in the Twin Cities for some time. The Cristo Rey model provides an opportunity for the Jesuits to fulfill another goal, he added — to serve low-income families.

“In the last 20 to 30 years, we’ve been feeling a tension between two things,” Father Haschka said. “On the one hand, [the Jesuits] have a great collection of schools. On the other hand, they’re almost all serving upper-middle class professional populations.

“Along with that consciousness of a good collection of schools has been a call both from the church and from within our own hearts to serve the more needy populations,” the priest said. “The exciting thing about Cristo Rey is that it brings those two things together.”

Completion of the $30 million, 173,000-square-foot school, located on the corner of 4th Avenue S. and E. Lake Street, is slated for June 29.

Imagining the future

Cristo Rey will open with one class of about 125 students in fall 2007. Other classes will be added over the next three years. Jesuit Father Bill Johnson, admissions director, called the members of the class of 2011 “trailblazers.”

The Risen Christ students strolled through the dusty halls of their future school as a representative from Minneapolis construction firm Ryan Companies pointed out where their classrooms and lockers would be. On the second floor of the three-story, glass-front building, Jesuit Father Bill Johnson, admissions director, told the students to look out the windows. “You can see the office towers, the big skyscrapers downtown where many of you over the next four years will have an office, will have a desk, will be doing real work in real jobs,” he said.

Minneapolis law firm Dorsey and Whitney, LLP, is one of more than 25 companies that have committed to providing internships to Cristo Rey students. Steve Lucke, a partner at the firm, said participating in Cristo Rey’s work-study program provides a way to help the community “in a way that makes sense for our business and most important to help the kids achieve the objective that they want, which is to attend a challenging college-preparatory school.”

Kris Melloy, principal of Cristo Rey, said she looks forward to putting into practice some of the lessons she has been teaching as a professor of special education at the University of St. Thomas during the past 18 years. “I really look at this as an invitation from God to go bigger than what I was already doing and to give back to the world what I’ve been prepared to do and share my gifts better than I’ve ever had a chance to do in my life,” Melloy said. “It’s a life’s calling.”

Natty De Luna, a parishioner of Holy Rosary in Minneapolis, said although he has concerns about his daughter working at a young age, he believes she will learn important job skills and discipline that will help her in the future. De Luna, a gardener who immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 1982, said already he is looking into colleges for Gabriela.

“I don’t want her to be a person working for McDonald’s or cleaning offices,” he said. “She has an opportunity. She’s a citizen. She’s got everything in her hands, all the support and help. I hope and expect that she can get a career. “Catholic education,” he added, “is about the hope of getting [kids] in a better way, a better life, a better future.”

For more information about Cristo Rey, contact Father David Haschka at (612) 276-0140 or dhaschka@cristoreytc.org. Catholic Spirit

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